Posted on 29 June 2012.
By Randy Spencer / OntarioOval.com – Like many racing families, racing passes down from generation to generation. Some are successful and others just fade away. But in the case of the Burbridge family, it just seems to get better and better. Several words come to mind on the type of season the Mark and Rick Burbridge are putting together in the Thunder Car division at Flamboro Speedway. Remarkable, amazing and astonishing are just a few. On one hand the year was off to a great start with Mark taking the first feature while brother Rick blew an engine the first week then returned only to experience some drive line issues. After his first night victory Mark broke the rear end in his car and missed a week. Since then however they’ve been superlative, between them they have five heat and six feature wins thus far in 2012.
To get a better idea of how these guys tick, I took a look back to see where it all began. Jack Burbridge began racing back in the late 1940’s. He started with backing from Modern Auto Parts in Brantford and raced the #67 “Orange Crate” Super Modified. Jack never owned his own car and was like a hired gun and would always drive for someone else. If nobody had a ride for him he didn’t race. He raced multiple nights every week at tracks like Mohawk Park, Pinecrest, Bridgeport, Ancaster, Guelph, Flamboro, Speedway Park, Merrittville and a number of other tracks. Where ever there was race, he would be there. Jack would give up racing about 1966 to raise his growing family but while his sons were still young they would all pile in the car on weekends and go where ever dad raced. Oldest son John told me he attended his first race before he even turned one in 1952, in his mother’s arms at Mohawk Park in Brantford. In 1957, Jack was the Modified champ at Pinecrest Speedway and always ran consistent no matter where. Rick Burbridge shared a story about his grandpa Jack that I found quite interesting. “There was a fella who was a huge name in racing around here by the name of Ted Hogan. He had a second car and he asked my grandpa Jack to be his driver, on the only condition that if he were first and Hogan were second, he would let him by for the win. Well the very first race my grandpa drove in that car, he said it was the best car he ever drove. He ran it to the front, passed Hogan and won the race. As you might guess, Hogan was none too pleased, and fired my grandpa after the race. They never spoke again…or so the story goes.” Today Jack is 85 and never misses a NASACR race on TV. A strong willed fellow, Jack has survived three bouts with cancer, survived a fall and broken neck and issuing blood infection that nearly took his life three years ago. Without a doubt one of the greatest names in the early history of racing in Ontario, a true pioneer of our sport.
The eldest of four, John was the first of Jack’s sons to get into a race car. He bought a used Super Late Model from Ken Silk in 1975/76 and wanted to race it at Flamboro. He was a rookie so they wouldn’t let him through the gates with it so he got his start at Speedway Park and eventually made his way to Flamboro where he raced until the end of the 1988 season. He won 3 features that first year, his best for sure and won at least one feature between 1983 and 88. He always ran on a shoestring budget, used older tires and if he couldn’t afford to race it he parked it until he could. Every year he took whatever money was left and would put it towards his house or something for his family. John loved to race at Flamboro. There’s been a Burbridge racing at Flamboro since it’s opened for the most part. “Many drivers say there car got beat up there. The car looked like a bag of walnuts but it was the most profitable place I could race. Racing at Cayuga and Delaware the speeds were faster and the wrecks more often that not bent the frame and was more costly. In 1983, John broke his arm in an accident but never missed a week of racing. He would bring the car out and put his own hired guns behind the wheel. When some of the Late Model drivers had a broken car he would set them up. Randy Slack, Bill Zardo and Ron Pearn all raced the car at one point that season until John was fit to race it again. He finished the year and actually won the heat, trophy dash and Season end championship feature. In appreciation for letting other drivers race his car he was named Sportsman of the Year that season. In appreciation Slack, Zardo and Pearn presented Burbridge with a trophy that stood almost as tall as he did. A bad wreck at Cayuga just about ended more that his racing career. “I still feel that one today…it was bad,” is how John described it to me. It was the last lap and he was running second down the straight and noticed trouble ahead, backed off on the outside and took a hard hit sending him right over the front end of another car and landed between the pit wall and track. That’s pretty much when his asphalt days came to an end. After some time to think things over he decided to go dirt racing and raced an old Mod. Stock and ran Don Turner’s old car for a few years winning a few heats and came second in the feature a couple of times. Once again he was close to hanging up the helmet but took Charlie McCann’s Sprint car out a few times, had some motor troubles and even went upside down the first night. But he continued on for the love of the sport and John still races occasionally at Ohsweken in the #21j Gales Auto Aftermarket Auto Sales sponsored Sprint car. He’s 60 now and he tells me he’s “Not having fun this year.” He retired from his job at Massey Ferguson and lived for this year. It’s beginning to be a money pit and it sounds like the end may not be too far off for this veteran driver.
