KENNEDY: California Coast
LOS ANGELES — The July 19 race at Irwindale Speedway should have been called the Gilliland Grand Prix.
Three generations of the So Cal family raced for the first time in the same race, a NASCAR super late model 75-lap feature on the banked half-mile. The crowd of 5,982 included more than 200 Gilliland family members and friends.
Off-road racing champion Walker Evans and Porsche factory driver Patrick Long were among the spectators. When the checkered flag waved, grandson Todd Gilliland, 14, won the family battle with his grandfather Butch, 57, and his father David, 38. Jason
Patison won the 75-lap feature for his second victory in four SLM mains at the track this season.
The Gilliland clan qualified and started seventh (David in the Speed Wong No. 88), ninth (Butch in Dennis Furden’s No. 38) and 10th (Todd in Speed Wongs No. 98). Two weeks earlier, NASCAR Sprint Cup driver David had won the NASCAR Sprint Cup Daytona 400 pole and led the first four laps in the Front Row Motorsports No. 38 Ford. He is a 15-time Irwindale Speedway feature winner, including a 2005 Toyota All-Star Showdown NASCAR K&N Pro Series feature.
David told the media Irwindale is his favorite track in the country. He used his off-week from the Sprint Cup following Loudon, N.H., and before the Brickyard 400 to prepare two Speed Wong cars at their shop in Santa Ana. David said he wanted his son to experience racing at the Irwindale track. They spent most of the week working on the two cars from dawn to dusk replacing almost everything on the cars. The cars had not been raced since 2010 (No. 98) and 2011 (No. 88). Butch flew to So Cal Thursday and all three generations practiced Thursday and Friday. Todd said, “I really like Irwindale. It’s a fun track.” His mom Michelle and sister Taylor, 11, also were present in the pits.
In the Irwindale 75, the longest SLM race this season, David was sixth on lap 19 and fifth a lap later via inside passes. He took fourth on lap 25. A lap later he took third from June 21 40-lap feature winner Toni McCray following a two-by-two restart after a caution flag. David soon used an inside pass in turn four to take second from Ryan Partridge. As the pair entered turn one a caution flew after the fifth-place car blew a tire and hit the turn-four wall. Partridge contacted David’s car, which spun into the first-turn wall, ending his promising race.
Eyes of Gilliland rooters focused on the grandfather/grandson duel during the 75-race race. 1997 NASCAR K&N West champion Butch now runs his own 50-employee modular construction firm in Thailand. He had not raced since 2004 when he won a late model race in Meridian, Idaho. Grandson Todd, from Sherrills Ford, N.C., turned 14 on May 15. He won his first late model main event at North Carolina’s Ace Speedway on May 2 in a No. 98 car owned by his father.
Todd had never raced on a full half-mile. He said he had no pre-race expectations. His goal was to learn and have fun racing his dad and granddad. Yet Todd impressed veteran observers by his natural racing talent and maturity during his Irwindale racing experience. His quiet confidence reminds one of Bill Elliott’s son, Chase, 18, a three-time NASCAR Nationwide Series winner this season.
Todd and his granddad started in row five of eight rows. He passed Butch on lap one and the three generations ran ninth, 10th and 11th in the 16-car field for the first nine laps. Butch passed his grandson on lap 15 as they lapped a slower car. Todd repassed his granddad on lap 30 and they ran in that order to the finish. They were fifth and sixth on lap 37. Todd was fourth on lap 59 and Butch took sixth a lap later. On lap 62, Todd made an inside pass near the starting line to take third place from veteran Linny White. He finished third for his first podium result on his first visit to a new track and in an unfamiliar racing division. Gramps earned fifth and said he was not tired.
Proud father David (now in street clothes) rushed from the pits to congratulate his son as the top three finishers stopped at the finish line for post-race trophy presentations and interviews over the portable microphone.
The Gilliland drivers came to the press box for media interviews. Todd again showed his maturity in handling questions from writers.
There is a chance Todd might return for a second race at Irwindale before the SLM season concludes on Oct. 18. Car owner Daryl Wong and his stock car/sports car driver son Brian, 24, attended the July 19 Irwindale race to watch David and Todd race their cars and had smiles on their faces afterward.