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Gilliland Gets His Shot at Title, Roush Team

David Gilliland was only 21 but he was crew chief for his dad’s Winston West car when Butch Gilliland won NASCAR’s regional series championship in 1997.

Now David is a driver, one of 30 who will compete in the Grand National division of the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown today and Saturday at Irwindale Speedway. In a Chevrolet owned by Mark Golembeski of Yucaipa, young Gilliland won rookie-of-the-year honors in the NASCAR Grand National Division, West Series (formerly Winston West).

Fifteen drivers from the West series, including 2003 All-Star winner Austin Cameron of El Cajon, and 15 from the Busch North series will compete for the Grand National prize.

Gilliland, who lives in Riverside, would like to add a win in the All-Star race to his resume, which includes victories at every level he has been on the stock car ladder, from dirt tracks at Bakersfield Speedway in Oildale and Perris Auto Speedway to paved tracks such as Irwindale, Mesa Marin and Phoenix. Winning that race, though, isn’t his top priority.

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That would be a test in one of Jack Roush’s Ford trucks for the seat next year in the No. 99 driven by Carl Edwards in the Craftsman Truck series.

When Roush decided to replace Edwards, who is moving to Nextel Cup racing, he compiled a list of 450 promising young drivers. After interviewing, looking at film and talking to short-track promoters and owners, the list was winnowed to 26. Gilliland was one of them.

Two weeks ago, at the now mostly unused North Wilkesboro track in North Carolina, the 26 were tested. Each drove a tricked-up Roush truck in five-lap segments, between which the driver was asked what changes needed to be made to make it more drivable.

Then, after three changes, each drove 25 uninterrupted laps.

“It was all pretty intense,” Gilliland said during a visit to Irwindale. “Jack Roush was there himself, and so was Mark Martin and crew chiefs from the truck series. I think it really helped me that I had done all the work on my dad’s car and that I had experience running on dirt tracks, where you have to learn more about car control.

“The track at North Wilkesboro was full of weeds in the infield and the track surface was very abrasive, so it was important to save your tires. A lot of the guys, who had never raced on the dirt, lost their tires after about 20 laps and faded at the finish.

“We were running strong all the way.”

Six made the cut. They will undergo another test Monday at Darlington Speedway, site of Sunday’s next-to-last race in the Nextel Cup’s Chase for the Championship.

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“Winning the All-Star would be exciting, but winning the ride in Roush’s truck would be more rewarding,” Gilliland said. “That would be the next step in what I have dreamed about and worked for since I was a kid of about 8, helping my dad on his car.”

Gilliland finished third in the All-Star event last year, but in the Elite Division in a Southwest Series car.

“There is a big difference in the cars,” he said. “The West car, which is the same as a Busch series car, is about 550 pounds heavier and has 75 more horsepower.”

This year, besides driving in 14 West series races, Gilliland also drove in 10 Southwest events. His five wins included two at Irwindale.

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“I’ve done so well here that I call it my home track,” he said. “I’ve been coming to races at Irwindale for four years. My last race here [Oct. 23] was one of my best. We had a flat and lost two laps. I fell back to 23rd, came back to lap the field and got our lap back and then came all the way up to fourth by the end of the 150 laps. It was the same car we’ll be driving this week.”

The All-Star Showdown will start tonight at 8:05 with the first of four 50-lap races, two in each division, to determine the starting lineups for Saturday’s main events, 100 laps for the Elite cars and 125 laps for the Grand National. Racing Saturday will begin at 5:05 p.m.

Drag Racing

The site has been changed six times, the name more often than that, but what is known today as the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals will be run for the 40th time this weekend at Pomona Raceway.

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To commemorate the occasion, the National Hot Rod Assn. polled fans for the most memorable moment in the season-ending series. More than 20,000 responded.

John Force has won 13 funny car championships, including this year’s, so maybe it’s not surprising that the most votes went to one time he did not win, 1992.

Cruz Pedregon was the challenger and they came to Pomona with the title on the line.

Force rolled his Castrol GTX Cutlass during qualifying when the throttle stuck. The car turned hard left, ending up on its roof, sliding down the raceway. The crew repaired the damage, but before he made his final run, he had been bumped from the field. One desperate run by the champion got him in but Pedregon won the championship the next day.

