By Team Ford Racing Correspondent
It’s not unusual for children of race car drivers to want to follow in their fathers’ tire tracks, but few succeed when it comes time to make the lap times count.
Todd Gilliland might be one of those who does.
The 13-year-old son of Sprint Cup driver David Gilliland made his Late Model Stock debut recently at Ace Speedway in Altamahaw, N.C., scoring a second-place finish. The race was Todd’s first in big-bodied stock cars after years of success in quarter-midgets.
The finish wasn’t a big surprise for proud father David, who said his son had impressed him last fall as the family began testing Todd’s skills in stock cars. Both father and son turned laps at Hickory Speedway in North Carolina in Todd’s first runs in a stocker.
“When we went to the track the first day, my goal was for him to learn how to use the clutch, the brakes, how to shift, all that stuff,” David Gilliland said. “In two hours, he was as fast as I was in the car. He picked it up really fast.”
The process was familiar to David Gilliland, who also followed his father, Butch, into race cars. It is different for this new generation, however, David said.
“I tell everybody the thing that Todd has going for him is he probably listens better than I did,” David said. “My dad tried to help me more when I got started. I probably didn’t listen as much as I should have to make it as easy on me as possible. Todd listens to everything. You can tell him one time, and he follows through with it. His focus and attention to detail inside the car is great.”
These are natural reactions for a father who, of course, sees the best in his son, but Gilliland has been around the track — and the tracks — for a long time and knows talent when he sees it.
“It’s an awesome opportunity I think he has,” Gilliland said. “I think he’s talented enough to go as far in the sport as he wants.”
Still, it must be remembered that Todd is still short of his 14thbirthday.
“It’s so weird to see your son out there doing this,” Gilliland said. “We drive home from a test, and he goes to bed and he wakes up and I’ve got to drive him to eighth grade. That’s strange.”
That’s because Todd is still two years away from being eligible for a driver’s license.
“This is all he’s ever wanted to do,” Gilliland said. “He’s raced quarter-midgets from California to New York and won a national championship. He makes straight A’s in school. As long as he keeps doing good in school, we’ll provide him with fast race cars.
“It’s been amazing for me to watch and see him do the things he can do in a race car at a very young age.”
Gilliland said the team plans to “pick and choose” bigger Late Model races this season as opposed to running for a point championship. He hopes Todd can run the famous Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Fla. at the end of the year.
Gilliland, whose travel schedule obviously is packed, said the toughest part is not being at the track for most of Todd’s races. “That is by far the hardest part of the whole deal,” he said. “But that’s the way it goes. I have 100 percent faith in Chris Lawson, his crew chief. He couldn’t be in better hands.”