12 Questions with Todd Gilliland

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with 17-year-old Todd Gilliland of Bill McAnally Racing in the K&N West Series. Gilliland, the defending series champion, is the points leader again this season and has 11 wins in 23 career starts. Note: This interview was conducted prior to the Sonoma K&N race.

1. How much of your success is based on natural ability and how much has come from working at it?

Everyone at Bill McAnally Racing has given me fast cars every week, and I think that’s just easier to showcase my ability. I think everyone out here has great ability, it’s just putting all the right pieces together and surrounding yourself with the right people. Luckily, I have the right people around me. 

2. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and now Dale Earnhardt Jr. have all either retired in the last couple years or will retire soon. What’s your pitch for fans of theirs to become fans of yours?

I think they need to start looking to the future and obviously now, seeing the first guys of the new generation breaking through in the Monster Energy Cup, I think that’s really cool and inspiring for me. Hopefully people like me, Harrison Burton, people like that of the next wave that the fans can look to, we can really gain a fan base early on to naturally lean on as we move up.

3. What is the hardest part of your job away from the racetrack?

School, for sure. I’m trying to keep up with school. Going to the race shop, balancing all that time, has really made me more responsible over the last year or so.

What year are you in now, going into the fall?

I’m going to be a senior, so I’m excited to be done with it.

4. Let’s say a fan spots you eating dinner in a nice restaurant. Should they come over for an autograph or no?

I think so. I mean, why not? I think we’re all approachable, we’re all people. Especially right now, I don’t think anyone will know me, but hopefully that does happen in the near future.

So you’d sorta be like, “Oh hey, somebody knows me!”

Yes, I still get excited. In the past couple races, all the Cup races I’ve been to, I’ve actually signed like one or two autographs for fans. That’s been exciting for me.

5. What’s a story in NASCAR that doesn’t get enough coverage?

I think sometimes you could cover the guys in the back a little bit more. Like they’re the ones that are trying to work harder to be up front and everyone knows that, they see that. But I think sponsorship is hard in the Monster Energy Cup Series, so I think trying to even out the TV coverage or something — I’m not sure, but I think that they do a good job covering everyone right now.

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

Probably Derek Kraus, my teammate. We text a lot all the time, and now being teammates at Bill McAnally Racing he’s asked me some questions about the race last year (at Sonoma). We got wrecked on Lap 1, so we don’t know much about it either, so we’re both going into it kind of blind.

You’re like, “Sorry dude, I can’t really help you.”

Exactly. Hopefully he can help me a little bit this time.

7. Do you consider race car drivers to be entertainers?

Yeah, in a way. I think that’s why people come to the racetrack, to be entertained and to watch a great sport that everyone loves. I think that once we get out there, we’re doing everything we can and we’re right on the edge and I think that is entertaining to some people.

8. What is your middle finger policy on the racetrack?

Man, I’ve never flipped anyone off or something like that yet. I’m usually pretty calm in the race car. Maybe that will change someday. Just for now, I’m trying to stay calm and fly under the radar.

Has anybody flipped you off?

Yes. (Smiles) In my first Late Model race, I was kind of reckless and I pretty much hit everything out there. Yeah, I got flipped off once.

9. Some drivers keep a payback list in their minds. Do you also have a list for drivers who have done you a favor on the track?

For sure. I think I definitely pay more attention to who races me cleaner than dirtier. Actually, Ronnie Bassett comes to mind this year — some people look at them as racing really aggressive, but we’ve raced super clean this year and I think we’ve gained respect for each other. Everyone in the K&N Series has done a really great job of racing each other clean and respecting each other.

10. Who is the most famous person you’ve had dinner with?

I don’t know about that one. Who are some famous people? Like race car drivers?

They could be the most famous you’ve met, yeah.

I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve been to dinner with anyone famous ever.

Kyle Busch? (Gilliland has made two starts for Kyle Busch Motorsports)

Kyle Busch, yes. Well, we ate at the same place at Dover. We were staying at the casino and they walked in. That’s pretty cool.

You’re in the same restaurant, but not the same table necessarily.

Yes exactly. Kind of the same, but different.

Maybe (dad) David Gilliland is the most famous person.

Yes, probably David Gilliland, that’s it. And Michelle Gilliland (his mom).

11. What’s something about yourself you’d like to improve?

I think being able to just get out of the race car and do interviews better. I think that I’ve gotten better before races when I’m calm and stuff, but I think after races with the adrenaline, I need to take a couple of deep breaths and just really process my thoughts a little bit more.

I haven’t said anything bad, but they’re just a little bit sloppier after the race just (from) being worn out and everything just racing through your head.

12. The last interview was with Erik Jones. He was thinking back to when he was 16 and talking about some of the pressure he felt to win big races for his resume. He felt like a lot of that was pressure he was putting on himself. So he wanted to ask you: Do you have the sense of, “I have to win these big races,” and do you feel like that pressure is coming from the outside or yourself?

I think there’s a little bit of pressure coming from the outside, but I think most of the pressure is what I put on myself. I expect to win races, but that sometimes hurts me going into these big races, like he said.

Sonoma’s a pretty big race for the K&N series: We have 30-something cars and I haven’t done much road course racing. Being out here with people like Ryan Blaney, Daniel Suarez and Kevin Harvick in today’s race is a big learning experience. I think today’s race would be successful just to make it to the end and learn from those guys. A win would be great, but we’ve just got the keep the pressure off. That’s when I perform the best. Just keep looking ahead. (Note: Gilliland finished sixth.)

The next interview is with Ryan Blaney. Do you have a question that I might be able to ask him?

When are you going to do that? Today or next weekend?

I’m do it tomorrow morning before the Sonoma Cup race.

Ask him what he learned in today’s race to take to tomorrow. I guess that’s a pretty common question though, I don’t know.

Well it’s not so common in that running K&N, I’m sure the cars are much different than running Xfinity versus Cup. K&N versus Cup I’m sure is a lot different, so maybe he did take something from it.

Yeah, maybe. You never know. Guess we’ll find out.