Minnesota’s largest motorsports event will take place at Brainerd International Raceway with more than $500,000 in prize money. John Force, Larry Dixon, Cory McClenathan, Gary Sceizi and other superstars will converge on this annual event.
Phil Burkart said he will enjoy all of those attributes when he returns to Brainerd for this weekend’s Lucas Oil Nationals. The driver of the blue Checker, Schuck’s Kragen Monte Carlo Funny Car has put this stop at the top of his list for personal reasons. At Brainerd, Burkart resurrected his career and a lifetime full of dreams came true.
In 2003, Burkart was a licensed Funny Car driver working in his family-owned automotive shop in upstate New York. As the Brainerd race approached, Burkart could count only 34 race appearances in more than five seasons. Of those, 16 ended early with a DNQ, as Burkart’s various low-budget teams struggled to compete. Then, Del Worsham called.
“Del and his team were running three cars at the time, with Arnie Karp driving the black car, and Arnie got hurt at home right before the Brainerd race,” said Burkart. “About 24 hours later, I was on a plane for Minneapolis, pretty wound up that I was getting a chance to drive such a good car, for such a great team. Brainerd was like the Taj Mahal and I was walking on red carpets. The whole weekend was a bit of a blur, but it was awesome.”
This was an opportunity for Burkart to prove to every team owner in the business that he could drive. “We managed to qualify at Brainerd and Indianapolis, when more shocking news came my way,” he said. “Johnny Gray, who had been driving the blue CSK car, called it quits after Indy and Del told me I was going to the blue team. In two weeks, I’d gone from sitting at home to driving the blue CSK car.”
Three years later, Burkart is heading back to Brainerd. “The first trip, in 2003, may have been a total blur, but I’ve enjoyed this race every year since then,” he said. “It’s all about great memories, a great place, great fans and a great race. On top of that, it’s like an anniversary for me every time I come here. I raced from 1998 to 2003, and even won a Wally doing it that way, but my real career started in Brainerd.”
“You know the dream where you’re trying to get somewhere, but you just aren’t going fast enough and you can’t quite get there? In a lot of ways our season has been like that. It started well, and our confidence was sky high, but then the gremlins came and the thousandths of a second started going the other way. We need a good outing, and we need to get back on the positive side of the close races. I really thing we are going to do well this weekend, I can feel it.”
Burkart uses K&N Engineering Oil Filters during the NHRA Racing Season. “The K&N Filter is easy to install, we literally spin it on with one hand and tighten it,” said Team Worsham Manager Bob Wilber. “The K&N Filter is absolutely optimal for the demands our race cars face.”
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