CONCORD, NC – Dec. 19, 2013 – Devin Gilpin was spectacular in 2012. He might have been even better, though, in 2013.
Continuing his rapid ascension to the top of the open-wheel Modified world, the 23-year-old driver from Columbus, Ind., won the DIRTcar UMP Modified national points championship for the second consecutive year with a 2013 campaign that was almost too good to be true.
After winning an amazing 36 UMP Modified features en route to his first-ever national title in 2012, Gilpin’s checkered-flag output totaled a slightly more modest 31 victories in ’13. But he captured those 31 races in 25 fewer starts than he made in ‘12, adding more luster to a season that saw him become just the fourth driver since 1984 to repeat as UMP Modified national champion.
“This year the goal was to race less and win more,” said Gilpin, who reduced his workload to 57 DIRTcar UMP-sanctioned points race in 2013 (from 82 in ‘12). “We won more than 50 percent of the races we ran, so it all panned out almost perfect.”
In fact, Gilpin put up a startling win percentage of .544 in 2013, significantly raising his victory rate from his already gaudy .440 mark in ’12. It was the type of standout success that makes him a worthy heir to UMP Modified racing’s previous back-to-back national champions: Danny Yanders (1995-96), Jimmy Owens (2000-02) and Mike Harrison (2010-11).
“Winning two championships in a row means everything to me as far as my career,” said Gilpin, who grew up watching his father, Todd, and grandfather, Don Fleetwood, drive UMP Modifieds before climbing behind the wheel himself at the age of 14. “I just wanted to win one, let alone two. This puts you in a category up there with Jimmy Owens (record four national championships) and Harrison (three titles). If your name’s on paper with those guys, you must be doing pretty well.”
Gilpin paused, and then added, “It’s real cool, real humbling, to be able to accomplish something like this. I know that one of these days people will forget about me, so right now I’m just trying to enjoy it and take it all in.”
It’s likely, of course, that Gilpin will remain a relevant figure in the dirt-track wars for years, perhaps decades, to come. Drivers – especially young drivers – don’t win at the clip Gilpin has (nearly 120 feature victories over the past five years) by accident. Clearly, special talent must be in play.
Consider the manner in which Gilpin kicked off his march to a second straight UMP Modified crown in 2013. Driving the same car 2012 Impressive Chassis machine owned by his grandfather that he piloted to his first title, Gilpin was victorious in 18 of his first 23 starts in ’13, including a sizzling streak of 13 consecutive wins from May 3 through June 13. That’s a superstar-quality stretch of dominance – no matter how much Gilpin tries to downplay it.
“Back there in May and June it was like we could do no wrong,” said Gilpin, who is single and works at his grandfather’s Dasco Race Supplies in Brownstown, Ind. “But I try not to think about it too much when things are going so good like that. I try to just go race-to-race and see what happens. When we win races in bunches like that, I like to think it’s because we just had a good program with our car and (Mike Shell) motors and everything was banging off all eight cylinders.”
Gilpin’s unforgettable spring essentially propelled him to the national title, which was determined using drivers’ 30 best finishes/points nights. The early cushion he built allowed him to withstand the most trying point of his season, a late-summer stretch in which his thoughts were with his ailing grandmother, Sherry Fleetwood, as she battled cancer before finally passing away on Sept. 1.
“My grandma was in the hospital all through August and that kind of put a damper on things,” said Gilpin, who counted his grandmother as one of his biggest supporters. “My grandpa was focused on being with her as much as possible, so I was going to the races without him.
“We managed, but that was definitely different for us. The whole time I’ve raced he’s always been the car owner and crew chief, so without him I was pretty lost. I knew what to do and we won some races, but it was just different. He drives the haul truck – so that made me have to drive – and there was just a lot more to think about and focus on without him there.”
Gilpin pushed through the sadness of losing his grandmother to clinch the national championship with a couple weeks left in the points season. He capped his campaign with an emotional triumph, winning a preliminary feature on Oct. 3 during the DIRTcar UMP Nationals at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, with his car sporting a graphics wrap that memorialized his grandmother.
“No doubt that was one of the highlights of the year,” said Gilpin, whose hopes of adding a victory in Eldora’s $5,000-to-win DIRTcar UMP Nationals finale were dashed by the bad weather that forced officials to postpone the event to April 12, 2014. “People dream of winning at Eldora for their whole life, so for me to finally do it during the UMP Nationals with that wrap honoring my grandmother on the car was real special.”
