This article first appeared in the February, 2016 edition of SportsCar Magazine. SCCA members can read the current and past editions of SportCar digitally here after logging into their account; To become an SCCA member and get SportsCar mailed to your home address monthly in addition to the digital editions, click here.
18-year-old Aussie Joseph Burton-Harris came to America to gain racing experience, and did he ever
Although he did not prevail at the Mazda Road to 24 Shootout, 2015 was a good year for 18-year-old Texas Region member Joseph Burton-Harris, who can count among his 2015 achievements a Runoffs title in Formula Mazda, three U.S. Majors Tour wins, plus a victory at the June Sprints, a first-place finish at the 2015 GoPro IndyCar Grand Prix of Sonoma Formula Car Challenge, and the aforementioned invitation to compete in the Mazda Road to 24 contest.
Among young SCCA members, Burton-Harris might be termed the racer with the longest commute to almost any SCCA event. Born in Reading, England, to a New Zealander mother (Lisa) and a British father (Brian), and raised in Sydney, Australia, where he and his family live, Burton-Harris abbreviated that commute in 2015 by living with his grandparents in Alabama and his team, Moses Smith Racing, in Texas.
Not that travel is foreign to the Aussie. He is a four-time Australian karting state champion and a five-time national champion. In 2012-’13, he represented Australia in the Rotax World Championships, first in Portugal (seventh) and then in 2013 in New Orleans, where he finished first in the rain by seven seconds in the second heat. In between, he has raced in karting series in Germany and France as well.
“I’ve always been interested – or I guess you could say addicted – to motorsports as far back as I can remember,” Burton-Harris says. “Even when I was a baby I’d prefer a toy car over anything else.”
Like many young drivers, Burton-Harris began racing karts at a young age, 8 in his case. By the time he turned 17, it was time to move to cars.
“We had a range of opportunities around the world, whether it be to go down the road to the Formula 1 route in Europe or stay in Australia and do the road to V8 Supercars,” he explains. “However, I’ve always been keen on IndyCar and have always loved the USA.” So, to the U.S. and the SCCA Burton-Harris traveled for 2015.
“With the Majors and Runoffs, the SCCA provides a perfect grass-roots racing program to introduce and transition someone like myself from karting to cars,” he says.
The decision to opt for Formula Mazda was made with the help of Texas Autosports and Moses Smith Racing, Burton-Harris adds.
“They have helped me transition technically from a kart to a racecar with the aero, tires, suspension,” he says. “More than that, they have given me the confidence to move forward in the USA and the way to be a more complete driver on and off the track.”
Of his 2015 national title, Burton-Harris simply calls it “amazing.” He applies the same adjective to his Road to 24 experience.
If 2015 is a year for Burton-Harris to remember because of his on-track success, 2014 is a year to recall for something different. At the 2013 Rotax World Championships in New Orleans, he contracted a water-borne virus that attacked his central nervous system and kept him bed-bound for much of 2014. The illness was serious enough that it nearly ended his racing career.
Burton-Harris put his convalescence to good use, however, researching how the human body works and creating a not-for-profit organization, 21st Century Youth LLC (www.21cy.org), dedicated to helping young people overcome adversity and make wise choices about drugs, alcohol, driving, food, and life.
“My passion is for racing, but my purpose is to motivate youth under 21 to be wiser, stronger, and healthier, as they are the future of humanity,” he says.
As for this coming season, Burton-Harris says he intends to return to the U.S. for another season of racing, perhaps in Pro Mazda, as well as returning to the Runoffs at Mid-Ohio to defend his title.
“The SCCA has taught me how to drive better than I have ever driven before by introducing me to some of the most amazing tracks in the world,” he says. “Secondly,” Burton-Harris adds, “the SCCA has shown me how, as a driver, we are really part of one big family. The SCCA officials around the country have been amazing, clapping and waving their flags when we win, standing in torrential rain, supporting us to do what we love. I have met some of the most amazing, positive people through the SCCA.”
Words by James Heine
Image by Rick Corwine