David Gilliland has always been a hands-on guy.
When he was a kid, he used to spend much of his free time helping out at his father Butch's Southern California race shop. "I grew up, since the time I can remember, helping my dad with his race cars," David said. "My first job was sweeping the floors and I remember being greasy from head to toe."
David became so good at setting up and maintaining race cars, he was able to serve as crew chief when his father won the 1997 K&N Pro Series West title. David, of course, traded in his toolbox for a helmet, but he happily dusted off his tools when his son Todd showed an interest in racing when he was 4 years old. David fixed up an old quarter midget and carved out a track in an open field across the street from his California race shop.
"He just started going," David said of Todd's first time behind the wheel. "He was sideways, counter-steering through the corners. It was crazy; instantly he was able to do that instinctively. "I remember him opening his helmet and there was dirt in his teeth, ears and eyes and sweat was pouring down his face." Todd ran his first race the day he turned 5, but David pulled the plug not long afterward when he saw a change in his son. "We raced for a little out in California and it got to a point where he liked it, but I didn't feel like he loved it," David said. "At that point, we stopped racing."
Todd tried several other sports, but it wasn't long before David was back prepping his son's quarter midget. "He always said, 'I want to race, I want to race,'" David said of Todd. "After about two and a half years of him saying that, we dove back into it." Todd is now 14, and David is guiding him through his first full season in a late model.
"I know the minute he gets home from school, he does his homework and then runs to the shop," David said of Todd, who is a straight-A student. "It's something I look forward to every day. I enjoy helping him.
"My dad was a great teacher and I've tried to learn from him so I can teach Todd and help him grow." In early May, when David was racing his Sprint Cup car at Talladega, Todd pulled into victory lane at a North Carolina short track after taking his first late model win. "I couldn't wait to talk to [my dad] after that," Todd said following his win. "I want to be just like him when I grow up."