Todd Gilliland needed only seven races to obtain his first late model victory. The 13-year-old son of NASCAR driver David Gilliland is no stranger to success.
In 2012, Todd won a track championship at the North Carolina Quarter Midget Association facility in Salisbury. Before moving to the late model ranks, he collected 34 quarter midget victories.
Last year, the younger Gilliland won the USAC World Formula National Quarter Midget Championship, as well as a couple of West Coast quarter midget titles. Once the quarter midget season ended, the Mill Creek Middle School student turned his attention to late model racing, competing in three events before the end of 2013.
His first pole and victory in limited late model came in his fourth race this year at Ace Speedway in Altamahaw, near Elon. He also has finished within the top three in his past five races.
However, the Todd probably won’t seek the track championship in either the late model or limited late model division, even though he leads the standings in both at the four-tenths-mile paved facility.
“We said at the beginning of the year we were not going to try and chase any points,” David Gilliland said. “I think in the interest of him learning the most he can this particular year, it’s important to go and try to run that big late model Martinsville race (in the fall) … (and) some of the bigger races.
“We have a 6-foot-by-4-foot dry erase board calendar on the wall. Basically, we went through all of the tracks – Greenville, Martinsville, Myrtle Beach, Hickory, Ace, Kenly, Southern National, Orange County – and wrote down all the races. A couple of weeks before, my plan is to see where we are, the condition the car is in and pick them as we go. Our plan is to run 25 to 30 races this year.”
The father and son also are constructing a straight rail, CRA-style car, with their eyes set on the Snowball Derby in Pensacola, Fla., in December. Some PASS South races also are on the agenda, as well as Motor Mile Speedway near Radford, Va.
The younger Gilliland’s first outing at Ace Speedway this year had him racing in the late model and limited late model divisions on the same night so he could gain more experience.
“No matter how good you are, seat time is always good. And especially since I’m still learning, the more seat time you can get, the better you will grow,” Todd said. “Going from limited to late model is a lot harder than going from late model to limited, because once you’ve raced late model and you go back to limited, it’s just so much slower, so much easier to drive.”
Ace Speedway was first on the young racer’s agenda this year because of his age. The track’s races are sanctioned by American Speed Association and allow younger drivers. Once Todd celebrates his 14th birthday on May 15, he can compete at NASCAR-sanctioned short tracks.
The pair works on the younger driver’s race cars in a shop behind their Sherrills Ford home after the honor roll student completes his homework. Due to David Gilliland’s NASCAR Sprint Cup obligations with Front Row Racing, he can’t attend all of his son’s events. That led him to hire Chris Lawson earlier this year as his son’s crew chief.
The elder Gilliland, who was at Talladega when his son won the limited late model race, said not being able to attend all of his son’s races is “probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.”
“To see him progress and see the interest that’s in him in the racing world is a lot of fun and very satisfying. But not being able to be there while he’s racing and not being able to be there for his first win, it’s tough,” David Gilliland said.
Todd agrees that it’s hard when he’s racing and his dad isn’t at his event.
“I always want him to be there when I race because he gives me good pointers, but I also understand that he has to race and make money for me to race,” he said.
The younger Gilliland began racing quarter midgets at age 5, competed until age 7 and then took a two-year hiatus before returning at age 9.
“We’ve been racing so long you see kids that it’s pretty obvious their parents want them to race more than they want to race,” David Gilliland said. “I didn’t want that at all. It got to a point where he wanted to race, but I didn’t think he really wanted to race with all he had. So we took a break.”
During that “break,” Todd played soccer and basketball, but he continued to ask his father when they were going to race again.
“After about two years of him not racing at all and still wanting to, that’s when we got back into it pretty heavy with the quarter midgets, and we’ve been racing ever since,” Todd’s father said. “He’s really learned a lot on these race cars in the last couple of months. He’s digging more into the nuts and bolts of the car, starting to ask his own questions as to why and how something works. It’s been a lot of fun teaching him. To be able to do it with your son, it’s pretty special.”
Speedways have nights off in May
East Lincoln Speedway is giving its competitors the night off on May 17. Hickory Motor Speedway has listed that same evening on its schedule as “available for track rental.”
The Sprint All-Star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway is scheduled for May 17.
Carolina Speedway has selected May 23 as the night it won’t conduct its weekly schedule. That Friday night the World of Outlaws STP Sprint Car Series will have the Outlaw Showdown at The Dirt Track at Charlotte.