DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — There’s a new name at the top, and for the first time in seven years, he’s a dirt-track racer.
Thomas Tillison Jr. won twice over the weekend in Oklahoma – Friday night at Flint Creek Speedway in West Siloam and Saturday at Salina Highbanks Speedway. His wins on the .375-mile dirt ovals pushed him past Connecticut’s Keith Rocco and to the top of the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national standings.
“I’m elated,” said the 41-year-old from Wellston, Oklahoma. “This weekend was big for us. When you’re that close in points, and you’re battling every week, everybody has their sights set on you.
“It’s been pretty nerve wracking; especially during the week. But when they give you that one to go and you’re coming to the green, it just goes back to instinct and you know what you need to do.”
Tillison has collected 12 wins with 20 top fives in 24 starts. He has 658 points and a 12-point lead over Rocco.
It is the first time this season Rocco or two-time national champion Lee Pulliam has not occupied the top spot, and the first time since Sept. 8, 2008, that a driver from a dirt track has been atop the national standings.
Rocco has eight wins, 25 top fives and 31 top 10s in 36 starts racing his asphalt Modified at Connecticut’s Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park, Stafford Motor Speedway and New London-Waterford Speedbowl. The Wallingford, Connecticut, driver has led the national standings the entire season. He finished third at Thompson Wednesday, fourth at Stafford Friday and fourth at Waterford Saturday.
With his accession to first place, Tollison also has a number of milestones lined up.
As a first-year NASCAR Division I license holder, Tillison also leads the Jostens Rookie of the Year standings. In the first two seasons of the rookie program, New York’s Nick Heywood is the highest finishing rookie at 13th last year.
Tillison is looking to become the first dirt driver since Gary Webb in 2000 to win the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series championship. Brian Harris, who raced on dirt in Iowa, finished second by two points behind Virginia’s Philip Morris in 2008. Duane Howard from Grandview finished third in 2010.
The Whelen All-American Series points season will run through Sunday, Sept. 20.
Flint Creek is in its first season as a NASCAR-sanctioned track. Tillison runs a Modified there, and competes in the AmeriFlex Hose A Modified Division at Salina.
“It’s really made it possible for this to happen,” said Tillison of Flint Creek joining the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series. “When you get down to the end of the year, all those wins are so important. We’re excited. Very excited.”
Tillison said in the middle of the summer, where he won four races in six starts, he found himself taking some chances he didn’t normally take. And some of them didn’t work out. In the second half of July, he had a win but also two finishes outside the top 10.
He said he had to have a talk with himself, and his crew: “Don’t make changes, because what we’ve been doing is what’s got us here.”
It’s worked. In his last six starts, he’s added four more wins to his total.
Tillison leads the championship standings at Salina with three races remaining, and is second behind Steve Holzkamper at Flint Creek with four races left.
Rocco has six races remaining at New London-Waterford, including twin 30-lap features on Sept. 13; two races at Thompson (twin 25-lap features Aug. 26); and five at Stafford.
Ryan Preece, who competes with Rocco at Thompson and Stafford in addition to racing at New York’s Riverhead Raceway, is third with 622 points and two-time national champion Lee Pulliam is fourth with 612.
Preece won at Thompson Wednesday and Riverhead Saturday, and finished second at Stafford Friday.
Pulliam leads the series with 18 wins, and finished second and fourth at Virginia’s South Boston Speedway on Saturday. He’s also raced at at Virginia’s Langley Speedway in Hampton and Motor Mile Speedway in Radford, as well as Caraway Speedway in Sophia, North Carolina.
Jimmy Zacharias, competing in the asphalt Modified divisions at New York’s Chemung Speedrome and Holland Motorsports Complex, rounds out the top five with 609 points.
NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division I drivers are ranked by their best 18 NASCAR points finishes in series-sanctioned events. Drivers receive two points for every car they finish ahead of – up to 18 cars – and three points for a win, with an additional two points available if the driver starts 10th or lower.
Top Five Breakdown:
Best: One 41 and eight 39s
Worst: A 30, a 32, a 33 and three 34s.
Best: Four 41s and three 39s.
Worst: Two 30s and three 32s.
Best: One 41-point win and three 39s.
Worst: Five 32s.
Best: One 41 and six 39s
Worst: Two 27s and two 28s.
Best: Two 41s and four 39s.
Worst: A 24, two 28s and a 29.
Zacharias won at Chemung Speedrome in New York on Friday.
Tillison isn’t the only new name making a championship run.
Taylor Holdaway, who has nine wins in 17 starts racing at Ontario’s Sunset Speedway moved up to sixth. Holdaway had a 15th and DNF in his first two starts of the season in May. Sitting at 583 points with five races remaining, Holdaway can gain significant ground with his 18th race as well as erasing those opening night finishes with better results.
And Minnesota’s Jacob Goede also has just 17 starts to date, and has 578 points. He has seven Late Model races remaining at Elko Speedway.
Holdaway won the first feature at Sunset Saturday and finished fifth in the second. Goede finished fourth at Elko Saturday.
Kres VanDyke is seventh with 17 wins while racing at South Carolina’s Greenville Pickens Speedway and Anderson Speedway, Tennessee’s Kingsport Speedway, Virginia’s Lonesome Pine Raceway in Colburn, as well as Motor Mile and Caraway.
Ted Christopher (New London-Waterford, Stafford, Thompson) and Matt Bowling (South Boston, Caraway, Motor Mile and Langley) round out the top 10.
The top three in the national standings, as well as state and province champions, track champions, top finishers in the Div. II-V and special award winners, will be honored at the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Awards in December.
Established in 1982, the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series is NASCAR’s national championship program for weekly short track auto racing. In all, 58 paved and dirt tracks throughout the United States and Canada participate.
Connecticut-based Whelen Engineering is the series’ title sponsor. Whelen Engineering is a leading manufacturer of automotive, aviation, industrial and emergency vehicle lighting. NASCAR tracks and pace cars across North America are among the many showcases for Whelen products.
-NASCAR Integrated Marketing Communications Press Release. Photo credit: Mayes County Pictures