With third title, East grad in rare company

Columbus resident Devin Gilpin was honored for his third consecutive United Midwestern Promoters (UMP) National Modified Championship at the series’ banquet Jan. 10 in Springfield, Illinois.

“It’s a pretty humbling experience,” said Gilpin, who began his Modified career in 2005 and has leaned on the support and help of his grandfather and crew chief, retired racer Don Fleetwood. “It was a great thrill for me to be a 24-year-old guy racing and running up and down the road with my grandfather as crew chief.”

Gilpin’s third championship puts him in an elite category among current and former Modified competitors as he joins Mike Harrison of Highland, Illinois, and Jimmy Owens of Newport, Tennessee, as the division’s only three-time national champions and matches Owens, who has moved on from the Modified division to become one of the nation’s top dirt Late Model drivers, as the only drivers to win three consecutive titles.

“I’m proud to be one of only two drivers to three-peat a national championship,” said Gilpin, who plans to follow in the footsteps of Owens in making limited Late Model starts for Jim Beeman Motorsports of North Vernon in 2015. “To be at the same level as Jimmy Owens, that’s an accomplishment I’m extremely proud of.”

Since his streak of national titles in the Modified division began in 2012, the 2009 Columbus East High School graduate has racked up an impressive 100 feature victories over that time span.

Gilpin began his racing career in go-carts. In 2004 he ran the Rookie Class at Thunder Valley Raceway in Salem.

The next year he moved into the open-wheel modified division and, as they say, the rest is history.

Gilpin’s last three years of winning races harkens back to the early 1980s when National Dirt Late Model Hall-of-Famer Russ Petro of Columbus raced to 62 victories in a two-year span.

No one since then in the area has come close to what Gilpin has accomplished.

NASCAR driver and TV personality Kenny Wallace is a big fan of Gilpin’s.

“Devin Gilpin is a natural talent, he has dominated modified racing in the Midwest for the last three years,” Wallace said. “We both run the Impressive Race Car Chassis, and I get a lot of input from Devin when it comes to tracks we are both racing at. If he goes full-time Late Model racing in the future, I am sure it won’t be a matter of if but when he starts winning consistently with them.”

Gilpin is excited as he tries to continue that success.

“The last three years has been remarkable, to win as much as we have, and to race with the best-of-the-best in modified racing,” he said. “I am extremely proud of what my grandfather and I have accomplished. A lot of people don’t realize how much work it is to do on these cars on a weekly basis. I have to thank all of my pit crew, some are able to come and help once in a while, but they are a dedicated bunch.”

When asked if he will try for a four-peat, Gilpin was succinct. “It depends on how we start the season off in Florida, if we run well then we may take a shot at it, if not and we start winning in the Late Model, we may park the Modified and run the Late Model the rest of the season.”

Gilpin’s crew includes his grandfather, Colton and Chanler Fleetwood, Roy Gingery, Shane Brown, Cory Holman, Steve Bechelli and Shawn Gilpin. Gilpin will be joined by veteran crew chief, Troy Tabata of Clifford, on the Jim Beeman Motorsports Late Model Team in 2015.

Gilpin got a start on his 2015 racing season this week competing in events at East Bay Raceway Park in Tampa, Florida. From there the team heads to North Florida Speedway in Lake City, Florida, Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Florida, and conclude its Speedweeks excursion at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Florida.

Local fans will have to wait until March 14 at Brownstown Speedway before seeing Gilpin in action. He plans to compete in both the Modified and Late Model Divisions that night. Then he will run in the $10,000-to-win Indiana Icebreaker for the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series on March 21.

James Essex covers motorsports for The Republic. He can be reached at sports@therepublic.com.