by Manny Sousa, photos by Lou & Burch

Bracket racing has truly evolved over the last decade or so. As purses have increased dramatically in that span, the equipment utilized in competition has improved beyond comprehension. Packages have tightened up tremendously. Sub .010 packages are so common in the bracket racing universe that to win at a consistent rate, week in and week out, is unlikely.

There are exceptions. Competitors who just make it look easy. There is an explosion of up and coming talent in this game and a lot of them are under twenty years of age and yet, have a decade or more of experience due to the Junior Dragster ranks. Their are some very serious young guns taking over the racetracks throughout the country. They are snatching up all of the ‘Happy Gilmore’ checks, all of the trophies and most importantly, all of the cash!

Gage Burch is one such individual barnstorming the bracket racing community. Adept in just about any class, Burch is a remarkable competitor. At age 19, Burch has amassed quite the resume that even a thirty year veteran would be envious. It is certainly no surprise to his fellow racers in the Sunshine state and southern Georgia. Since he started racing in junior’s at the ripe old age of eight, Gage has been turning on enough electricity in his lane to keep Tampa Bay lit! At 3:45 on Sunday morning, Gage lit the biggest lamp of his career in the largest paying drag race in the history of the sport at the SFG 500 at U.S. 131 in Martin, Michigan.

Gage texted his buddy, Matt Dadas, in hopes of securing a ride for the prestigious and historical race. Dadas offered up a ride nobody could turn down. You get offered a Ford Ranger in this game, you take it! Burch promptly entered the event, flew up north and proceeded to show out in impressive fashion. Burch took his horse to the final of the first 50K to notched an impressive runner up where his .003 take .012 landed him .0002 under. However, Burch wasn’t done and went on to win the history making event, taking on some of the best racers on hand. Gage Burch had become elite! Or maybe it was destiny.

The story of this extremely talented young man starts with his parents, Matt and Diane Burch. Both were talented bracket racers themselves. Matt was a consistent winner in the brutal arenas of Sunshine Dragstrip and Bradenton Motorsports Park. Every week, some of the biggest names in the sport today were honing their craft. The west coast of Florida has churned out some of the absolute legends in bracket racing and Matt was always in the hunt. Diane was also a terror in the bottom bulb ranks. She bought a Malibu Wagon off of Kenny Underwood that has become legendary down here. The car still competes to this day with Gage behind the wheel in the Sportsman class where he is currently sitting atop the points this season as well as leading the Pro class in his Mustang he calls ‘Tiffany’.

(Gage’s first winner circle pic, being held by his mom, Diane Burch)

The irony of the ‘Margaritaville Mali’, is that it is the very first car he won in. He was in the womb when it happened. That’s right, Diane and son teamed up for the win that night. Destiny? It’s a funny little story that really makes you wonder.

Gage and his parents made a terrific team when it came time to get him into the sport and they quietly parked their rides to pursue the upcoming adventure. The one thing about Gage that was immediate from the get go was that he absorbed information. Surrounded constantly by consistent winners and champions, he picked up the game very quickly. At the age of 11 or so it became very apparent there was something special about this kid. Matt and Gage were a dominant force even in his younger years.

Matt was always on top of things when it came time for the race. Diane, always right there supporting, and the win lights were constant. There was a dedication in their eyes that had no equivalent. They were always prepared. The pride and total support for Gage from his family and friends would make your heart melt.

There were times where you just knew something big was brewing. By the time Gage was running the 7.90 class, it all became crystal clear. Talking to Gage about bracket racing strategy was surreal. Here was a young man a few years shy of an actual driver’s license, with a grasp on the sport that some racers who were going at it for decades didn’t know. The future was bright!

When you walk into Gages’ home, you are met with racing trophies from every corner of the room. Big checks, Wally’s and Iron Men, (25 of the former, 22 of the latter as of this point in time). It’s a bit overwhelming to see. Matt said that they had to put most of them in the downstairs man cave to make room. His bedroom is equally adorned. While the majority of accomplishments were from the junior ranks, a few things stand out. Gage won the most coveted footbrake race at age 16 at the World Footbrake Challenge. The youngest to do so at that time. He won the No Box Nationals footbraking his friend Lucas Walker’s rent a ride. He has won four Wally’s in a single NHRA Division Finals weekend.

He has won the New Years Nationals. Now, he has won the biggest prize to date for a bracket racer. If you think you are pretty good at bracket racing, you probably shouldn’t go over to the Burch residence. You might end up quitting. Yet, with all of these accomplishments, the Palmetto, Florida resident is one of the most humble people you could know. He never brags, never gets cocky and will be the first one to help you out. He is somebody to look up to despite his age.

Hanging out with Gage at the racetrack could benefit any racer. Just watching his focus and determination are a sight to see. The true secret behind his success has to be his attention and awareness. He watches everything and everyone. His edge is that he knows more about his opponent than the actual opponent. Gage will see a competitors dial and already knows he can’t run it. He knows when it’s fast. He knows when you are dialed to spray. He peels the layers of information like a knife to an apple and devours that information. He studies every aspect of his run and his strategy. He has ice running through his veins. Trying to get in his head is a waste of time. He knows what you are doing and will likely make it backfire on you.

He is extremely fun to watch and although this author may be a little biased, the truth is hard to deny. There is no doubt that the bracket racing world has some incredible talent out there. Every track has a super star in the making. Some may read this article and maybe not be impressed. I have said this numerous times, to numerous people. I do not get impressed very easily. Gage Burch impresses the hell out of me!

Manny Sousa

Other images of Gage. Just a few of SEVERAL winner circle photos.