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Some of the voters may not be old enough to recall two dramatic events in the 1970s, but our vote would have gone to either Shirl Greer’s funny car victory in 1974 or “Big Daddy” Don Garlits’ blistering of Ontario Motor Speedway in 1975 with one of drag racing’s most powerful performances.

Four drivers had a shot at the ’74 funny car crown before the finals. On his final qualifying run, Greer’s Mustang burst into flames, destroying the back half of the car and leaving Greer with second-degree burns on his hands and face. With help from two other teams, Greer’s car was rebuilt, mostly with aluminum sheeting and tape, in a 17-hour ordeal.

Greer, bandaged like a mummy, managed to win his first-round race, but blew the supercharger in the process. All Don Prudhomme needed was to win his second-round race with Dale Pulde, but when the Snake lost it, the championship was Greer’s.

Before the 1975 finals, Garlits announced his intention of running drag racing’s first pass at 250 mph. On his first run he hit 250.63, but more impressive was his elapsed time. His 250 run produced a 5.63-second e.t., beating his old record of 5.78.

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It was a time not bettered for six years.

Southland Scene

Perris Auto Speedway will conclude its stock car season Saturday night with champions to be crowned in five classes: super stocks, street stocks, extreme trucks, hornets and cruisers.

Perris’ season finale is scheduled for Nov. 20, with the Jack Kindoll Classic for USAC/CRA non-winged sprint cars. Rip Williams, one of Perris’ veteran drivers, is expected to win his first series championship.

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The Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum will present “Edelbrock: A Performance Legacy,” tonight. More than 80 historical vehicles, many with Edelbrock parts, will be on display. The event is free to the public.... Jack Sellers, one of the competitors in the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown tonight, will make a contribution to the Greyhound Adoption Center as part of Saturday night’s ceremony at Irwindale Speedway. Rescued former racing greyhounds will be on display.

Honors

Hydroplane racer Chip Hanauer, former Winston Cup driver Darrell Waltrip, drag racing stars Joe Amato and Bob Glidden, and former Formula One and CART champion Nigel Mansell have been elected to the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. They will be inducted April 28, 2005, at Talladega, Ala.

Champ Car driver Ryan Hunter-Reay was given the Greg Moore Legacy Award at the season-ending awards dinner Sunday in Mexico City. The award is named for Canadian driver Greg Moore, who died in a crash during a CART race at California Speedway in 1999.

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This Week

NASCAR NEXTEL CUP

Mountain Dew 500

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* When: Today, qualifying (Speed Channel, noon); Sunday, race (Channel 4, 10:30 a.m.).

* Where: Darlington (S.C.) Raceway (egg-shaped oval, 1.366 miles, 25-degree banking in turns 1-2, 23 degrees in turns 3-4).

* Race distance: 500 miles, 367 laps.

* 2003 winner: Terry Labonte.

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* Next race: Ford 400, Nov. 21, Homestead, Fla.

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NASCAR BUSCH

BI-LO 200

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* When: Today, qualifying (Speed Channel, 10:30 a.m.); Saturday, race (TNT, 10 a.m.).

* Where: Darlington Raceway.

* Race distance: 200 miles, 147 laps.

* 2003 winner: Brian Vickers.

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* Next race: Ford 300, Nov. 20, Homestead, Fla.

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NASCAR CRAFTSMAN TRUCKS

Darlington 200

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* When: Today, race (Speed Channel, 5 p.m.).

* Where: Darlington Raceway.

* Race distance: 200 miles, 147 laps.

* 2003 winner: Bobby Hamilton.

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* Next race: Ford 200, Nov. 19, Homestead, Fla.

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NASCAR ELITE, GRAND NAT.

Toyota All-Star Showdown

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* When: Today, 8 p.m., four 50-lap qualifying races, two for each division (Speed Channel, 8 p.m.). Saturday, 5 p.m., 100-lap Elite Division main event, 125-lap Grand National main event. (Speed Channel, 5 p.m.).

* Where: Irwindale Speedway, a half-mile paved oval.

* Purse: $500,000.

* 2003 winners: Austin Cameron, El Cajon, Grand National; Ron Breese Jr., DeKalb, Ill., Elite.

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