Strong bloodlines highlight 2016 NASCAR Next class


For a Driver’s Education dropout, Todd Gilliland has done pretty well for himself in the racing world.

Gilliland, a member of the 11-driver 2016-17 NASCAR Next class announced on Tuesday, turned 16 two days ago, but that didn’t mean a trip to the DMV for a North Carolina driver’s license was in the offing.

Even though Gilliland has achieved a spectacular start in stock car racing, he’ll have to wait a while to be street-legal, thanks to a conflict during his first stint in driver’s ed.

“I had an ARCA race in Iowa that I had to go run, and I had to quit driver’s ed and go to that,” Gilliland told the NASCAR Wire Service. “I actually don’t get my license until January. I have to wait a little bit longer, but it’s going to be fun when I get it.”

Not as much fun, however, as racing provides. The third-generation driver already has enjoyed enormous success in his young career. In November 2015, Gilliland won his NASCAR K&N Pro Series West debut at Phoenix International Raceway. Subsequently, he has posted two wins and a runner-up finish in three more starts in that series, along with one victory in two starts in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East.

Gilliland also won his ARCA debut at Toledo in May 2015 before finishing ninth at Iowa last July in the race that delayed the acquisition of his street license.

The son of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver David Gilliland and the grandson of former Winston West Series champion Butch Gilliland, Todd isn’t the only member of the NASCAR Next class who features strong racing bloodlines.

Harrison Burton, 15, is the son of 21-time Sprint Cup winner Jeff Burton and the nephew of former Daytona 500 winner Ward Burton. To Harrison, inclusion in the NASCAR Next class is an opportunity of substantial importance.

“It gives me a huge amount of optimism,” Harrison Burton said. “With the time I’ve spent with the NASCAR Next people, I can already tell how helpful they’re going to be, helping me build my brand and progress in my career.

“They’ve done a great job communicating with all the drivers about anything, really—any questions you have about anything you can possibly think of, whether it’s racing or a social issue. They’re there to help.”

Burton paid particular attention to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory of Next alumnus William Byron, who took his first checkered flag in the series on May 6 at Kansas Speedway. Burton and Byron soon will have more than just NASCAR Next affiliation in common.

“Not only is he from NASCAR Next, he’s in a KBM (Kyle Busch Motorsports) truck, which is what I’m going to have the privilege to drive at Martinsville (Oct. 29), so there are a lot of reassuring things going on right now. It’s definitely the best opportunity I’ve had in my life, as far as racing goes. I’m so thankful for it.”

Burton draws heavily on the experience and wisdom of his father, who has moved from the seat of a NASCAR Sprint Cup car to the NBC Sports television booth.

“He’s had so much experience in the racing the world,” Harrison Burton said. “He helps me on the race track at times, but I think his biggest influence has been off the race track, not only helping me with media and being under the microscope, I guess you could say.

“He’s always been just a dad to me. We’ll go out and play basketball. It’s always cool to have stress-relieving time with him, because racing is so full of stress.”

While Jeff Burton is in the booth at the race track during NBC’s half of the schedule, David Gilliland now occupies a perch high above the asphalt for his son’s races.

“My dad just recently started spotting for me, and I think that’s one of the best decisions I’ve made in racing, just because of all his knowledge up there,” Todd Gilliland said. “He’s definitely always willing to help me out, and he’s definitely not afraid to share anything he can to make me better.”

Like Harrison Burton, Gilliland sees the NASCAR Next program as an important step in his career.

“It’s super special,” Gilliland said. “When you hear the names like Erik Jones, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney and all the guys who’ve made it to the top three series in NASCAR and been successful, I look to follow in their footsteps and learn from all the great people surrounding NASCAR Next and take every opportunity as I can and work on it.”

Gilliland and Burton, however, are part of a new Next class with impressive backgrounds and resumes. Here’s a look at the entire group of drivers and their credentials:

Harrison Burton (@HBurtonRacing) – The 15-year-old from Huntersville, North Carolina, has climbed to the NASCAR K&N Pro Series after setting the record last year as the youngest Division I race winner in NASCAR Whelen All-American Series history.

Collin Cabre (@CollinCabre12) – In his second season driving for Rev Racing and the NASCAR Drive for Diversity in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series, the 22-year-old from Tampa, Florida, captured his first career win last October after making the successful move from racing sprint cars.

