Todd Gilliland and the sacrifices of a racing family

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It’s almost a cliché.

The rising stars of NASCAR – Chase Elliott, Erik Jones, John Hunter Nemechek, Cole Custer – are young.

They’re old enough to vote and race at 180 mph for living, but can’t buy a beer.

Then there’s Todd Gilliland. At the age of 15, only one of those is an option.

The son of veteran NASCAR driver David Gilliland, Todd Gilliland is the newest kid on the block in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series circuit.

In the last year, he has won all three K&N Pro Series races he’s entered with Bill McAnally Racing and become the youngest winner in ARCA Racing history.

But last July, the need to drive on a speedway temporarily derailed his chances of driving around an actual block in his hometown of Mooresville, North Carolina.

“I didn’t get my permit on my birthday (on May 15),” Todd Gilliland told NBC Sports. “I was in driver’s ed … and then I was going to go run Iowa (Speedway) in an ARCA car. I had to quit. I had to miss the last day of driver’s ed. I had to retake driver’s ed.”

Making a sacrifice, big or small, is nothing new in the Gilliland family when it comes to pursuing racing dreams.

When Todd Gilliland’s sister Taylor was born 13 years ago, David Gilliland had enough time to welcome her into the world. Then he jumped into a waiting truck in the hospital parking lot that carried him to his next race.

Just a few short years into Todd Gilliland’s career, the racing had to stop. His father’s NASCAR dreams came to fruition, meaning the family would move from California to North Carolina.

“When we moved out to North Carolina from California we got really busy and took off for a little bit,” Todd Gilliland said.

A little bit was two years. Meanwhile, friends he had back in California continued to race

“I went out there sometimes and watched them do really good and stuff like that,” Todd Gilliland said. “But having to watch kills me. It still kills me when I have to go to the race track and not race. I think it gave me more passion, not that I didn’t have it before. I never want to be out of the race car ever again.”

The only thing that may keep him out of a car now is his mother, Michelle Gilliland, and her one mandate for her son’s career.

“My mom says I have to have As and Bs to race,” Todd Gilliland said.

A sophomore in high school, Todd Gilliland doesn’t have plans to attend college. He plans to take the same road that led his father to 10 seasons in the Sprint Cup Series, a Daytona 500 pole and one win in the Xfinity Series. That road also led his grandfather, Butch Gilliland, to winning the 1997 Winston West Series championship.

The road’s already leading to good career stops. Todd Gilliland is competing full-time in the K&N West series this year in addition to joining Kyle Busch Motorsports’ Super Late Model team.

Todd Gilliland’s pursuit of his dream will be fully shared with his dad, who is without a full-time ride in NASCAR for the first time since 2007.

“He’s always been super involved, but I think this is the most involved he’s been,” Todd Gilliland said. “Last year he put every minute of time he was home into my stuff, but that wasn’t even that much because he was gone so much. This year, he has the time and I’m going to be the main thing that he does. He’s been at the shop every day (crew chief) Chris (Lawson) has. The shop is out there in Sacramento, California, and we live in Mooresville, North Carolina. He’ll go out there for like a week at a time before every race and work hard and everything. He’s always out there.”

After a family vacation this week, Todd Gilliland will be on a plane out to Bakersfield, California, to compete in the K&N West race at Kern County Raceway Park. It will be the latest stop in young career that can find its roots at the North Carolina Quarter Midget Association track in Salisbury, North Carolina.

That’s the site of Todd Gilliland’s earliest memory of racing himself, in an event that still drives him years later.

“There was only four cars in my race, I was running third,” he remembers. “There was a caution with a couple of laps to go and the guy (behind me) beat me so I finished last in the race. Gosh, that race still gets me inside because that was the first race I even remember racing. I finished last.

“I think I’ve gotten better since then.”

Mental fatigue, endurance are biggest challenges for drivers in Coca 600 (video)

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While you’d think they’re the same thing, mental fatigue and endurance are two entirely different animals when it comes to racing in NASCAR’s longest race of the season, Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

On Friday’s Motorsports Special on NBCSN, NASCAR on NBC analyst and former NASCAR Cup crew chief Steve Letarte explained how drivers deal with both the mental and physical strain of the grueling race. Also giving their viewpoint were Kyle Petty and Parker Kligerman.

Driving around isn’t grueling you say, eh? Tell that to Brad Keselowski, who lost an incredible 16 pounds racing in a 600 a few years back.

Drivers will make sure to stay hydrated with liquids — and even snacks like candy bars to keep their energy boosted — during the course of the race.

Check out Letarte’s analysis in the videos above and below.

 

Legendary announcer Ken Squier gets you ready for Sunday’s big day of racing (video)

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Sunday is the biggest day of the year in motorsports, starting in the morning with Formula One’s legendary Monaco Grand Prix.

Then, at Noon ET, it’s the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The final part of the tripleheader of racing is NASCAR’s longest race of the season, the 400 lap, 600 mile Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Newly-named NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2018 inductee Ken Squier gives you a great primer for what promises to be a memorable day around the world (see video above).

Roller coasters, bicycling & softball: How drivers spent their day off

Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images
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With no track activity, NASCAR Cup drivers had a free day on Friday and some were able to get out and about.

Jimmie Johnson helped organize a 69-mile bike ride Friday morning for 2006 MotoGP world champion Nicky Hayden, who died May 22 at age 35 from injures suffered when he was hit by a car while cycling in Italy. The 69 miles ridden were for the number Hayden raced with in his career. Among drivers who joined him were Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray, Chase Elliott and Daniel Suarez.

 

Others did other activities on their day off.

Ryan Blaney went to Carowinds amusement park just south of Charlotte, North Carolina, and took to periscope as he rode in the front row on the Fury 325 roller coaster, which reaches a peak height of 325 feet and then goes into an 81-degree drop.

The ride reaches speeds up to 95 mph. The coaster is North America’s longest steel coaster at 1.25 miles. The average ride time is 3 minutes, 25 seconds, and the ride crosses both the North Carolina and South Carolina border.

Brad Keselowski spent part of his team playing in the Team Penske softball game and provided proof of his hitting ability.

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Stewart-Haas Racing, Nature’s Bakery reach settlement that includes sponsorship

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Stewart-Haas Racing announced Friday that it has reached an agreement with Nature’s Bakery that will include the company serving as a sponsor for four Cup races split between Clint Bowyer and Danica Patrick.

Those four races will be announced at a later date.

As part of the agreement, all lawsuits between Stewart-Haas Racing and Nature’s Bakery have been dropped.

Stewart-Haas Racing filed a $31 million breach of contract lawsuit against Nature’s Bakery on Feb. 3. Nature’s Bakery had two years remaining on a three-year contract to sponsor Danica Patrick’s team when the company sent the team a notice of termination on Jan. 19 . Nature’s Bakery was to have paid $15,212,000 each season to sponsor the team.

Nature’s Bakery filed a counterclaim Feb. 25 stating it did not see the return it was led to believe in sponsoring Patrick’s team.

“It’s gratifying to see a difficult situation get resolved in a professional manner that suits all parties,” said Brett Frood, president, Stewart-Haas Racing. “Together, we worked diligently to find an equitable solution to our collective challenges.”

“I am a longtime motorsports fan and, particularly, a fan of NASCAR,” said Dave Marson, founder of Nature’s Bakery. “Our partnership with Stewart-Haas Racing began with direct, open conversations and that foundation allowed us to reach this agreement.”

Other parts of the agreement were not revealed.

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