How Morgan Burkhard Became SCCA’s 2023 Jim Fitzgerald Rookie of the Year

Then-17-year-old Morgan Burkhard surprised no one who’d raced against him in 2023 by winning the Spec Racer® Ford Gen3 pole at the SCCA® National Championship Runoffs®. Sadly, though, the winner of seven Hoosier Racing Tire Super Tour and SCCA U.S. Majors Tour races during his rookie season was forced to pull off with a suspension failure with just four laps to go, robbed of a chance to participate in the last-lap chess match of a race to the podium at VIRginia International Raceway – a much-loved track for the Washington DC Region member and West Virginia native. Despite the unfortunate end to his race, he’d left his mark, running a strong fourth in a breakaway group that was showing the other SRF3 racers what speed in a spec class looked like.

Less than 120 days later, the well-spoken high school senior was exiting Daytona International Raceway’s pitlane in a turbocharged front-wheel-drive Hyundai Elantra, preparing for his TCR-class debut in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.

He was also about to be named as SCCA’s Jim Fitzgerald Rookie of the Year winner for 2023. Indeed, he was an overnight success. Turns out, that rookie success was 10 years in the making.

Third Generation
A third generation SCCA member, Burkhard dedicated his Runoffs appearance and the 2024 season to the memory of his grandfather, Josh Cockey, a veteran Washington DC Region flagger who passed away suddenly in 2023. Grandmother Sheila is another long-time SCCA volunteer; Sheila’s cousins were Formula Vee racers; and both of Morgan’s parents, John and Beth, raced in ITC, ITB, ITA, HP and FP.

“Both were MARRS champions and race-winners,” says Morgan. “My dad stopped racing in 2017. And my mom's not been on track since 2019. I started taking up a lot of the budget.”

Morgan grew up around race cars and would soon profit from the attention of family friend Francois Duret, a 24 Hours of Le Mans competitor in the mid-1980s and indoor kart track owner, who helped the youngster and his family get started in karting.

Karting Roots
Morgan raced the 50cc Honda-powered Sodi kart for three years, then did a year of short-track oval racing in a family friend's Bandolero, following up while in middle school with a year of autocross in a Junior B-class cadet kart, taking home the DC Region Solo Championship.

“Autocrossing was a great experience,” he says. “You learn at an accelerated rate – three tries at a track before it changes, so you have to go out and figure things out pretty quick.”

After taking a year off to regroup, the karting bug bit once more.

“I turned 13 in 2019, and we started running a Briggs & Stratton Local Option 206 kart – tiny brakes and a generator engine on a kart chassis. LO206 is kind of like the spec racer of karting. There's basically no power and every race is a pack race. It teaches you a lot about race craft."

Burkhard raced LO206 for two years, then in 2021 stepped up to a water-cooled 125cc kart.

“Those are triple or quadruple the horsepower of the LO206. There's a whole lot more nuances. And that's like you put your brain in a washing machine and then at the end of the session take it out of the washing machine and you realize what just happened.”

Extra Tooling
Along with a big move to a faster kart, Burkhard acquired all the gear and started sim racing with iRacing in 2021.

“That has been so useful,” he explains. “I mean, you can use it to learn racetracks – learning where the track goes is so helpful when I go to a new track. I have a head start by the time I get there.

“The past three years, pretty much all of my off time has been on the sim, practicing,” he continues. "The sim community is so huge. There are a ton of different leagues out there that are very, very competitive.”

One of the best known is the Full Send Sims Spec Miata Series – 40 or 50 cars, all Spec Miata drivers, SCCA members from all around the U.S.

"I ended up winning three straight FSS championships and I got the inaugural Creamer Award – and met Greg himself – early last year. Both the FSS – which is now one of my SRF3 and MPC sponsors – and the MX-5 World Sim Series have been so helpful."

In this world, Burkhard is now a team owner: “I've always thought about running a team and now I do,” he says. “Parallel Racing Group is a team that myself, Nathan Nicholson, and Joncarlo Schooler started to help drivers bridge the gap between sim racing and reality – help them develop skills in the sim world they will need in a real race car, help prepare them for real life races.”