Spencer Davis (@SpencerDavis_29) – The 17-year-old Dawsonville, Georgia, driver has shown a proficiency in nearly everything he’s raced. After winning the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award last season in the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour, Davis has transitioned to the NASCAR K&N Pro Series, where he has established himself as a championship contender with top six finishes in his first seven series starts dating back to last season.

Alon Day (@Alon_Day) – One of two international drivers on the list, Day is the first NASCAR Whelen Euro Series driver to earn a NASCAR Next recognition. Day, 24, from Ashdod, Israel, completed his first full season in the Euro Series as championship runner up. Including the final two rounds of 2015, Day has won four of the last eight Elite 1 races and is again a threat win the title.

Tyler Dippel (@Tyler_Dippel) – An accomplished dirt racer, the 16-year-old from Wallkill, New York, has already scored his first NASCAR K&N Pro Series East victory in March. Dippel previously competed in the DIRTcar Racing Series in the northeast, earning the rookie of the year title and becoming the youngest race winner in that series.

Todd Gilliland (@ToddGilliland_) – The 16-year-old from Sherrills Ford, North Carolina, made NASCAR history by winning his first four career NASCAR K&N Pro Series starts. He became the youngest winner in series history with his victory last fall, and has followed it up with wins in both the K&N Pro Series East and West season openers this year.

Noah Gragson (@NoahGragson) – The 17-year-old from Las Vegas finished second in the championship standings last year in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West, collecting the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award in the process. Gragson followed the path set by Kyle and Kurt Busch, learning his trade in the Legends and Bandolero Divisions at The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He earned a pair of K&N Pro Series West wins in 2015 and is again a championship contender.

Gary Klutt (@Garyklutt) – The second Canadian to be named to the program and the first full-time driver from the NASCAR Pinty’s Series, Klutt represents a crop of young drivers making an impact on Canada’s championship stock car series. The 23-year-old from Halton Hills, Ontario, earned his first career pole and win last year en route to being named the Jostens Rookie of the Year. He finished fifth in series points and will be among the title contenders when the series opens later this month.

Julia Landauer (@julialandauer) – Landauer, 24, from New York City, got her start racing a variety of cars – from Formula BMW to Ford Focus Midgets to stock cars. The versatile Landauer was a contestant on the hit reality show “Survivor” before graduating from Stanford in 2014 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Science, Technology, and Society. She became the first female to win a Limited Late Model division championship at Motor Mile Speedway in Radford, Virginia, last year before graduating to the K&N Pro Series West this season.

Ty Majeski (@TyMajeski) – The 21-year-old from Seymour, Wisconsin, showcased his ability with a dominating display at Florida’s New Smyrna Speedway in February, collecting three wins and earning the 2016 Super Late Model championship in the 50th Annual World Series of Stock Car Racing. Majeski added a NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Model track record and victory in the FrostBuster at Wisconsin’s LaCrosse Fairgrounds Speedway in April.

Matt Tifft (@Matt_Tifft) – A development driver for Joe Gibbs Racing, the 19-year-old from Hinckley, Ohio, is driving part-time in the NASCAR XFINITY Series for JGL Racing as well as JGR, and racing in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for Red Horse Racing. He earned his first career pole in the NASCAR XFINITY Series at Talladega earlier this month.

Since the inception of the NASCAR Next program 2011, 27 of the 35 drivers who have been selected as part of the program have gone on to compete in one of NASCAR’s three national series. Nearly a third of the drivers have made a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start, with nine drivers winning a NASCAR national series race.

The last two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sunoco Rookies of the Year have been NASCAR Next alumni, as are the top two contenders for this year’s award: Blaney and Elliott. The last three Sunoco Rookie of the Year winners in both the NASCAR XFINITY Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series also were part of the NASCAR Next program.

Greg Engle
About Greg Engle 7421 Articles
Greg is a published award winning sportswriter who spent 23 years combined active and active reserve military service, much of that in and around the Special Operations community. Greg is the author of "The Nuts and Bolts of NASCAR: The Definitive Viewers' Guide to Big-Time Stock Car Auto Racing" and has been published in major publications across the country including the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was also a contributor to Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Soul, published in 2010, and the Christmas edition in 2016. He wrote as the NASCAR, Formula 1, Auto Reviews and National Veterans Affairs Examiner for and has appeared on Fox News. He holds a BS degree in communications, a Masters degree in psychology and is currently a PhD candidate majoring in psychology. He is currently the weekend Motorsports Editor for Autoweek.