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From the Notebook: Gillilands share fond memories of Kentucky

July 07, 2011, Dave Rodman,

Everyone knows there's no turning back the clock, but Michelle Gilliland is one who wishes she could revisit a special weekend in June of 2006 -- right down to camping in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart.

It sounds like a mind-boggling idea for a family that's been a regular in the Cup Series owner/driver RV lot since Gilliland joined the Series in 2006.

But as the Cup Series prepares for its inaugural weekend at Kentucky Speedway, it's appropriate to think about that weekend five years ago when a little, unsponsored team owned by Clay Andrews slayed a handful of giants during their first visit to the track for the then-Busch Series race.

"I wish our old car owner still had the same motorhome, cause I would go rent it from him, drive exactly the same way. I'm very superstitious."


That win at Kentucky, when David Gilliland out-raced 10 drivers who are now regulars in the Cup Series (and also beat, for fans of Trivial Pursuit -- all three current NASCAR national series' point leaders), launched him into a ride with Robert Yates Racing.

One hundred sixty-seven Cup races later, the Gillilands are able to be a little pickier about what they do.

In fact, Gilliland and his family stayed over in Central Florida for a few days after last weekend's Coke Zero 400 before they headed back to North Carolina, and then on to Kentucky to race for Front Row Motorsports.

At least, the driver planned to arrive at Kentucky Thursday for a full day of testing at the Cup Series' newest track. Michelle won't arrive until Saturday, and that has Mrs. Gilliland a little distraught.

"I had wanted to do everything exactly the same, because I'm superstitious," Michelle said last week at Daytona. "We slept in a Wal-Mart parking lot on our way there, to the Busch race, at the time. So I thought we'd have to do that, and the kids would have to come. But it just didn't work out.

"I would rather replay the whole weekend. I wish our old car owner still had the same motorhome, cause I would go rent it from him, drive exactly the same way -- I'm very superstitious."

Just to prove racing in Sprint Cup isn't complete nirvana for everyone, travel dynamics might prevent the family from being a unit in Kentucky. But then again, maybe not.

"Who knows?" Michelle said. "It would have to just be the kids and I, but what is it, seven hours to [drive to] Kentucky? We drove [to Daytona] so we may be in the car on Thursday."

Speaking separately, the couple each related just how much the win meant to them.

"I remember it like it was yesterday," Michelle says, marveling at how little their kids, Todd and Taylor, were at the time -- even though Todd "says he remembers it, but I don't know how much he really does -- and Taylor has no recollection at all.

"Honestly, it was more a case of 'I hope we don't go there and have so many expectations,' " Michelle said. "It was like coming back [to Daytona], where you finished third [in the Daytona 500] and everyone expects you to do well. That's too much pressure.

"You think about Kentucky and what it meant to us all the time. People get caught up in doing this every single week and you don't ever look back and realize, 'we're so lucky.' Sometimes David comes home and he's cranky because things didn't go right, and you just say 'there's 100,000 other people who would take your job in a heartbeat -- we need to be thankful.'

"Sometimes you even need to go back and look at trophies and things, because we struggled so much. We've been together since he started racing and there were times there were motors blown and we couldn't go pick up [the replacement] because we couldn't pay for them -- and we had to win a race so we could go pay for it.

"So it's been fun -- a nice ride -- but some ups and downs -- lots of 'em."

This weekend at Kentucky, when for the first time all three series will compete on the same weekend -- it makes you wonder who might be the next one to make the same breakthrough David Gilliland did on that warm summer night in 2006.

"I was excited," Gilliland said of Kentucky finally making it onto the Cup schedule. "Obviously, ever since I won there I was pulling for the Cup to go there, just because it's such a special place for me."

Be that as it may, with the exception of a test session in 2006, neither of the Gillilands has returned to the unique, 1.5-mile track.

"I think it's a cool race track," Gilliland said. "It's different. It's not your everyday mile-and-a-half that we go to, by no means -- and I like it. I'm anxious to go back there and I don't know what it'll feel like.

"I'm anxious to pull in the gate and have those feelings. It's a race track that's been great to me and I can't wait to go back there."

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.