By Louis Brewster, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin
Posted: 03/15/16, 2:38 PM PDT | Updated: 1 day ago
FONTANA >> So close, yet a long journey remains ahead for Todd Gilliland in his quest to reach the top echelon of stock car racing.
While the NASCAR Sprint Cup and Xfinity series compete this weekend at Auto Club Speedway, Gilliland will be in action Saturday night at Irwindale Speedway in the K&N Series West season opener. The 15-year-old, who lived in Chino Hills before his father David landed a full-time Sprint Cup ride nine years ago and moved to North Carolina, already has a win in 2016, one of several high-profile wins.
As a 14-year-old, Todd won his first limited late model race at Ace Speedway in Elon, N.C., a short distance from his home in Sherrils Ford, N.C. Just two days following his latest birthday, he closed strong to win the ARCA Menards 200 at Toledo Speedway, making him the youngest winner in series history.
Later in the year, he won the inaugural CARS Tour Late Model Stock race at Southern Nationals Motorsports Park in Lucama. As the 2015 season neared its finish, Gilliland won the K&N West finale at Phoenix. In the 2016 K&N opener at Phoenix, Gilliland survived a scoring snafu to register the victory.
And if all that wasn’t impressive enough, the youngest Gilliland was selected by defending Sprint Cup champion Kyle Busch to the Kyle Busch Motorsports roster for its Super Late Model driver lineup. He will compete for KBM in May at Greenville Pickens, S.C., Speedway and Concord, N.C., Speedway.
“Todd was really impressive last year at such a young age winning races in the CARS Tour, ARCA Series and the K&N Pro Series West,” Busch said “We’re really pumped to have added another up-and-coming talent to our lineup this year.”
Perhaps it’s just family genes. After all, grandfather Butch was a champion on the old Winston West NASCAR circuit in 1999 while his father served as crew chief. In 2006, David Gilliland pulled off one of the greatest upsets in NASCAR history by winning a Busch Series race in Kentucky for a underfunded team from the West Coast. Shortly thereafter, David made the jump to the big leagues.
All three Gillilands competed against one another last year in a Late Model race at Irwindale. David was knocked out early while Butch and Todd stole the show by racing side-by-side. Todd eventually finished third.
“It was fun racing him as hard as I could,” Todd said during a break at a recent Irwindale test session. “It was nerve-wracking with your grandpa, but it was really cool. I never never seen him race, and here we were, side-by-side.
“I learned a lot from it.”
Todd started racing quarter-midgets in San Bernardino as a five-year-old. However, he quit competing shortly thereafter after moving East. But once he returned, he had success, winning seven of nine races as a 13-year-old to clinch a national championship.
“The minute I got back in it, I knew I didn’t want to quit again. It’s been a lot of fun learning from my dad,” he said. “He has taught me so much, from driving and engineering to shopping around for the best parts and service.”
And ol’ dad will be around much more in 2016. In the past, it’s been mother Michelle who accompanied Todd to events but David is taking a year off Sprint Cup competition to be with his son. David will be on hand Saturday at Irwindale to provide tips as he competed often at the half-mile facility while living in Southern California
While racing is important for the Gillilands, Todd’s parents stress how important school is.
“I go to school three times a week and am home schooled twice a week,” Todd said. “School is getting harder, missing all those days. It’s also hard trying to make up those tests I miss.”
Despite his racing success, don’t look for Gilliland on regular roads just yet. He doesn’t have a driver’s license, or even a permit.
“He’s driven over 150 miles per hour on the race track and doesn’t have his learner’s permit. Isn’t that crazy?” said his father. “We’ve made a couple of appointments to make it and then a race would come up. He hasn’t been worrying about it, though. He’s more worried about racing than doing that.”
Todd, who will turn 16 on May 15, has put racing ahead of driving.
“As long as I’m driving out on the track, I’m fine,” said Todd, “but, I’d still like to get my learner’s permit if I ever get enough time.”