One day, 16-year-old Todd Gilliland might end up being a superstar in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
But he’ll never be able to outrun the magic he found in his first racing vehicle — a pink Power Wheels Barbie Corvette.
He was 3 years old at the time. After the first time he got behind the wheel, he made one demand to his parents: Change the color.
“We painted it black,” said NASCAR driver David Gilliland, Todd’s father. “It was originally on six-volt (power), but we turned it into 12-volt.
“He loved that thing. He burned the rear tires off of it.”
These days, Todd Gilliland is driving something much bigger, with way more horsepower — a 3,300-pound NAPA Auto Parts Toyota Camry — on the NASCAR K&N Pro West Series.
And the teenager is handling himself just fine as a tour rookie. In nine career starts, he has victories in five races.
In fact, he became the youngest driver to win on this regional tour when he won in Phoenix last November at age 15.
That landed him the top sponsorship on the circuit with Las Vegas-based Bill McAnally Racing.
And the winning did not stop as a full-time driver. Gilliland tied a NASCAR Pro West Series record by winning his first four races, matching what Dan Gurney did between 1963-1966.
Coming into this weekend’s NAPA Auto Parts 150 at Evergreen Speedway in Monroe, Gilliland has been on a midsummer tear, having won his past two starts. The last one was arguably his best win to date — the Casey’s General Store 150 on July 29 at Iowa Speedway. It is an all-star race, featuring the top drivers of the Pro West and Pro East Series.
“He just has an ability to feel the car and see what it is doing — all with poise and patience,” David Gilliland said. “It is something I still struggle with. But it’s something I have seen with him since day one. The things that come naturally to him are things that other good race car drivers have to work at.”
If the Gilliland name sounds familiar, it should:
▪ Butch Gilliland — David’s father — was a 13-time winner on the NASCAR Pro West Series between 1987 and 2002. He was the 1997 points champion.
▪ David Gilliland ran this series full-time for only two years — 2004 and 2005 — but he won four times, and was the 2004 rookie of the year.
“It is pretty cool to meet fans on the West Coast … who have watched grandpa and dad, and are watching me now,” Todd Gilliland said. “Every time I meet some of them, it is just cool to hear their stories.”
Todd Gilliland has surpassed his father’s win total in a half-season — but with David’s help.
David had raced on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series since 2010, but was released by Front Row Sports last offseason.
Instead of pursuing another full-time ride on NASCAR’s highest circuit, David opted to become his son’s spotter at races.
“My son has been racing since he was 5 … and I’ve only watched it on the iPad, or race monitors or through text messages for 10 years,” David said.
Not only do the two of them work out of the family race shop during the week in Sherrills Ford, North Carolina, they plan on being in the pits together for all 36 of Todd’s races this season.
“We both love racing,” Todd said. “We are working on the cars together every day, learning. He is teaching me. He enjoys helping me, and I feel it has been a good thing for him to spot for me.”
NASCAR Pro West Series
Saturday at Evergreen Speedway, Monroe
What: NAPA Auto Parts 150.
Schedule: Qualifying is 4:15 p.m.-4:45 p.m. Main race at 6:30 p.m.
2015 race champion: David Mayhew.
The skinny: With Mayhew no longer part of the series, a new champion will be crowned Saturday. The obvious favorite is teenager Todd Gilliland, who has won half of the eight races, including the past two stops in Idaho (Toyota/NAPA Auto Parts 150) and Iowa (Casey’s General Store 150) last month. … David Partridge, the race runner-up last year, is right on Gilliland’s heels in the standings, trailing by three points. … Don’t count out defending points champion Chris Eggleston — Gilliland’s Bill McAnally Racing teammate — who has won twice this season. … Spokane’s Nicole Behar will be in the field. She placed ninth at this race last season.
Tickets: General admission $10-$25.