Cremation has taken place under the direction of Croxford Funeral Home and Crematory. His memorial service is 2 p.m. Sunday at First United Methodist Church.
Gene left us on Dec. 8, 2009. We expect he's gone racing with his departed friends, or is beginning another great project.
Gene was born in Great Falls on Nov. 1, 1936, to Carl and Phyllis Burkland.
His brother Jack died in 2004, and his sister Bonnie Flanagan lives in Missoula. In 1959, he married Betty Hunter. They have two sons; Tom and his wife Linda and daughter Carly from Ogden, Utah, and Bill and his wife Barb and sons Nick and John from Clancy. Gene grew up in Great Falls, and graduated from Great Falls High School in 1954.
Gene began his career with the Montana Air National Guard in 1956 and worked there for nearly 30 years, welding everything from titanium aircraft parts to tricycles and red wagons. When he retired, he moved into race car production and welding/repair work at his home shop. His love affair with cars began in 1951, when he bought his first car for $7.50. After investing in a $10 piston, he was ready to roll!
During the 1960s, his was a familiar face at drag races across Montana, first with a 1932 Ford roadster, and then with a dragster. Classics Car Club, custom show cars, stock cars and dragsters grew into a Bonneville land speed racer produced and run with the assistance of hundreds of friends. In 1971, he took his home-built Studebaker and many friends to Bonneville for the annual Speed Week. He set a national record in 1978 at 255 mph, becoming the first Montanan in the exclusive Bonneville 200 MPH Club. His next car put his son Tom into the 200 MPH Club. Since 1986, Gene, Betty and Tom have been building and racing their streamliner. They set a National Speed Record in October 2004 at 417 mph and a World Speed Record in September of 2008 at 416 mph.
Gene's life revolved around the love of his family and the friends he accumulated through his skill and creativity in welding, his love of cars and curiosity about everything. He was a magnet who drew people to his garage and he had that stubborn streak needed to see an idea through to the end.
He began battling his lung disease in earnest in 1997. We're glad he's finally breathing easy, but we'll miss his ever-present smile.
In lieu of flowers, please bring or send your favorite picture of you and Gene to Croxford Funeral Home, 1307 Central Ave. Great Falls, MT 59401.
Donations can be made to "Save the Salt" c/o Russ Eyres, 3673 Millikin Ave., San Diego, CA 92122.
Condolences may be posted online at www.croxfordfuneralhome.com and/or www.gftribune.com/obituaries.