Father knows best: Todd Gillilandís win provides a well-needed boost

Father knows best: Todd Gillilandís win provides a well-needed boost
Chris Owens/HHP

KNOXVILLE, Iowa--When David Gilliland created David Gilliland Racing, he built it with his son in mind. 

The second-generation racer wanted to develop a program where son Todd could not only have a place to race but also, one day, to take pride in ownership. 

The family experienced the best of both worlds on Saturday night at Knoxville Raceway, where the 22-year-old driver won his first race in the No. 17 David Gilliland Racing Ford F150.

“This is amazing,” Todd Gilliland said after the win. “This was the last (truck race) I could run as a Cup guy this year. I’d love to run more—as many as I can. 

“It’s just so fun to run for DGR. I go there almost every day to see what my dad is up to. There are just so many near-dear faces there that I have known for most of my life.”

Todd didn’t know until last Monday he was driving the truck. The NASCAR Cup rookie, who graduated from the Camping World Truck Series this season, has been laser-focused on piloting the No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford. 
The effort his father and the other employees put into DGR to make the organization competitive on a weekly basis is not lost on Gilliland. Todd made sure the team knew how grateful he was over the radio after taking the checkered flag.

“That’s really the hardest part of any company or business or anything is to hire people who really believe in what you’re doing and to make DGR great,” Gilliland said. “I think it’s really cool when you can assemble a good group that will work so hard together—especially (crew chief) Seth (Smith). He’s really been bounced around and hasn't had a fair shot at being a crew chief. 

“To be able to come out here and win with him is really special. I think this is the first time we worked together since he was technically my crew chief in the K&N Series at Phoenix—and we won there. It’s just really cool. I definitely love Seth and all the hard work he has put in.”

David Gilliland has been carrying the Ford banner in the truck series since 2018. The former Cup driver turned team co-owner has provided opportunities for a variety of drivers. DGR currently fields full-time rides for Tanner Gray and Hailie Deegan. 

But Gilliland could hardly contain his emotions after Todd’s win in the Clean Harbors 150.

“It’s super, super special,” said David Gilliland. “We started DGR for him—from racing late models to where it has grown to today. And I can’t believe how big it has grown. But like Todd said, it’s about the people and most of the people have been there since Day 1 that worked on his late model. Chris Lawson, Seth and Derek (Smith), they were our first three and they’re still around us today. 

“Super proud of that because it’s tough. It’s a tough business. You see a lot of guys come and go, a lot of owners come and go in NASCAR. Weekly, I sit down and think, ‘Man, are we going down the right path? Do we have a sustainable plan? I’m constantly considering all of that. But racing is good. There are a lot of ups and downs in it but it’s rewarding to come out and do stuff like this.”

DGR has been able to use the No. 17 truck as a benchmark with Gilliland, Joey Logano, Ryan Preece and Harrison Burton behind the wheel this season.  

“We’ve used the 17 team to evaluate equipment,” David Gilliland said. “Tanner is doing a great job, but he doesn’t have a lot of NASCAR experience, stock car experience. Hailie doesn’t have a lot of truck experience. So it’s good to know where our equipment is so we can continue to develop the drivers that come through our program.

“We’re working really hard to be the best that we can be.”

And Todd Gilliland is thrilled to reap some of the rewards. The Cup off week came at a good time for Gilliland, who has endured his share of challenges in his rookie year. After 16 races, his best result was 15th at Darlington last month. A win—any win—goes a long way in NASCAR.

“Nothing is really easy about NASCAR, right,” Gilliland said. “I hadn’t won a race in nearly a year—even last year running the truck series full time. I feel like just the way we ended last year was so fast. And then to see what the Front Row 38 guys have been able to do this year, makes me want to get back in and try my hand at it. 

“Then to come here and win is really, really cool.”

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