Hometown: Sherrills Ford, NC
Series: NASCAR K&N Pro Series West
There was a lot of debate in this year’s NFL Draft regarding which quarterback would go #1; Cal’s Jared Goff or North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz. That same style of debate went on the in 51 War Room and continued throughout the voting process between Wisconsin’s Ty Majeski and North Carolina’s Todd Gilliland. And while Majeski, at 21, received the jersey with the number-1 on it, 15 year-old Todd Gilliland is one of the highest touted draft picks from the short track industry since Chase Elliott burst on to the scene as a young teen.
Gilliland is literally an underclassman playing, winning and seemingly dominating in an upperclassman world. He’s not even old enough to have his full-fledge driver’s license in NC, yet he’s muscling through competitors in several realms of racing much like Marshawn Lynch did through defenders while leading the Seattle Seahawks to the Super Bowl a few years back. Gilliland is full-on “Beast Mode.”
In the last year, Todd Gilliland won in his first start in the ARCA Racing Series; won in his first start in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West attempt and kicked off this year with a triumph in his initial start in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East. He won another NASCAR K&N West race to boot about a month later. The kid also won a CARS Tour race in 2015.
Gilliland stands near 6-feet tall, but his demeanor is not imposing. He is a personable and good looking kid who had been groomed by both his parents to handle all aspects of racing, on the track and off. He admits speaking on camera is the hardest aspect of the newfound stardom, but he’s even working diligently at that to improve.
Gilliland scored 10 number-one picks, 24 top-five selections, 27 top-10 and was on the ballot for 32 of the 37 experts who turned their selections in to Speed51.com.
Hometown: Huntington Beach, CA
Series: Super Late Models
The West coast quarterback scene has been notorious for producing some high draft picks over the years. Andrew Luck, Mark Sanchez, Aaron Rogers, Carson Palmer and Alex Smith all came from Pac-12 conference schools on the West Coast to be stars in the NFL. Now, it’s time for the Left Coast to begin churning out some of the nation’s top short track talent in a charge led by Californian Zane Smith.
This Legends Car racer-turned-Super Late Model standout turned heads seemingly out of nowhere with his championship-winning performance in the 2015 World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing at Florida’s New Smyrna Speedway. The success continued in 2015 with three PASS South victories and one CARS Tour Super Late Model win. Had it not been for lifting to avoid the smoking car of John Hunter Nemechek late in the race, he may have been the declared Snowball Derby winner after Christopher Bell’s disqualification in December.
The 2016 season has been a mixed bag so far for Smith, with some strong runs in tough events such as a podium runs in the SpeedFest Super Late Model event in January and the ARCA/CRA race at Nashville in April. A hot 2015 brought a lot of hopes for victories at New Smyrna again this year, but he was shut out of victory lane.
The kid has the right amount of balance between maturity and youthful exuberance when speaking with him. In fact, often times, you might think he’s well into his 20’s until you see him cruising around a track on his hoverboard before a raceday begins.
Still, Smith’s credentials over the past year-plus in Super Late Model racing were duly noted by the voters. He received one first place vote and was in the top 10 drivers on 20 voters’ ballots.
Hometown: Huntersville, NC
Series: Super Late Models
Prior to his retirement from the National Football League, quarterback Peyton Manning was often referred to by many football enthusiasts as a “media darling.” He performed well on the field, but he was also very outgoing and created a positive image for himself when hounded by the media after games.
Second-generation racer Harrison Burton is very similar to Manning, not only because he’s also the son of a successful athlete in his respective sport but because he’s very likable and approachable. Whether it’s handling an interview with the media after a race or talking to a fan during an autograph session, he does it with a big smile on his face.
Burton’s performance on the race track speaks volumes, but the way he handles himself off the track will go a long way in his pursuit of NASCAR’s top levels.
The 2015 racing season saw Burton breakthrough for his first touring series win in a Super Late Model during a Southern Super Series race at Mobile International Speedway (AL). He built on that win by showing consistency throughout the season whether it was with the SSS, CRA or the CARS Tour.
Burton’s 2016 season kicked off in style when he scored two wins against a strong field of cars during the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing at New Smyrna Speedway (FL).
For the 2016 season, Burton will be behind the wheel of the No. 12 HScott Motorsports car for the full NASCAR K&N Pro Series East circuit. Thus far he has experienced mixed results with one pole and one top-10 finish in four races.