John’s son John Jr. also races at Ohsweken in the #31 Gales Auto Aftermarket Auto Sales, RK Automotive sponsored Sprint car. Entering his tenth year of racing he got his start when his dad passed along the old Sportsman car, they put together a motor and has raced at Ohsweken, Merrittville and Humberstone. In 2003 he won the Most Improved driver and his best finish was third at Humberstone one night. He now races the Sprint car and has raced it at all the above tracks as well as South Buxton. He tells me one of his favorite moments was passing dad on the last lap for the Sprint car A main feature at Humberstone. He plans to keep racing as long as he can remain a low budget race team and has recently started a family. He wants to say thanks to all the Burbridge’s for their support as well to Charlie McCann and his sponsors Gales Auto Aftermarket Auto Sales and RK Automotive.
John Sr.’s other three brothers also have raced, but not for as long. Another brother, Rob, never got behind the wheel but was a big help in Dave’s success. After helping on the crew for brother John, Paul built a matching Street Stock with brother Dave and raced Street Stocks at Flamboro for about three years before giving it up. Glen raced for a short time as well, he filled in a few times in the Late Model for brother Dave and never raced on a regular basis. He married Sam Rounce’s daughter Susan. The Rounce name is legendary in these parts around Flamboro teaming up for years with Randy Slack and also in the CASCAR Super Series.
Perhaps the most successful racing brother was Dave. He worked on brother John’s car when still in high school soon got the itch to go racing and built his own Street Stock. His career got started in 1980 and he raced in several divisions at Flamboro including Street Stocks, Super Street Stocks, Sportsman, and late Models until 1995. he occasionally mixed in specials at Cayuga while running Flamboro full time. During the 1995 and 96 season he ran the Flex-Mor Siper Late Model series at Cayuga, Flamboro and Peterborough Speedways. In 1997 he moved into the highly competitive OSCAAR Super Late Model series and toured all around Ontario. That first year he was crowned Points Champion and remained with them until 2001. That championship was probably one of his greatest moments in racing as a driver along with numerous feature wins and multiple Top 5 Point finishes. For his final two years of racing he raced with the OSLR Super Late Models at Mosport, Kawartha and Peterborough. Today he owns Rick’s Thunder Car and helps both sons in whatever they choose to race and whatever it takes to get them out on the track every week. He wanted to thank his wife Debbie for all her support over the years, to brothers John, Paul, Rob and Glen, sons Mark and Rick as well as his longtime car owner Howard Robbins and his team of Floyd Robbins and Jamie Scott.
Mark is the oldest of the two brothers and told me, “We had a go kart when I was a kid and we played around with that a little bit but never gave it the focus we needed to run at the front. When I was 15 my dad got offered a great deal to buy a thunder car, so he jumped on it and my racing career took off from there.” He ran the first three years of his career in Thunder Car division at Flamboro, then eight years in Flamboro Late Models, and now is in his second year back in Thunder Cars. In 2006, he ran in the last race ever of the CASCAR Sportsman series at Cayuga in a car owned by Harold and Doug Brown. Mark said, “We finished 6th in that CASCAR race, which was cool because we had no experience working on or racing that type of car.” He also ran once in a mini stock at Ohsweken, and turned some laps in his Uncle John’s Sprint Car a couple of years ago. Some of his best career highlights, “Would have to be my two Oktoberfest wins in the Late Model. In 2005 we started pole and led about 97 or 98 of the 100 laps to win. In 2007 we qualified pole again, and eventually held off Gary Elliott to lead every lap and win it again. Winning those two races were huge, especially 2005 because the whole family was there with me and that was my first really big win.” He made sure he rubbed Uncle John’s nose in those wins! “I always wanted to win Oktoberfest,” John Sr. told me I always went crazy, blew the engine, hit the wall….” Mark won’t let him forget it.
