The third-generation NASCAR driver took some practice swings in the cage inside TVA Credit Union Ball Park on Wednesday before the professionals from the Johnson City Cardinals started their batting practice. Instead of a bat, Gilliland is more comfortable holding the steering wheel of the No. 4 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota, which he will pilot in the UNOH 200 at Bristol Motor Speedway on Aug. 16.
It’s something Gilliland has been looking forward to since he was a winner his last time out at Bristol in the Zombie Auto 150 for the NASCAR K&N Series.
“It’s a big confidence booster going into this truck race,” Gilliland said. “It’s definitely one of my favorite places now.”
While in the Tri-Cities on Wednesday, Gilliland visited the famous Burger Bar in downtown Bristol and later ate ice cream at Fizz in downtown Johnson City.
The 18-year-old from Sherrills Ford, North Carolina, is the son of former Cup Series driver David Gilliland and the grandson of former NASCAR Truck Series competitor Butch Gilliland. Todd became the youngest driver to ever win an ARCA Series race in 2015, and then won back-to-back NASCAR K&N Pro Series West titles in 2016-17.
It was following his family’s heritage as his grandfather was the 1997 West Series champion.
“All I ever wanted to do was race and I never had time for anything else,” Gilliland said. “To now have the opportunity to drive for Kyle Busch’s team, I have to make the most of it.”
There is pressure driving for Busch, who is the winningest driver in BMS history with 21 wins over the three national series. Gilliland has found that Busch can be pretty tough in his role as a team owner.
“He’s intense, but there is no one else better to learn from,” Gilliland said. “Just the dominance he shows in everything he gets into, you have to take notes in everything he drives.”
The young driver set a goal at the start of the season for three wins, and while he’s yet to win that first Truck Series race, he still believes that is realistic.
APPRECIATION FOR BOTH SPORTS
After being in the cage and talking to top prospect Nolan Gorman, the No. 19 pick overall in the draft, Gilliland admitted he had a greater appreciation for what the players do.
“The bats are heavy. They look super light with the way the professionals are swinging them so fast,” Gilliland said. “It’s a lot different than what I’m used to and watching these guys is definitely special.”
Both started pursuing their sports at an early age. Gorman was three when he started playing Tee-ball, and Gilliland was racing go-karts at five years old. Gorman has an appreciation for the dedication involved in both sports. He grew up in a family of NASCAR fans and has attended races at his hometown track, Phoenix International Raceway.
“I’ve been to the track at Phoenix a couple of times, although we mainly watch it on TV,” Gorman said. “It’s pretty crazy when you get close to the cars and trucks when they’re turning the corners and it’s pretty exciting.”
The UNOH 200 for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series was moved to Thursday, Aug. 16 as part of a doubleheader with the Bush’s Beans 150 for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Series. Those races will serve as a lead-in to the weekend, followed by the Food City 300 for the NASCAR Xfinity Series on Friday, Aug. 17 and the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race for the NASCAR Monster Cup Series on Saturday, Aug. 18.
The UNOH 200 is the regular-season finale for the Truck Series and the last chance for some drivers to qualify for NASCAR’s championship playoffs.