comments

Speedway to honor ‘Roseville Rocket’

USAC sprint cars will run the first Larry Burton Classic tonight
By: Bill Poindexter/Roseville Press Tribune Sports Editor
-A +A

Larry Burton is one of those motor sports names that won’t be forgotten by the old guard in Roseville and the sprint car world.

The ceremony that will take place tonight at All American Speedway will introduce Burton’s name to the younger generation.

Burton, who died in 2007, will be honored when USAC sprint cars make their first appearance of the season in Roseville for the inaugural 100-lap Larry Burton Classic. NCMA wingless sprint cars, Ford Focus midgets and the Legends of the Pacific also will run tonight.

Burton, the “Roseville Rocket,” won a record five modified, hardtop and sprint car track championships at the old West Capital Raceway in West Sacramento spanning the early 1960s to the late 1970s. He won 25 main events in a row at one point.

Ed Watson, who arrived in Roseville around 1961, owned and served as crew chief on the cars Burton drove. Watson, accompanied by Frank Richards, another longtime racer from Roseville, stopped by the Press Tribune on Wednesday to talk about those days. Watson has all the stories on their days together … millions of them, or so it seems.

Watson, now 76, said he was with Burton three days before he died, a day that included Watson and another friend taking Burton for a drive to check out the sights. Back at Burton’s home, the leadfoot asked Watson how many main events in a row they won.

“I says, ‘Oh, maybe five.’ He says, ‘No, 25.’ I says, ‘Larry, you’re wrong,’” said Watson, who owned several businesses in the area over the years.

Burton called to his wife, who brought out a newspaper article about the team’s 25 consecutive victories.

“The year we won the championship, between Roseville and (West Capital), we won 22 of the 42 races we ran,” Watson said of another dominating stretch.

Burton didn’t wear gloves when he raced and had blisters on top of blisters during a 100-lapper in Chico. Watson saw Burton’s bleeding hands during a red flag and asked the hotshoe if he wanted a relief driver.

“He says, ‘Hell no, I wanna win the race,’” Watson said. “He went on to win the race.”

They once won a race in Carson City. That night, Chuck Webb qualified a second Watson car for a race the team won in Roseville. The next night, Burton won at West Capital.

Burton promoted as hard as he drove. Burton spearheaded All American Speedway’s conversion to a pavement racing surface. He promoted the popular Rose Classic and promoted at Carson City Speedway for several years.

Watson said he had the car, the driver, the engine and the know-how to hook them up to the tracks on which they won. Watson said he and Burton “made each other great.”

Of course, they didn’t always see eye to eye either. This is Saturday night racing, filled with noise, burning rubber, the stench of exhaust, overheating engines and, occasionally, heads.

“We had a lot of success; we had a lot of fights. Larry was an ornery son of a gun. Ed Watson was, too. That’s what made us click,” Watson said, recalling a night in Roseville when Watson himself was thrown out of the pits earlier. “I’m outside, and (Burton is) inside with the racecar and the crew, and he walks up to the fence and starts giving me a bad time, and I swing at him right through the cyclone fence trying to get him. Geez, tore my hand all up. We were just very competitive.”

ALL AMERICAN SPEEDWAY
When:
Saturday. Gates open at 4 p.m. Racing at 6.
On the program: USAC sprint cars, featuring the Larry Burton Classic (100 laps), NCMA wingless sprint cars, Ford Focus midgets, Legends of the Pacific
Tickets: $15 for adults 16 and up, $12 for seniors 60 and up and military, $10 for juniors 7-15
Parking: $5 per vehicle
Information: (916) 786-2025 or www.allamericanspeedway.com