BARBERVILLE, Fla. - Devin Gilpin has made the 900-mile trek from his Columbus, Ind., home to Volusia Speedway Park for the UNOH DIRTcar Nationals presented by Summit Racing Equipment every year since 2008 - and when the DIRTcar UMP Modified division battles on the half-mile oval from Feb. 12-19, hell be there again.
But this time Gilpin, 22, wont be just another talented racer looking to make a name for himself on Volusia’s big stage. He’ll hit the D-shaped track as the reigning UMP Modified national champion, assuring himself a place on the short list of drivers to watch throughout the class’s eight nights of competition.
“I can’t wait to get down there,” said Gilpin, who in 2012 became the 12th driver - and just the second from Indiana - to win the UMP Modified national points crown since 1994. ”After winning the national championship, I couldn’t think of anything better than going to Volusia and starting the season off with a win.”
Victory Lane at Volusia has proven elusive for Gilpin, who has yet to conquer the blazing-fast speedway. He owns a sparkling UMP Modified resume for a driver so young - a national crown, runner-up finishes in the national points in 2009 and 2010, more than 100 feature wins (including an amazing 36 last year) since debuting in the division as a 14-year-old - but has struggled in his annual pilgrimages to the Sunshine State.
A positive for Gilpin, however, is the fact that hes coming off his best visit ever to Volusia. Last year he finished a career-best 11th in the UNOH DIRTcar Nationals presented by Summit points standings, topped by a career-high third-place A-Main finish in the finale of the Triple 20s that closed the UMP Modified portion of the meet.
He led that race until being overtaken near the halfway mark by NASCAR Nationwide Series regular Austin Dillon, who went on to win, and lost second on the last lap to Dillon’s younger brother, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Ty, who clinched the points crown of the 2012 UNOH DIRTcar Nationals Presented by Summit.
“We had a real good car in that last race last year,” said Gilpin, who also scored a seventh-place feature finish during the 12 UMP Modified action at Volusia. “Austin and Ty Dillon both passed me, but we were up there battling it out. We were sad to see the week end because we finally got the car right.”
Gilpin is hoping to pick up right where he left off in 2012 when he returns to Volusia. He should be plenty confident since he’ll sit behind the wheel of the same 2012 Impressive Race Car - a machine owned and wrenched by his grandfather Don Fleetwood - that he debuted in last year’s UNOH DIRTcar Nationals presented by Summit and piloted in all of his 82 starts during the 12 UMP Modified points season.
“We’ve struggled some in the past at Volusia because normally when I go there I have a brand-new car,” said Gilpin, who won at 13 tracks in four states en route to his 2012 UMP Modified national crown. “We always end up having to work the bugs out of the car for the first few nights, but it seems like by the end of the week we get fast and start running up front - like last year.
“This year were taking the car I ran all year last season, so hopefully I’ll be comfortable right from the start of the week. The track is definitely different from what I’m used to running in the Midwest, but we found a pretty good setup there last year so I think well have a real good opportunity to win at least one race down there.”
Gilpin knows it takes a supreme effort to win a UMP Modified event at Volusia. With NASCAR standouts such as the Dillon brothers, Kenny Wallace, Ken Schrader and Justin Allgaier expected to join an open-wheel Modified field already brimming with dozens of top-notch division regulars from the across the country, he won’t race against tougher competition all season.
“The caliber of drivers and cars that are there is just spot-on,” said Gilpin, who was just a junior in high school when he made his first start at Volusia. ”Everybody’s on their A-game, so you gotta be on your A-game to run there.”
Gilpin is laser-focused on breaking through during Volusias busy UMP Modified week, which features $1,000-to-win A-Mains on Feb. Feb. 12-15; a pair of $700-to-win preliminary events on Feb. 16-17 leading into the headline Gator championship race paying $5,000 to win on Feb. 18; and a multiple-features-only finale ($700 to win each) on Feb. 19. A UNOH DIRTcar Nationals presented by Summit triumph - perhaps even the series points title would serve as a superb follow-up to his spectacular 2012 UMP Modified national championship.
“Winning that national championship was a pretty humbling experience,” said Gilpin, who received a $20,000 check for his crown during the DIRTcar UMP Night of Champions Awards Banquet on Jan. 5 at the Crowne Plaza in Springfield, Ill. “To put your name on a list of champions with guys like Jimmy Owens, Mike Harrison and Denny Schwartz - and to get 20-grand to maybe help our team do bigger and better things - is definitely something I’ll never forget.
“Getting a win down there at Volusia would be just as awesome,” he added. “All my family and friends who dont make the trip (to Florida) will get the DIRTVision subscription so they can watch the races all week on the computer, so knowing that theyre all back home watching would make it even cooler to pull off a win. We’re gonna do everything we can to try to make it happen.”
The UNOH DIRTcar Nationals Presented by Summit is a 12-night short-track blockbuster that features nightly doubleheaders. Joining the UMP Modifieds on the schedule will be the UMP Late Models (Feb. 18-20); the World of Outlaws Late Model Series (Feb. 21-23); the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series (Feb. 15-17); the UNOH All-Star Sprint Car Series (Feb. 13-14); and the Super DIRTcar Series for big-block modifieds (Feb. 20-23).