BARBERVILLE, Fla. – Devin Gilpin’s 2013 DIRTcar UMP Modified national championship season was downright spectacular, but it didn’t start in especially memorable fashion.
And that blemish on an otherwise impeccable campaign will serve as extra motivation for Gilpin when he returns to Volusia Speedway Park – the site of his rare ’13 struggles – from Feb. 11-18 to tackle the UMP Modified portion of the 43rd DIRTcar Nationals Presented by Summit Racing Equipment.
Yes, Gilpin, 23, of Columbus, Ind., has some unfinished business to take care of at the sprawling half-mile oval outside Daytona Beach, Fla.
“Volusia wasn’t much fun for us last year,” bottom-lined Gilpin. “We only raced two nights. We had some trouble, there were a couple rainouts and, with my grandma not doing very good (battling cancer back in Indiana), we decided to just go home (early).”
Gilpin, of course, had entered the 2013 DIRTcar Nationals by Summit with high hopes. Coming off a 2012 season that saw him record 36 feature wins en route to his first-ever UMP Modified national title – and with memories of a strong third-place finish in the ’12 DIRTcar Nationals by Summit finale at Volusia adding to his confidence – he had visions of a career-first victory in the Sunshine State dancing in his head.
But Gilpin’s visit to Volusia was effectively a write-off. He finished 15th in the meet’s opener, sat through two rainouts and failed to qualify when he finally hit the track again. Then he quietly loaded up, pulled out of the pit area and made the 900-plus-mile trip home.
The abbreviated DIRTcar Nationals by Summit appearance would end up being one of the few disappointments in 2013 for Gilpin, who went on to author one of the best seasons in the history of the UMP Modified division. He won an amazing 31 times in 57 starts on his way to becoming just the fourth driver to capture back-to-back national crowns.
With his status as a UMP Modified superstar now firmly established, Gilpin is focused like never before on carrying the organization’s torch during the ultra-competitive DIRTcar Nationals by Summit. This will be the seventh consecutive year he’s raced in Volusia’s mid-winter blockbuster, so there’s a feeling that his time to shine has come.
“I know that we’re capable of winning there,” said Gilpin, whose career-best outing at Volusia is the third-place finish he registered in the finale of the Triple 20s that closed the 2012 UMP Modified week. “That’s definitely our goal, to finally win one there. I know it would be great for my career to win at a place like that – I mean, to win with guys like the Dillons (NASCAR-driving brothers Austin and Ty) and (NASCAR veteran) Kenny Wallace there and racing with you, that would be pretty special.”
Gilpin understands the supreme challenge involved with reaching Victory Lane during the DIRTcar Nationals by Summit. The UMP Modified meet draws not only well-equipped professional stock-car stars like the Dillons and Wallace but also the most talented open-wheel racers from across the country.
“Other than the UMP Nationals at the end of the year at Eldora (Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio), there’s no place where you run against more cars and more competition,” said Gilpin, who will go the post at Volusia behind the wheel of the same 2012 Impressive Race Car – a machine owned and wrenched by his grandfather Don Fleetwood – that he’s driven to all of his 67 victories over the past two years. “The best of the best are at Volusia for eight nights in a row, so it’s tough to get a win down there.”
The unique Volusia Speedway Park layout adds another element to Gilpin’s pursuit of a checkered flag.
“It’s different,” Gilpin said of the blazing-fast speedway. “We don’t really run any place like it back home. We don’t see nothing like it the rest of the year.
“That backstretch there gives me fits sometimes – that D-shape and the entry into (turn) three is tough. If we can get that figured out, I feel good about our chances.”
This year Gilpin should be firing on all cylinders when he takes the green flag at Volusia. With Gilpin making the most ambitious Florida assault of his career – he left Indiana on Jan. 28 in order to enter UMP Modified events at East Bay Raceway Park in Gibsonton on Jan. 29-Feb. 1 and Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala on Feb. 6-8 – he’ll have plenty of opportunities to knock off any winter rust before starting the DIRTcar Nationals by Summit.
“We’re really looking forward to this trip,” said Gilpin, whose grandmother, Sherry Fleetwood, passed away last Sept. 1 following her long bout with cancer. “I’d love to win a handful of races, but most of all I just want to run good and have fun – and get out of the cold Indiana weather. It’s been freezing for a while (at home).”