This year’s panel of industry experts believe that Burton is still one of the top talents in Short Track Racing, and for that he has been selected as the fourth pick for the second year in a row. Burton’s name was placed on 78% of the ballots submitted for this year’s Short Track Draft presented by PFC Brakes, up 11% from the percentage of votes he received one year ago. He received 26 quality votes, 23 top-10 votes and 10 top-five votes.
Hometown: Oakwood, IL
Series: Dirt Late Models
The Jacksonville Jaguars selected a cornerback with the fifth selection in the NFL Draft and the fifth pick in the Short Track Draft presented by PFC Brakes has “picked off” several key spotlight moments to put himself into one of the most attractive young kids coming through the ranks. Bobby Pierce is top dirt track driver in the 2016 version of the Short Track Draft. In fact, he moved up 17 spots in The Draft from one year ago.
Pierce goes by the moniker “Smooth Operator, but he’s proven to be durable as well. Part of the Illioni’s strength was proven during “The Hell Tour” last year. The month-long DIRTcar Summernationals is where Pierce shinned. He picked up two wins and 12 top five finishes which led him to the championship in the 18-race series. He also picked up wins in Sunoco American Late Model Series competition, and Midwest Big 10 Series Super Late Model competition.
Perhaps the biggest moment of 2015 for Pierce came behind the wheel of a Truck in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event at Eldora Speedway where he finished second to Christopher Bell in a heavily underfunded Mittler Bros. Racing machine. His lone pavement Late Model Stock Car start in 2015, however, was less than stellar.
Pierce is one of the more personable characters in the dirt track scene that is stilled with plenty of grittiness. Most of all, he can talk-the-talk with the best of them.
His 2015 campaign turned heads and got him three first-place votes and 20 quality votes out of the 22 ballots that had his name listed. Those votes enabled Pierce to jump from the 22nd spot in 2015 into the top five in 2016.
Series: Super Late Models
With the sixth overall pick in the 2016 Short Track Draft, it’s Boca Raton, Florida’s Dalton Sargeant. The 18-year-old driver is a good pick at the six spot. It’s a spot where important role players get taken in the NFL Draft. This year the mock drafts have offensive tackles getting picked at the six spot, and that’s a good comparison for Sargeant. Over the course of the last year Sargeant hasn’t exactly wowed many people, but he’s always a strong competitor and a contender for wins.
Sargeant finished fourth in the 2015 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East Standings with six top-five finishes and nine top-10 finishes. He made four starts in the K&N West Series scoring a win at Irwindale, two poles and never finished lower than fourth. He also let his road course skills shine when he finished second at Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International.
Sargeant made four NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts in 2015 with Wauters Motorsports, scoring top 10’s in half of them. He finished ninth at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and 10th at Bristol Motor Speedway.
In 2016, Sargeant has teamed up with veteran Late Model crew chief Bond Suss to compete in Super Late Model events all over the country. He also has plans to compete in a handful of ARCA Racing Series events driving the No. 55 Venturini Motorsports car. A few trips to victory lane could certainly do a lot of Sargeant moving forward, and he’s with teams capable of getting there this year.
The Florida native received votes from 27 members of our expert panel, with 11 of those being votes for a top five position, and 26 of them being quality votes. He’s a good looking kid that has plenty of flash for any potential sponsor.
The only downside for Sargeant this year is that he slipped in the draft rankings from last year to this year. In 2015, Sargeant was selected as the second overall pick behind Christopher Bell.
Hometown: Easley, South Carolina
Series: NASCAR K&N Pro Series East
When an NFL team has a draft pick in the lower half of the top 10, a lot of times you see them draft players that stick around for all four years of their college eligibility. These are players that may have wowed scouts as underclassmen and then underperformed during their junior season. But then their senior year comes around, and all of a sudden those players are once again performing well in the biggest moments to bring their draft stock back up.
That is similar to how things have gone for former number-one Short Track Draft pick Kyle Benjamin the last few seasons. The 18-year-old stormed up the draft lists of many of our experts in 2013 when he won two ARCA races for Venturini Motorsports and dominated the Pete Orr Memorial at New Smyrna Speedway.
But at this time last year, there were a few question marks about Benjamin after being unable to come up with a big win in 2014. But all that changed in the blink of an eye when he came up with a clutch moment, winning the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race in front of the NASCAR world at Bristol Motor Speedway (TN).
To kick off the 2016 season, Benjamin has already shown an impressive amount of consistency that currently has him leading the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East point standings four races into the season.