On to Spec Racer
In 2022, Morgan made the transition from karts to cars, earning his SCCA competition license, running Regionals in his dad’s venerable ITA Honda CRX (with boundless help from engineer Roger Troxell), and taking DC Region Rookie of the Year honors. That winter, they set about upgrading the CRX to F Production spec with no idea that one year later he would be on pole at the Runoffs in one of SCCA’s most challenging classes, Spec Racer Ford Gen3.

“Spec Racer? That notion wasn't really a thing until a week before the first Majors race of the year,” Burkhard admits. “We were going to run the Honda in F Production at Summit Point in April. We were building a motor and making the upgrades, but a couple weeks before the race we were like, ‘This is not gonna happen. We're out of time. We’ve got to find something else to do.’”

That's when Dog Gone Racing’s owner and master of all trades Mike Amy stepped in.

“I've known [Mike] since I was a baby,” says Morgan. “My first memory of Mike is him lowering me into a trash can upside down to pull something out for him when I was 5.”

Amy’s York, PA, team runs several Spec Racers, and he pulled Morgan’s dad John aside at the family’s annual Daytona 24 Hour watch party and said, “I want Morgan to drive one of my cars this year.”

It was a near-perfect partnership, and Amy was well-rewarded through the year for his faith in the 17-year-old.

“Mike was incredibly supportive,” says Morgan. “Nothing would've been possible last year without his help. And I would not have been at Daytona [racing TCR with IMSA] this year without him.”

At the 2024 SCCA National Convention in January 2024, Burkhard was the deserving winner of the Jim Fitzgerald Rookie of the Year Award, presented annually to the driver showing noteworthy promise in his or her first season of SCCA National Road Racing competition.

Kudos since have been showered on the teenager from all over the country. Yes. he was surprised.

“It was a little bit of a shock when [SCCA Vice President of Road Racing] Eric Prill walked into our trailer at the Sebring Hoosier Super Tour. I was like, ‘Oh no! This is terrible. What did I do?’ But he told me that I'd won the Jim Fitzgerald Award, and it took me a little bit to realize what that meant. I was definitely surprised. Last year was a very successful year, but I never really thought that it would catch the attention of so many people.”

Onward and Upwards
Like the Fitzgerald Award, Burkhard’s opportunity to compete in the 2024 IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge series was reward for his hard work and talent. Via his sim racing success, he made important connections with people who've helped him advance, including Billy Vincent, who last summer wrapped up a stint as Arrow McLaren IndyCar team’s Competition Director, and Jackson Gardner. Their phone calling on Burkhard's behalf led to his joining team owner Victor Gonzalez’ IMSA MPC team.

“We were able to work out a deal for me to run for a full season, which is awesome,” Morgan says. “The first time I drove the car [a TCR-class Hyundai Elantra N] was at Daytona, and it was a very, very steep learning curve. But it was a pretty successful start.”

Indeed. Eventually slowed with a pair of mechanical issues that cost Burkhard and co-driver Julian Santero 31 laps, they ran as high as second in the first hour after qualifying fourth in class.

Burkhard will continue to compete in SRF3 with SCCA, aiming for a better result at the Runoffs in his sophomore appearance. A new Apple Motorsport car will still be run by Mike Amy’s Dog Gone Racing with assistance from long-time sponsors Kids Sea Camp, a SCUBA diving school, part of

A date conflict with IMSA will keep him from competing at the Chicago Region June Sprints at Road America, part of the Hoosier Super Tour, which always attracts those with Runoffs podium aspirations – especially in years like this where Road America will also host the Runoffs.

Just turned 18 (on Dec. 13), Burkhard will finish high school in May and is struggling to work out the timing on college with plans to get an engineering degree.

Cheered on by his DC Region friends and family, the racing road ahead for Morgan Burkhard looks especially bright.

Lead photo by Jay Bonvouloir
Other photos courtesy Burkhard family