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.”