In the Fast Lane racing column for Sunday, Aug. 31, 2008.
There are few drivers, if any, more respected in NASCAR circles than Jeff Burton. His calm, reasonable demeanor speaks volumes about his character. He's a tireless advocate for safety, an example to teammates young and old, and a threat to win every weekend.
At 41 years old, he reaches a milestone this weekend by making his 500th career start today at Fontana, Calif.
"It's pretty hard to believe I'm coming up on my 500th start," said Burton, who has a win this year at the spring Bristol race, and is fifth in points. "Professionally, there's nothing else I'd rather be doing."
And Burton, who will carry Caterpillar sponsorship next year, is looking forward to a few hundred more starts.
"Competing at NASCAR's top level series has been a lifelong dream," he said. "I'm fortunate that I have been doing what I love for as long as I have but I still believe my best years are ahead of me."
This is not a joke
I've got to tell you, when I first saw this story on nhra.com, I thought it was one of former staffer Rob Geiger's great April Fool's Day scams - except it's August.
Alan Johnson, arguably the best crew chief in the sport at present, is leaving Don Schumacher Racing at the end of the season to form his own two-car team in partnership with His Highness Sheikh Khalid Bin Hamad Al Thani of Qatar's Al-Anabi team.
His Highness is big into drag racing. His team is building a state-of-the-art track in Qatar, which is scheduled to hold its first race in December.
"It's widely known that my goal for quite some time now has been to become a team owner again," said Johnson, "and this is my best opportunity to achieve that goal."
Johnson has won 11 championships in his career - four in Top Alcohol and seven in Top Fuel.
He and DSR driver Tony Schumacher have won the last four Top Fuel titles in a row and currently hold a 526-point lead in this year's standings, though the points will be reset after this weekend.
Johnson's new team will field a Top Fuel dragster and a Funny Car. Drivers for the new team have not yet been named.
Peoria Speedway is having a full program of racing Monday night to celebrate Labor Day.
Gates open at 4:30 p.m. with racing beginning at 6.
Next Saturday features the Modified World 100 with Late Models and Hornets also on the bill. The Modified race pays $3,000 to win and UMP points will be awarded.
Next Sunday is Old Timer's Day, with $1 general admission.
River City Mustang
The ninth annual River City Mustang and All Ford Show is Sept. 14 at the Uftring Auto Mall in East Peoria.
There will be 50 judged classes and seven Best of Show awards. Approximately 200 cars are expected for the show.
One of the highlights will be a raffle for a restored 1965 Mustang GT Coupe with proceeds to benefit the Children's Hospital of Illinois. Tickets start at $10 or three for $25 and are available through www.winagtmustang.com. Photos of the car and the restoration process also are featured there.
Jane Miller is the Journal Star motorsports columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 686-3207.