This time of the year, there is nothing like taking a drive on a cool autumn day and reflecting on the past year as it draws to a close. However, one Waxahachie resident is a little more focused on her driving – and how she can improve it for the next IMCA Stock Car racing season.
Mitzi Burkham started watching dirt track racing in 2007 at Texas Thunder Speedway in Killeen, Texas. A popular sport where dust flies as various stock cars race around the track, she found herself captivated by the speed of the vehicles and the skill of their drivers.
While finishing college in 2013, she returned to the track with her son to watch some friends race. She had talked about getting to ride in one of the powerful cars as a graduation present and her friend, Carl Boettcher, surprised her by telling her to go put on a fire suit, as she would need one to ride. Burkham was excited, except there was one problem. There was no room on the passenger’s side.
She brought this up to her friends but then they explained. She wouldn’t be riding. She would be driving.
They told Burkham how to drive around the track. There are no right turns in racing. Then they took her to the pit, sorted a few things out and put her on the track. She raced the other vehicles and did a grand total of 10 laps.
“I was hooked from there,” Burkham said in recounting the event. “In 2017, I was invited to go to Boone Iowa for the Super Nationals by a friend, ‘Buck’ Owens. He then asked if I want to race. I said yes. I have been racing ever since.”
Burkham drives an IMCA Stock Car with the No. 87 printed on the side. It has a 1983 Oldsmobile Cutlass Body with a 393 cubic inch Chevrolet motor and a TCI Direct Drive PowerGlide transmission. Her sponsors include Fat Daddy’s Design, Browning Auto Parts, Mark Herring Race Engines, Terry’s Body Shop, Ray’s Transmissions, Ennis Fun Sports, Pro 1 Services, Estep Music, Farmers Insurance, Speed Secrets and Owens Motorsports. She mostly races at the 281 Speedway in Stephenville, Texas, while balancing her day job as a medical assistant.
On race day, Burkham has to focus on getting the car loaded and secured to the trailer. The tool box also has to have everything packed in it, so they can get the car ready when they arrive at the track. The ride there is mostly quiet, however, leaving Burkham free to think and ask Owens, her crew chief, any questions about the race. Once they arrive, it is all-hands-on-deck. They must purchase a pit pass and run diagnostics, checking everything from the car’s engine fluids to Burkham’s driving gear. The last check is seeing where she starts in the race – and then it’s time to ride.
Sometimes racing can get tiring, with Burkham saying the two-day races can be especially difficult and the cars always need maintenance. Still, she loves the “awesome” feeling of being on the track and behind the wheel.
2019 was her rookie season. She drove hard and finished fourth in points at 281 Speedway, receiving the I-Stock Rookie of the Year Award.
“I would like to send out a special thank you to the drivers who helped me throughout my rookie season, for all the advice and small talk they didn’t hesitate to give: Gene Burnett, Ronnie Bell, Jeremy Adtkins, Cody ‘Supa’ Daniels, Shelbi Baker (her race hero), Justin Wierenga, Joe Spillman, and Lane and Amanda Hughes (her son and daughter-in-law) but, most importantly, my car owner and crew chief Vernon ‘Buck’ Owens,” Burkham said. “Without these drivers and my crew chief/car owner, I wouldn’t have been able to do this. Thank you all for an awesome rookie season, #BoundandDetermined.”