No results at this time.

Upcoming Events

Schedule TBA

Current Points

No points at this time.


Gillespie's Season Includes First Late Model Victory

Gillespie's Season Includes First Late Model Victory

TUSCUMBIA, Ala. (April 11) — Oakley Gillespie headed into the 2021 Crate Racin’ USA Weekly Racing Series campaign with intentions of running for the organization’s Modified Sportsman national points championship, and while that effort certainly hasn’t been abandoned just a few weeks into the season, he did manage to earn his first-ever 604 Late Model victory in mid-April at North Alabama Speedway.

The Five Points, Tenn., driver chalked up that career milestone in a 25-lapper at the 3/8-mile facility, and Gillespie started from the pole and led every circuit to claim the checkered flag over Greg Wilhite and Matthew Brocato as the top three finishers crossed the stripe tied closely together at the high-banked oval.

Completing the top five were Bryson Mitchell and Jason Markewitz.

“I don’t even know exactly how to describe it, but getting my first Late Model win was absolutely a dream come true for me,” Gillespie said. “Ever since I was a little kid watching Mark Fields and other drivers like him race in weekly events at tracks around here, this has been something I wanted to accomplish. I’ve raced other divisions and won the Crate Racin’ USA Modified Sportsman championship in 2019, but had never sat in a Late Model until last season. Winning this race was a pretty cool deal.”

He accomplished the feat in a Kenny Johnson-fielded car after meeting the Killen, Ala.-based owner toward the end of the 2019 racing season. He led all but three laps that night, but hit a tractor tire and broke the left-front suspension on his ride. Johnson came over to talk after the races, marking the first time the pair had met.

“He never said anything about having a car, but a couple weeks later he called me and asked me to come over to his shop and look at his racing equipment,” Gillespie said. “I think it was something he and his brother built together. It might have been an older-style Rayburn car and we knew it was outdated, but still possibly an opportunity for me. “He asked me if I was interested in driving the car, and I told him I wanted to drive a Late Model pretty bad, and I knew I had to start somewhere to get my feet wet. So yeah, I was interested.”

The pair went a few more months without talking, and finally Johnson called again. He wanted Gillespie to make another trip to the shop, and he did as requested.

“I got there, and he’d gone and bought an ’18 Savage Chassis from [car owner] Jeff Greer, who had the car and was providing it for veteran competitor David Earl Gentry.

“All of a sudden we’ve got a new car to race, and about all we really had to do was drop a motor in it and go racing,” Gillespie said. “It was ready to go, and that was an unbelievable break for me as a driver.”

So Gillespie entered the Late Model division on a regular basis last year, and it was a rocky journey filled with bad luck and disappointment, even though the car and driver showed good speed right out of the gate.

“We had some early bugs and bad luck,” Gillespie said. “We got close to winning several races in 2020, but it never happened for us.”

It has happened now, but it nearly didn’t. A deflating tire caused handling issues in the closing stages for Gillespie, and as he struggled to make it to the finish, Wilhite close to his rear bumper and issued a low-side challenge that was all Gillespie wanted to weather.

Additionally, Brocato also closed the gap, creating a three-car battle for the lead at the high-banked facility that was built and opened in the early-to-mid 70s by longtime property owner Sam Bates.

“We had a dang good car, but I was feeling the tire going down, and then the No. 7W car [Wilhite] got under me,” Gillespie said. “We had led the whole way, and now I’m thinking we’re gonna lose it in the final laps. I had a buddy up in the stands and I looked in his direction like, “Man, I gotta go! There was a series of ruts going into turn one, but I must have caught ‘em just right on the next lap, and I never saw him again.

“I got out of the car at the end of the race, and the right rear was just about flat. I got to the trailer, and there was absolutely nothing left in it. We’ve had some bad luck in the past, but it worked in our favor this time. We got lucky and won it.”

North Alabama finish: 1. Oakley Gillespie, 2. Greg Wilhite, 3. Matthew Brocato, 4. Bryson Mitchell, 5. Jason Markewitz, 6. Braden Mitchell, 7. Chuck Tuck, 8. Mike Combs, 9. Mike Henn, 10. Steve Canfield.

Article Credit: Brian McLeod