STATESVILLE, N.C. – For David Ragan and David Gilliland, there was never much doubt when answering the childhood question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Both sons of racecar drivers, each grew up at the racetrack and didn’t know life without racing. As other dads were teaching their kids to ride two-wheelers, Ragan and Gilliland’s were teaching their sons to drive four.
This Father’s Day, the two Front Row Motorsports drivers both give their dads credit for setting them on the path that led to the highest level of stock car racing, NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series.
Ken Ragan was a Sprint Cup driver and also the son of a racer. Butch Gilliland was a Sprint Cup driver and K&N West Series champion. Both raced alongside names that drew a little more attention: Petty, Allison, Yarborough, Pearson. But they commanded the attention of their sons, who looked up to them not just as fathers or racecar drivers, but as teachers.
“He was really big on me learning how to work on the cars,” recalled David Ragan. “Whether it was a go-kart, a Bandolero car or Legends car, he always made me understand how to put the cars together, how to take them apart, how to fix them if you wreck. And I think that made me appreciate the cars a little bit more and made me a smarter racer.”
“The biggest thing my dad taught me was to not wait around for someone to just hand you everything, that you’ve got to do it yourself to make it happen,” said David Gilliland. “At the time, I wished he would’ve just given me a racecar to drive. But he made me work for it. He made me understand how the cars work and how to build them. Looking back, that really helped me the most in my career.”
The fathers taught their sons about more than just cars. They taught them about respect, a work ethic and providing for a family.
“I look back at times and I remember thinking, ‘Man, I wish my dad could be home a little earlier during the week,'” recalled Gilliland. “But then I think about how hard he was working and how much he was providing for us as a family, working and racing.”
“I definitely look up to Dad and appreciate some of the things that he taught me,” echoed Ragan. “Like having good manners, respecting your elders, having a good work ethic and being grateful for what you do have.”
Those lessons will be passed on to the next generation, too. Gilliland and his wife, Michelle, have two children, including a 14-year-son who just got his NASCAR license and is racing late models. David Ragan and his wife, Jacquelyn, are expecting their first child this week.
“I hope we can have a big family someday, and hopefully I can say I’m as good of a role model and teacher as my dad has been,” said Ragan.
“I definitely have moments where Michelle says, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re turning into your dad,'” said Gilliland. “That happens daily. Just little things that I say or how I say it. I definitely have a lot of my dad in me.”
Both of the “Davids” are quick to make that comparison to their fathers. And both say that’s a pretty good thing.
Ragan and Gilliland will celebrate Father’s Day at Michigan International Speedway. Ragan will drive the No. 34 Taco Bell Ford and Gilliland will pilot the No. 38 Long John Silver’s Ford in the Sprint Cup Series’ Quicken Loans 400 Sunday at 1 p.m. ET live on TNT.
Front Row Motrsports PR – Team supplied photos