There were plenty of other memorable moments in 2013 for Gilpin, whose 31 triumphs came at 13 tracks in four states. Near the top was his performance at his lifelong hometrack, Brownstown (Ind.) Speedway, where he won 13 times on his way to a second consecutive and third career UMP Modified championship. There were five victories at Moler Raceway Park in Williamsburg, Ohio, and a $3,000 DIRTcar Summit Racing Equipment Modified Nationals score at Tri-State Speedway in Haubstadt, Ind. He also won twice at Portsmouth (Ohio) Raceway Park and Bloomington (Ind.) Speedway and scored single victories at Florence Speedway in Union, Ky., Gas City (Ind.) I-69 Speedway, Kankakee (Ill.) County Speedway, Lawrenceburg, (Ind.) Speedway, Lincoln Park Speedway in Putnamville, Ind., Twin Cities Raceway Park in North Vernon, Ind., and Vermilion County Speedway in Danville, Ill.
“And I’m proud of that fact that we did it all with one car,” said Gilpin, whose final championship margin was 77 points (2,314-2,237) over Jacob Poel of Spring Lake, Mich. “I’ve essentially won two national championships and almost 70 races with this (Impressive) car. We got it before the 2012 season and it’s the only car I’ve run since. I never even had a backup car the last two years.”
Gilpin does finally have a second car, a new Impressive machine that he debuted at the Performance Racing Industry Trade Show Dec. 12-14 in Indianapolis. He will have the mount at his disposal in 2014, though he’s quick to point out that his battle-tested car isn’t going anywhere.
“I can’t turn this car loose,” a smiling Gilpin said of his championship-winning vehicle.
Gilpin plans to chase a third consecutive UMP Modified national title in 2014 – a feat that has only been pulled off by Newport, Tenn.’s Owens, whose tire tracks Gilpin would love to continue following. Owens, of course, made a name for himself with four UMP Modified national crowns in five years before moving on to his current status as one of the country’s most decorated dirt Late Model drivers.
Considering that Owens was already 26 years old when he won his first UMP Modified championship in 1998, Gilpin’s youth would seem to have him well positioned to become the next UMP Modified driver to graduate to dirt Late Model stardom. Gilpin has even shown already that he can handle a dirt Late Model after his brief six-race stint with a Kentucky-based team early in 2013 included a feature win at Moler and no finishes outside the top 10.
“If I could have a career half as good as Jimmy Owens has had in a Late Model, that would be pretty sweet,” said Gilpin, who also tested his driving versatility in October with a wingless 410 Sprint Car start at Brownstown. “So far, I’m kind of doing the same things Jimmy Owens did in his Modified career. Fortunately enough for him, it panned out that he got a good Late Model ride and went on to do great things.
“So that’s my goal right there – just keep doing what I’m doing and building my name, and hopefully that Late Model ride, that opportunity, comes someday, and I can pounce on it and take advantage of it.”
Gilpin will accept his $20,000 check for winning the UMP Modified national title during the annual DIRTcar UMP ‘Night of Champions’ Awards Banquet on Jan. 11, 2014, at the Crown Plaza in Springfield, Ill. For ticket information call the DIRTcar UMP office at 618-450-2072.
Gilpin will be one of eight DIRTcar UMP national champions honored during the gala, joining Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill. (Late Models), Aaron Heck of Mt. Vernon, Ill. (Pro Late Models), Jon Ripperda of Bartelso, Ill. (Sportsman), Brad DeYoung of Wheatfield, Ind. (Limited Modifieds), Josh Frye of Coopersville, Mich. (Stock Cars), Jason Worley of St. Genevieve, Mo. (Factory Stocks) and Adam Webb of Decatur, Ill. (Sport Compacts).
For more information on DIRTcar Racing and to see the complete final points standings for all DIRTcar UMP-sanctioned divisions, visit www.DirtCar.com.
Final 2013 DIRTcar UMP Modified National Points Standings (rank/driver/races counted/points):
1. Devin Gilpin 30 2314
2. Jacob Poel 30 2237
3. Nick Allen 30 2233
4. Rusty Griffaw 30 2200
5. Jamie Lomax 30 2184
6. Michael Long 30 2170
7. David Mielke 30 2155
8. Eric Bruce 30 2146
9. Allen Weisser 30 2140
10. Jeff Curl 30 2096
11. Collin Thirlby 30 2068
12. Dave Wietholder 30 2031
13. Matt Westfall 30 1988
14. Derek Losh 30 1987
15. Todd Sherman 30 1978
16. Matt Mevert 30 1973
17. Donovan Lodge 30 1970
18. Joey Kramer 30 1963
19. Lance Dehm 30 1956
20. Trent Young 30 1945