Ward Burton’s time behind the wheel in NASCAR spanned nearly two decades. Before retiring in 2007, he won five races in the Cup Series, including the Daytona 500 in 2002 and the Southern 500 in 2001. He also won four Xfinity races.
As opposed to other drivers who may be concerned about life after racing, Burton had no doubts about how he would spend his retirement.
In 1996, he established the Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation to protect rural and forest areas from urban sprawl. Initially, he thought of buying a 1,123-acre plot of land in his hometown of Halifax County, Virginia. The foundation has been in charge of more than 10,000 acres in Virginia and Pennsylvania for the past quarter century.
Burton connected the foundation with military groups a few years back, which greatly increased its reach. The WBWF supports several initiatives aimed at bettering the lives of veterans and active-duty service members, and he has worked to protect and preserve land adjacent to National Guard bases.
As of today, a WBWF property near Blacksburg, Virginia will host the next event in what Burton calls the American Hero Program. A day of outdoor sporting competitions (skeet shooting, archery, etc.), food, and fellowship will be hosted by the foundation for more than 80 veterans and service members.
Burton’s affinity for the great outdoors was innate. He spent his childhood exploring the woods and rivers near his South Boston, Virginia home, and he did the same after dropping out of college. There, in the woods, he stayed in a small cabin for months while he tried to figure out his next move.
Ward and his younger brother were eventually able to get their parents’ support to go to In his early years, Jeff raced on local short tracks. He eventually went on to win a NASCAR championship and become an analyst for NBC Sports. Both rose through the ranks, with Ward winning the Cup for the first time in 1995.
Burton maintained his connections to the forests and rivers near his home even after becoming a professional racer. Through his social networking efforts, he became well-liked by local landowners, and two elderly men who owned the majority of the land eventually gave it to Burton in the hopes that he would keep it from being developed.
Burton’s foundation had its origins in that moment.
According to Burton, “the entire property is in forestry conservation in one form or another.” About 1,200 of our land is used for farming. All of our land is being put to good use teaching others about and demonstrating effective land and wildlife management practices.
We have youth outreach programs and veteran outreach that are larger than the land we own.
After meeting four National Guard members at an Indianapolis race, Burton said he decided to expand his efforts to include programs for military veterans.
They were “all four wounded in action,” he said. We gave them a tour, escorted them to our hauler, and provided a pace car. Seeing how the combination of time spent in nature and the camaraderie of like-minded men and women can promote healing led me to continue my work in that field.
Burton started the foundation with only himself, but it has since grown to include four paid staff members and numerous volunteers. Sponsors provide financial contributions to help sustain the programs.
Burton’s son Jeb is a regular in the Xfinity Series, so he still has a connection to the sport through him. Last year, Jeb’s lone championship victory came at Talladega.
Burton occasionally makes it out to racetracks on race weekends, but mostly keeps up with his son’s career by watching him on television.
Last month at Pocono Raceway, Jeb was involved in a multi-car accident, so he got to use that experience. He crashed into the outside pit wall, and his car flipped over, sliding down the frontstretch. Although he avoided injury, the accident was unsettling.
‘My wife was ecstatic,’ Ward said. It could have been much worse, of course. I was hoping, along with everyone else, that no fire would start and that he wouldn’t take any kind of injury while he was hanging upside down. Even though modern racing cars have improved safety considerably, it remains an inherently risky activity.
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