When you take a step back, you see that Benjamin is still very ripe at 18 years old. He still has a lot of potential, including a shot a championship this season. And his personality has improved vastly through the years.
In the eyes of our expert panel, Benjamin is still one of the top short track prospects in North America. Twenty-five industry experts included him on their 2016 ballot with 12 of those voters placing him in the top five.
Hometown: Dawsonville, GA
Series: NASCAR K&N Pro Series East
Sometimes a player and his team’s offensive strategies don’t mesh. They then change playbooks and run a different offense and everything finally clicks. That’s how things went in 2015 for Spencer Davis. Things weren’t going too well early on in the year for Davis when he was competing in the Tour-Type Modified ranks, but once he jumped into a NASCAR K&N Pro Series East stock car in July, everything finally came together.
In four K&N East starts in 2015 Davis finished no lower than sixth, and that came in his first K&N East attempt at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. In 2016, Davis has picked up right where he left off. He has two runner-up finishes so far this year and currently sits third in series points. In fact, he nearly stole the spotlight from number-2 pick Todd Gilliland in the season-opener at New Smyrna Speedway in Florida.
Those stats have made the voters look very positively at Spencer Davis. His name appeared on the ballot of 27 voters, with 26 of them being quality votes. He also received a total of seven top-five votes. Spencer is an overall good natured kid, but still needs a little buffing when it comes to his interview prowess.
Last year Spencer Davis was taken off the board with the 35th overall pick. In 2016 Davis is now off the board at the eighth spot, a climb of 27 positions.
Hometown: Wallkill, New York
Series: NASCAR K&N Pro Series East
If you’re a fan of the Carolina Panthers, you certainly know how important a number-nine draft pick can be. In the 2012 NFL Draft, the Panthers selected linebacker Luke Kuechly who has since become one of, if not the best players at his position in the entire National Football League.
Tyler Dippel, a 16-year-old racer from Wallkill, New York may not be a 6-foot-3, 235-pound linebacker but like Kuechly he has the potential to be a future star in his sport.
Since he started racing at a young age, Dippel has driven nearly everything there is to drive in the Short Track Racing world. He cut his teeth racing Big-Block Modifieds in upstate New York before making the transition to pavement Super Late Models and eventually the heavier Stock Cars of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East.
In each type of race car he’s competed in, Dippel has displayed the ability to run up front and contend for victories. He’s recorded top-five finishes in each series that he’s competed in and visited victory lane at Mobile International Raceway (AL) in just his second career NASCAR K&N Pro Series East start.
Industry experts looked at Dippel’s diversity and ability to adapt quickly as a big asset going into this year’s draft. He received a total of 21 votes from this year’s panel including 17 quality votes and one number-one selection. The only knock on Dippel is his at-track attitude at times. And while he is improving, he needs to hone his skills in the interview department.
Dippel’s selection at number 11 earns him a net gain of 22 positions after being selected 31st in the 2015 Short Track Draft presented by PFC Brakes.
Hometown: Mooresville, North Carolina
Series: Super DIRTcar Series
There have been some great second-generation football players through the years; Peyton Manning is a perfect example. In fact, the future Hall of Fame quarterback outperformed his father Archie by a considerable amount. And while our 10th selection in the draft has a long way to go to surpass the stats put up by his dad, Max McLaughlin is a shining talent that is following in his father’s footsteps.
The son of “Magic Shoes” Mike McLaughlin has shown that he’s a winner and that he’s fast in everything he has driven. In fact, just like his dad, he is playing at several different positions or driving several different classes of cars if you will.
The now 16-year-old driver won a championship on the dirt of North Carolina’s Millbridge Speedway in the fast and light Outlaw Karts last year before stepping into a “big car” for the first time. McLaughlin won in a UMP Dirt Modified at Carolina Speedway to become “King of the Carolinas.” He beat out the likes of Kenny Wallace and Kyle Strickler to score the win before moving to Big-Block Modifieds later in the year.
It didn’t take long for McLaughlin to turn heads in a Big-Block, too. He won the pole for a race during the World Finals at the Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway (NC), becoming the youngest fast time winner in the 44-year history of the Super DIRTcar Series. In 2016 he’s competing for the Super DIRTcar Series championship as a rookie after making a full-time move to New York to help the team in the shop.
McLaughlin is personable and extremely good on social media. He received 17 quality votes and was on 20 of the ballots from our experts. That enabled McLaughlin to jump from the 51st position in 2015 into the top 10 in 2016.
– Text by Speed51.com staff