By Cole Cusumano
AVONDALE, Ariz. — The year 2012 was an interesting one. Mayan calendars predicted the world to end, Barack Obama became President of the United States, The Avengers took the box office by storm — oh, and it was the last time David Gilliland won a NASCAR sanctioned race.
Eight years later, the 23-year NASCAR veteran found his way back into victory lane in thrilling fashion. Up against a field of youngsters, including his son Todd, Gilliland showed the ARCA Menards Series East and the few thousands fans in attendance at Phoenix Raceway that experience outweighs youth.
A day that began at the front of the grid for Gilliland was anything but a cakewalk. The co-owner of DGR-Crosley took turns swapping the lead with Ty Gibbs for the entire duration of the caution-heavy 100-lap event, but was met with adversity when he was penalized for switching lanes prematurely on a late-race restart as the control car.
This proved to be but a minor speed bump in the 44-year-old’s day, as he powered his way through the field and perfected a thrilling last-lap pass on Gibbs for his first ARCA win and second of his career at Phoenix — a place he called in his post-race interview “almost as big as the Daytona” for him growing up.
Having the opportunity to compete alongside his son and other developmental drivers from DGR-Crosley was a gratifying moment for Gilliland. Although he couldn’t recall the last time he’d won a race, when asked where this victory ranked, he knew this one would never be forgotten.
“This place kicked my family’s butts for many, many years, so it’s pretty special,” Gilliland told POPULAR SPEED. “One really special thing, and the real reason I even raced this race, was because we built a brand new car for Todd when he came here and he won in 2015. That car we sold to Bill McAnally Racing, they used it a little bit and we bought it back.
“That car was sitting in our shop and that’s the car that I won in today. Pretty special to be able to drive our original, first K&N/ARCA car that we ever built as a company. To bring it back here and win with it again makes it just that much more special.”
Gilliland has played an instrumental role in shaping the future of the sport by molding and mentoring the young talent rising through the ranks. This process will increase two-fold, as he mentioned DGR-Crosley plans on expanding to a two (potentially four) NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series entries next season.
He’s pleased with the growth of the drivers in the team’s Ford Performances program, namely Hailie Deegan who will be competing full-time in the Truck Series next year. While things are “up in the air” for his son Todd, he’s hopeful he’ll be in a position to win races next year.
As for the bossman himself, nothing has been revealed for his racing future, but it can be presumed after going a perfect one-for-one in the ARCA West Series this year he’ll strap on the firesuit once more in 2021.