“My grandma was in the hospital all through August and that kind of put a damper on things,” said Gilpin, who counted his grandmother as one of his biggest supporters. “My grandpa was focused on being with her as much as possible, so I was going to the races without him.
“We managed, but that was definitely different for us. The whole time I’ve raced he’s always been the car owner and crew chief, so without him I was pretty lost. I knew what to do and we won some races, but it was just different. He drives the haul truck – so that made me have to drive – and there was just a lot more to think about and focus on without him there.”
Gilpin pushed through the sadness of losing his grandmother to clinch the national championship with a couple weeks left in the points season. He capped his campaign with an emotional triumph, winning a preliminary feature on Oct. 3 during the DIRTcar UMP Nationals at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, with his car sporting a graphics wrap that memorialized his grandmother.
“No doubt that was one of the highlights of the year,” said Gilpin, whose hopes of adding a victory in Eldora’s $5,000-to-win DIRTcar UMP Nationals finale were dashed by the bad weather that forced officials to postpone the event to April 12, 2014. “People dream of winning at Eldora for their whole life, so for me to finally do it during the UMP Nationals with that wrap honoring my grandmother on the car was real special.”
There were plenty of other memorable moments in 2013 for Gilpin, whose 31 triumphs came at 13 tracks in four states. Near the top was his performance at his lifelong hometrack, Brownstown (Ind.) Speedway, where he won 13 times on his way to a second consecutive and third career UMP Modified championship. There were five victories at Moler Raceway Park in Williamsburg, Ohio, and a $3,000 DIRTcar Summit Racing Equipment Modified Nationals score at Tri-State Speedway in Haubstadt, Ind. He also won twice at Portsmouth (Ohio) Raceway Park and Bloomington (Ind.) Speedway and scored single victories at Florence Speedway in Union, Ky., Gas City (Ind.) I-69 Speedway, Kankakee (Ill.) County Speedway, Lawrenceburg, (Ind.) Speedway, Lincoln Park Speedway in Putnamville, Ind., Twin Cities Raceway Park in North Vernon, Ind., and Vermilion County Speedway in Danville, Ill.
“And I’m proud of that fact that we did it all with one car,” said Gilpin, whose final championship margin was 77 points (2,314-2,237) over Jacob Poel of Spring Lake, Mich. “I’ve essentially won two national championships and almost 70 races with this (Impressive) car. We got it before the 2012 season and it’s the only car I’ve run since. I never even had a backup car the last two years.”
Gilpin does finally have a second car, a new Impressive machine that he debuted at the Performance Racing Industry Trade Show Dec. 12-14 in Indianapolis. He will have the mount at his disposal in 2014, though he’s quick to point out that his battle-tested car isn’t going anywhere.
“I can’t turn this car loose,” a smiling Gilpin said of his championship-winning vehicle.
Gilpin plans to chase a third consecutive UMP Modified national title in 2014 – a feat that has only been pulled off by Newport, Tenn.’s Owens, whose tire tracks Gilpin would love to continue following. Owens, of course, made a name for himself with four UMP Modified national crowns in five years before moving on to his current status as one of the country’s most decorated dirt Late Model drivers.
Considering that Owens was already 26 years old when he won his first UMP Modified championship in 1998, Gilpin’s youth would seem to have him well positioned to become the next UMP Modified driver to graduate to dirt Late Model stardom. Gilpin has even shown already that he can handle a dirt Late Model after his brief six-race stint with a Kentucky-based team early in 2013 included a feature win at Moler and no finishes outside the top 10.
“If I could have a career half as good as Jimmy Owens has had in a Late Model, that would be pretty sweet,” said Gilpin, who also tested his driving versatility in October with a wingless 410 Sprint Car start at Brownstown. “So far, I’m kind of doing the same things Jimmy Owens did in his Modified career. Fortunately enough for him, it panned out that he got a good Late Model ride and went on to do great things.
“So that’s my goal right there – just keep doing what I’m doing and building my name, and hopefully that Late Model ride, that opportunity, comes someday, and I can pounce on it and take advantage of it.”