SOUTH BOSTON — Five people from four states received a big thrill last Wednesday as former NASCAR Cup Series star and Daytona 500 winner Ward Burton and his son, NASCAR Cup Series, NASCAR Xfinity Series and NASCAR Truck Series competitor Jeb Burton, treated them to high-speed laps around South Boston Speedway.
Casey and Shawn Mesler of Damascus, Ohio, Jason Carey of Idaho, Robert Bartholomew of New Mexico and Richmond, Virginia, resident Stephen Werkmeister won a ride-along with the Burtons in a NASCAR Truck through a promotion that was part of a fundraising effort for the Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation.
Jeb Burton said Wednesday’s ride-along event was a fun event.
“I’m glad to be here and glad to have the winners here,” he said with a big smile. “Those guys are having fun. It gives them a first-hand experience behind the wheel of a truck. It’s a lot of fun. Hopefully we will get to do this next year, too.”
Proceeds raised from the fundraising effort went to the Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation’s Next Generation Outreach Program. The Next Generation Outreach initiative is geared to young people and brings classroom presentations to students across Virginia that combine science with resource conservation and stewardship.
Mike Roberts serves as naturalist and outreach educator for the Next Generation Outreach Program. Prior to working for the Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation, Roberts was the executive director and outreach educator for Return To Nature Inc. That organization conducted classroom programs for over 300,000 students in Virginia and Indiana and included limited visits to seven other surrounding states from 2000 until 2010.
Randy Johnson, the founder of God’s Pit Crew, a non-profit, faith-based crisis response team based in Danville, donated the use of the organization’s two-seat NASCAR race truck for the ride-along event.
The organization has over 700 volunteers participating on the crisis response team founded by Johnson in 1999.
Among the attendees were Ray Page representing LS Tractor and Brandon Divers representing Alsco. The two firms are among sponsors for the Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation’s Next Generation Outreach Program.
Ward Burton said the fundraising effort with the ride-along promotion was made possible by his son and Johnson.
“I thank my son, Jeb,” Ward Burton said. “This was his idea and Randy’s idea. We were able to collect some good money for our outreach program. I want to thank Randy Johnson and all of the people with God’s Pit Crew. He is such a fabulous individual and the organization does so many great things for not only the people locally, but for people around the country. Randy, Jeb and I are talking about doing this same thing solely for God’s Pit Crew.
“I want to thank all of the participants,” he added. “I also thank Cathy Rice and everybody at South Boston Speedway for letting us be here.”
Jeb Burton was appreciative of the support received for the fundraising effort as well.
“I thank God’s Pit Crew for allowing us to use the truck, along with State Water Heaters, Alsco, LS Tractor and Yamaha. They all help the Next Generation Youth Outreach Program,” he said. “The program is very important. It’s important to teach kids about wildlife, conservation and the outdoors. The program, the truck and trailer, the gas needed to go up and down the road, and a full-time employee gets expensive. To have all of the support we have from our partners is great and we appreciate their help very much. It’s benefitting a good cause.
“We’re still looking for partners to get the program fully funded,” added Burton. “Maybe we can branch out and do more schools than just in Virginia.”
Roberts said The Next Generation Outreach Program reached over 20,000 students last year and had reached right at 9,000 students this year before the program halted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The coronavirus has kind of got us halted, but we’re still doing some programs,” Ward Burton said. “We did a program for The Virginia Cooperative Extension Service and did a part of it at The Cove last Friday. Mike’s got another program with the Ag Extension Office in Halifax on Thursday.”
Burton pointed out programs have been held across Virginia.
“We’ve done programs in every Halifax County school,” he noted. “We did programs in District 8 (which includes Halifax County) three semesters ago. We went to Southwest Virginia, started in Tidewater last December, and then the virus hit around March and kind of shut us down. We’re still dedicated to the program and know that anytime we can make a difference in a child’s life and help the teacher reinforce their mandated material about natural resources that’s a great opportunity to take advantage of.”