Racing has kept the Burbridge’s close, especially working on two cars now. Asked who he wanted to thank Mark said, “My mom and dad have to be the two biggest influences. Without my dad I never would have started racing, and he has worked on my cars all through the years. My brother Rick helped out a lot at the track until he started racing himself. Jamie Scott has been an important part of our team too, doing body and paint work, as well as coming to the track almost every week too. In the last two years, I’ve met up with Stacey Fleming, who was my crew chief when I ran the Late Model owned by Robin Horsfall a couple of years ago, and came along with me when I switched over to Thunder Cars. Sponsor’s include Antler’s Services, Hearth and Home Heating and Cooling, Strodes BBQ and Deli and Scott’s Auto Body Repair. “Finally, my wife Erinn is really supportive and helps out at the track too.” Mark married Erinn Bailey this past winter and the racing family extended further. Erinn’s dad Donn and Uncle Brett raced in the Challenger division back in the 1980’s. Erinn was very successful racing karts with over 30 wins and winning several Points and Series championships. She moved into a Mini Stock at Flamboro in 2005 and to a Thunder Car the following year finishing with a win and 12th in points. A big year in 2008 as she won Most Improved and Sportsmanlike driver and won the Memorial Night feature race. After several more race wins and success over the next two years, Erinn stepped aside. She raced the car Paul McIlroy won the Thunder Car championship with in 2005 and now that’s the car husband Mark is having great success with this year.
And last, but certainly not least is Rick. He is fairly new to racing as a driver but like the rest of the family has been around it all his life. He raced a half season in 2009 until a bad wreck prematurely ended their season. He got started in racing when his mom bought dad Dave a partially built Thunder Car for his 50th birthday. At the time, Rick was away at University but Dave proposed they build it and split the driving duties. It took almost two years to build the car as he was away during the winter for school and they worked on Mark’s Late Model during the summers. “Eventually dad decided that he would rather just work on the car and suddenly I was the full time driver of the car.” With 4 heat wins over the first 2 and a half seasons he was still looking for that first feature win. Now with the two feature wins so far this year he finally has that monkey off his back. “My dad and brother are the two biggest influences on my racing. They built my car and my dad still does most of the work on it. Without those two and of course my mom Debbie who bought the car and supports our efforts, we wouldn’t be racing. Jamie Scott sponsors the car, does the paint and body work for us and has been working with my dad since the Late Model days of the mid ’90’s.” Sponsors include West Brant Window World of Brantford and Scott’s Auto Body Repair of Simcoe. In closing I asked Mark his plans for the future, “I think I will be running Thunder Cars at Flamboro for a while. Eventually I would like to move up to Late Models and run Flamboro while I get my feet under me in faster cars and then eventually move into a more selective schedule where we can run big special events at a bunch of different tracks each year.”
I would like to thank all the Burbridge’s for their patience while I wrote this story. All of your information and stories were appreciated and very helpful. Thanks to John Burbridge Sr., great talking with you and to Chris Spencer for information about Mark’s wife Erinn. Make sure you head out to Ohsweken Speedway and watch John Sr. and Jr. race in the Corr/Pak Sprint car division. And don’t miss racing at Flamboro and watching Rick and Mark as they make their way up the points standings as the summer heats up. Follow Mark online at http://www.mb27racing.bravehost.com/ while you can follow Rick online at http://www.2dracing.bravehost.com/ and also at http://www.flamborospeedway.itgo.com/ You can follow John Sr. and John Jr. at the Ohsweken Speedway website, http://www.ohswekenspeedway.com/
Photo Descriptions (by Dave Franks unless otherwise noted)
-Blue Chevelle: Taken in 1985 Dave’s first Street Stock
-Red Nova: Dave’s second Street Stock 1988
-1997 OSCAAR Victory Lane: Dave’s first SLM win
-1997 OSCAAR: Bad wreck at Flamboro, manged to re-build car in 3 weeks and not miss a race and still go onto take the points title
-OSLR Kawartha 2002: #43 Late Model, Dave’s last full season of racing
-#27 Late Model: Victory lane at Flamboro, Mark’s final full season driving his own car.
-#67 Modern Auto Parts Super Modified: One of Jack’s first race cars (from Jim Dunham collection)
-#21j Sprint Car: John Burbridge Sr. 2012 photo by Dale Calnan, Ontario Oval
-#31 Sprint Car: John Burbridge Jr. 2012 photo by Dale Calnan, Ontario Oval
-#72 car driven by John Burbridge Sr. when he raced at Flamboro back in the early 1980’s
-close up photo of Jack Burbridge back in the day, likely late 1950’s or early 60’s (from Jim Dunham collection)
-picture of Mark and inset of his #27 Late Model from the 2007 Flamboro Speedway calendar
-B&W John Burbridge #21 Late Model Flamboro 1983
-Mark’s wife Erinn Bailey Burbridge driving the #02 to the 2008 Memorial Night Thunder Car feature race win
-Mark and Rick’s “hero cards” for the 2012 season