O’LEARY: Hoosier Pit Pass
Many of the racers painted the Hoosier lettering on their tires bright orange, something that Burton started doing when he began racing sprint cars. He had earned a couple of sprint car feature wins, and everyone agreed that as a driver, he was improving quickly.
Jerry Shields has been around Bloomington Speedway most of his life. He has fielded cars for many top drivers, and both of his sons, Todd and Troy. Now he helps his grandson, Levi, who is one of the bright young drivers climbing through the ranks. Shields found it difficult to hold back his emotions when he explained that the Burtons had pitted next to them almost every night. They had become close neighbors. The Shields put a chair with Josh’s t-shirt and a wreath in the spot where their trailer would have parked.
For the traditional opening ceremonies, all of the drivers, crew men, families and virtually everyone in the pits stood shoulder-to-shoulder at the edge of the racing surface on the backstretch. The line stretched from turn two into turn three. Track officials and emergency workers lined the frontstretch, and the push truck crews were along the top of turn four.
The Burton family came down to the frontstretch from the grandstand, carrying orange and green balloons. After Butch Wilkerson’s invocation, three sprint cars (Barrow, Shields and Dakota Jackson) slowly carried large banners around the track, banners that were later raffled. The balloons were released into the evening sky.
Perhaps the thing that most said about Burton was that he was always smiling.
“It made you want to smile, too,” said Brady Short. He explained that he really only talks to three or four other drivers, but that Josh had been one of them. He remembered Josh asking how he drove the middle of the track so well, “I said, ‘I can’t tell you.’”
As he and his father prepared for the feature race, Jackson allowed that even though he had only known the Burtons about a year, he felt like he had known them his whole life. He quietly related that he will never forget that after getting upside-down in his heat race two weeks ago, Josh was headed back to his pits and, with the sun setting behind him, he signaled “hang loose” to Dakota with a big smile.
As countless other tracks have done for the past couple weeks, the sprint car main began with the “missing man formation” on the parade lap. The defending track sprint car champion, Short went on to win with a brilliant run.
This is how the racing family that gathers at Bloomington Speedway on Friday nights remembered one of its own.