5 Flags is his Second Home!
Burkett Taking Over Family Business, Sits Third in Pure Stocks Standings Thanks to Pair of Top-10s
By Chuck Corder
Caleb Burkett has been coming to Five Flags Speedway since the roars of engines and packed crowds “busted my eardrums.
“I wasn’t old enough to walk, I know that,” Burkett added.
Now 17, the junior at West Florida High School of Advanced Technology is starting to reap the rewards of all his time spent watching races, helping his father get cars set up and getting his own feet wet driving at the famed half-mile asphalt oval.
Burkett has started his Lloyd’s Glass Pure Stocks season with two top-10 finishes, including a career-best runner-up last month.
“It was the first time I made it on the podium — we just skipped third,” he said proudly. “There were a lotta emotions up there. To have family and friends celebrating with me, it was a really good time.”
Burkett hopes the good times keep rolling on Friday when the Pure Stocks return with the Faith Chapel Outlaw Stocks, WCI.com Pro Trucks and The Dock on Pensacola Beach Sportsmen.
The gates open at 5 p.m. Friday with admission as follows: $12 for adults; $10 for seniors, military members and students; $5 for children ages 6 to 11; and free for kids 5 and under.
With a grandfather and a father that preceded him racing at Pensacola’s high banks and dirt tracks in the area, the young Burkett almost seemed predestined to join the ranks when his time came.
Burkett didn’t stray from the family business.
“Growing up, I was working in the shop with my dad (Wayne),” Caleb said. “He told me as soon as I could hop in a big car, I could race with them.”
He started in go-karts at 6, and — true to his father’s word — by 12, Caleb Burkett was in a Pure Stocks competing at Southern Raceway in Milton and other dirt tracks along the Gulf Coast.
This is Burkett’s third year on asphalt and the sport has consumed his every thought, even when he’s at school.
“All my buddies understand my love for it,” he said, “but we’ll be talking something, and I’ll turn the conversation toward racing and they say it sounds like I’m speaking another language. So I’ll have to break it down to them.”
Because of West Florida High’s close proximity to Five Flags — the school is less than 3 miles from the track’s front gate — Burkett gets a little antsy when race day arrives.
“On Fridays when the Late Models are here, and I can hear them practicing, I’m just thinking, ‘Man I wanna get outta school and go now,’ ” he said.
On the other days of the week when school lets out, Burkett heads to his family’s home in Beulah and begins to get the car ready before his dad arrives.
Once Wayne Burkett joins his son, the two hammer out a game plan for what adjustments to make to the car and where else they can find an extra second of speed for the next race.
Early in the week, the father-son tandem will shut things down for the night around midnight. But when race nights approach on Wednesday and Thursday, their work can take them deep into the evening depending on how much work the pair need to put into the No. 24.
Burkett loves the chance to share in something both he and his father are passionate about. Text all day, whadya think about this. No I tried that when I was your age.
“It’s amazing just knowing what I don’t know and what he does know,” the younger Burkett said. “It’s always a learning experience when I’m with him, you know? I go to bed every night and wake up in morning talking about what I can do better.
“We go back and forth sometimes. But there’s nothing better than climbing outta the car and seeing him standing there smiling after a good run.”
That was precisely the case on March 30 when Burkett held off close friend Brandin Sidner for second place to post his most memorable finish of his blossoming career.
“I went out really confident in car, and it performed really well,” Burkett said. “It was the most fun I’ve ever had in a racecar. Dad always gives the best he can give me, and I told him I was gonna give 120 percent right back. It felt good to know all the hard work and time spent has been worth it.”