PENSACOLA, Fla. – A young driver by the name of Todd Gilliland has turned many heads in 2015 by scoring two big wins.
He went to Toledo Speedway in Ohio in May and won an ARCA Racing Series event there in his first ever start with the series. He followed that up by heading west to Phoenix Int’l Raceway in November for a NASCAR K&N Pro Series West race and once again won in his first series start.
What makes those two race wins so impressive is that he’s just 15 years old. He’s the youngest winner in both divisions.
Now he’s heading to Pensacola, Fla., for the 48th annual Snowball Derby, and he’s looking to become the youngest winner at the Derby too.
“That would be really cool,” said Gilliland, son of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver David Gilliland. “I don’t even really know what to say about that.”
There’s a reason why Gilliland doesn’t yet know what to say about the possibility of unseating Chase Elliott as the youngest Snowball Derby winner in history. Plainly put, he just hasn’t thought that far ahead yet.
“You have to go in with the mindset that you first have to make the race before you can even think about winning,” he said. “It’s kind of crazy that you have to think about it like that. There’s always pressure going into qualifying, but for a race like that qualifying is everything. If you don’t qualify well then you have to run the Last Chance Race, all the stuff that you don’t want to run.”
Gilliland has limited experience behind the wheel of a super late model, and he’s never made an attempt to start the Snowball Derby before. If he makes the Derby, it will be just his second start in a super late model this year. His only other super late model start this year came at Virginia’s Motor Mile Speedway in a CARS Tour event. An engine failure ended his day prematurely.
The limited experience has resulted in modest goals for Gilliland for the Derby. He’s not expecting to win. But he does believe he can run well.
“We’ll see what we can do,” he said. “We’ll aim for a top 10 or a top five. But first we have to make the race. There’s no expectations going into it because it’s just my second Super race of the year. We’ll just learn while racing against the Chase Elliott’s and guys like that.”
But if Gilliland should find himself celebrating in victory lane at the end of 300 laps, he said it would mean more than his ARCA win at Toledo and his K&N West win at Phoenix.
“There’s obviously really tough competition in both of (those races),” said Gilliland. “But I’d say the Snowball Derby is one of the biggest races that you could ever win.”