14-year-old Todd Gilliland took advantage of a rare slip-up by veteran Deac McCaskill to take the lead with three laps remaining and claim his first career Late Model Stock car victory Saturday night at Southern National Motorsports Park in Kenly, North Carolina. The race was also the opening event in the CARS Late Model Stock Tour inaugural season.
The entire Gilliland family pulled out all the stops in order to watch the third-generation driver pull off the feat. Todd’s father, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series veteran David Gilliland, drove two and a half hours from Martinsville Speedway after Cup Series Happy Hour to watch his son compete from the spotters’ stand. Todd’s grandfather Butch, a former NASCAR K&N Pro Series West champion, watched the race while working from Thailand, where the local time was about 7 AM when the race rolled off under the Carolina lights.
“I’m just so excited to be here,” Gilliland said in Victory Lane, his voice quivering with the joy of the moment. “Everyone on my team worked so hard over the winter. Chris Lawson, my crew chief, is one of the best. He gave me a really good piece. To put it together tonight means so much to me.”
Gilliland’s victory seemed unlikely as the race ran down to its conclusion. At various points during the night, it looked like Gilliland had the second-best car. Other moments, the sixth or seventh-best car. At no point during the night did it look like he, or any other driver for that matter, could keep up with Deac McCaskill.
The Southern National stalwart set fast time in qualifying and ran a flawless race for the first 147 laps, routinely putting distances of eight to ten carlengths on the field during the race’s green flag runs and getting picture-perfect restarts after each yellow. But as the race began to reach its conclusion, McCaskill seemed to get looser and looser on worn tires.
Finally on the final restart McCaskill got away yet again, but had a big slip-up exiting turn two. That opened the door for Gilliland, who had just used a series of strong restarts to come back up from the middle portions of the top-ten. Gilliland got position to the inside and then leaned on McCaskill for the next lap and a half before clearing him for good with three laps to go.
McCaskill made one last ditch effort on the white flag lap, but could not get back to Gilliland’s back bumper. Myatt Snider, Tommy Lemons, and Last Chance Qualifier victor Tyler Ankrum would round out the top-five.
“Chris [Lawson] gave me some really good tips on those final restarts,” Gilliland explained as he reflected on the final restart. “He taught me how and where to drag the brake a little bit and get right up to someone. He [McCaskill] made the littlest mistake and I just had to capitalize. I used the bumper a little bit, but you have to sometimes.”
“It’s awesome for dad to be here. He doesn’t get to make it to very many with his schedule, so for him to be here … I’m just so glad.”
While dad’s presence was a bonus for Gilliland, he also had an unusual good luck charm with him when he climbed out of his car. Teammate R.D. Smith has for a while had a little garden gnome that he leaves on his racecar while it sits in the pit road area. Racers being superstitious creatures, Smith figures it gives him some good luck. So when Gilliland became his teammate this winter, Smith gifted Gilliland his very own gnome, an Elvis lookalike.
“I don’t know,” Gilliland laughed, “it does seem like good luck after all. We haven’t named him yet, but I think we’re going to have to now.”
McCaskill may have been a bit disappointed to see the win slip away, but overall the driver was ecstatic with how well he ran.
“I’m tickled to death,” McCaskill said. “This was the best car I’ve ever had down here. After practice and qualifying, I just didn’t think we’d be that good. I didn’t expect to run this well in this series with these rules.”
“When you lead like that, you set a pace. I don’t know if I set a pace a little too hard and burned my tires up. With every caution, I kept losing rear grip. [On that last restart] I spun my tires pretty bad off turn two and he got under me in turn three and lifted me up. He did what he had to do to win and I tried to hit him back, I just didn’t get him back hard enough. That’s part of racing. I’m not upset about it. It was good racing.”
Good racing for the CARS Tour continues on April 18th at the Orange County Speedway in Rougemont, North Carolina. As always, both Super Late Model and Late Model Stock divisions will go 150 laps.(powered by 51's Third Turn)
| 1||3||98G||Todd Gilliland||150||3|
| 2||1||08||Deac McCaskill||150||147|
| 3||6||2||Myatt Snider||150||0|
| 4||5||27||Tommy Lemons, Jr.||150||0|
| 5||26||58||Tyler Ankrum||150||0|
| 6||2||41||Brayton Haws||150||0|
| 7||11||16S||R.D. Smith, III||150||0|
| 8||16||60||Stacy Compton||150||0|
| 9||30||77||Blake Stallings||150||0|
| 10||21||54||Michael Fose||150||0|
| 11||25||1||Trent Barnes||150||0|
| 12||12||34||Matt Waltz||150||0|
| 13||22||31||Thomas Beane||150||0|
| 14||15||99||Mike Darne||150||0|
| 15||24||18||Bradley McCaskill||150||0|
| 16||29||28||Chris Hudspeth||150||0|
| 17||18||07||Clint King||149||0|
| 18||19||82||Christian Eckes||149||0|
| 19||4||50||Jamey Caudill||145||0|
| 20||27||7||Justin Crider||145||0|
| 21||28||16||Jeffrey Oakley||145||0|
| 22||7||12M||Austin McDaniel||144||0|
| 23||20||1T||Tyler Dippel||143||0|
| 24||10||12C||Garrett Campbell||143||0|
| 25||14||12||Ryan Wilson||119||0|
| 26||23||88||Robert Tyler||91||0|
| 27||9||44||Justin Johnson||63||0|
| 28||8||23||Payton Ryan||59||0|
| 29||13||17||Stacy Puryear||44||0|
| 30||17||88||Doug Barnes, Jr.||19||0|
— Story and Photos by Tim Quievryn // Speed51.com Southeast Editor // @thethirdturn