As if a very successful 2016 wasn’t good enough for Bill McAnally, his stock car race teams did even better in 2017 finishing 1-2-3 in NASCAR's K&N Pro Series West standings. For the second year in a row, 17-year-old driver Todd Gilliland won the series championship following an impressive outing Nov. 4 at Kern County Raceway Park driving the Napa Auto Parts No. 16 Toyota.
Teammate Derek Kraus captured the checkered flag that night, a career first, in the West Coast Car Hall of Fame Championship 150, presented by NAPA Auto Parts. Kraus, a 16-year-old rookie finished third in the points in his No. 19 Carlyle Tools Toyota.
Placing second this season was Chris Eggleston in the No. 99 Napa Filters Toyota, also owned by McAnally.
Gilliland’s win was the eighth series championship for Bill McAnally Racing (BMR), a third straight title for the race team, thanks to victories in 11 of the 14 K&N West races in 2017.
“It was a great year,” said Gilliland, who hails from Sherrills Ford, North Carolina, said. “We finished in the top 10 in all but one race, and in that one we had a flat tire. This BMR team is what makes this go. I can’t thank them enough for the fast NAPA Toyotas they gave me all season. Young kids like me, we just want to race as much as we can. Being able to come out here to the West Coast is very special for me, with all our family out here. I’m not sure what next year’s going to hold, but these championships definitely help.”
Gilliland is the first driver to win back-to-back championships in the series since 2005. Mike Duncan won two straight titles in 2004 and 2005. Prior to that, BMR driver Brendan Gaughan had consecutive championships in 2000 and 2001.
And, no one is happier than McAnally, who for 25 seasons has owned cars that has competed on the K&N West and East circuits, a sort of a minor league stock car racing circuit, which prepares drivers and crews for NASCAR’s big time races on the Xfinity and the Monster Energy Cup series.
“I’m so happy for Todd, for the prospects of where he is going,” McAnally said. “So happy our rookie driver, Derek Kraus, got his first win. So, it was a good weekend at Kern to get all that.”
Gilliland, a NASCAR Next driver, wrapped up his season with six wins, 11 top-five and 13 top-10 finishes. In addition to racing in the West division of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series this year, he also ran the full schedule in the East division – where he finished second in the championship standings.
Eggleston – the 2015 series champion from Erie, Colorado – finished with four wins, 11 top-five and 13 top-10 finishes. Saturday’s race was his first this season in which he failed to finish in the top 10.
Kraus of Stratford, Wisconsin, registered one win, nine top-fives, and 10 top-10s this year. He was the top finishing rookie in seven of the 14 races.
McAnally has rounded up a garage-full of sponsors, which has allowed him to place some of the best cars on racetracks across the country. His major sponsor has been Napa Auto Parts, who has partnered with BMR for the past 27 years.
“This year with Napa and Toyota all in we were able to run the whole K&N West and the East, all 27 races, went after it and wound up winning second in the East overall,” he said. “Went into the last race of the season in Dover, leading in points. Unfortunately, we got a right-front flat and hit the wall really hard, got sidelined and watched Harrison Burton take that championship.”
BMR’s offices and main garage is in Roseville, near the Riverside exit off Interstate 80. Though he’s doing really well in both of the K&N series, McAnally doesn’t have much interest in taking on the car owners in NASCAR’s bigger series.
“I have two Napa Auto Care locations, one in Roseville and one in Antelope,” he said. “I have my family here and am rooted right here in the Sacramento area. I went truck racing for two years with Brendan Gaughan back in 2002 and 2003, and touring nationally it was a lot. Back then my kids were younger. I just stayed with the K&N Series as my family was growing and I was building my businesses. Now, I can go back east and run lots of neat tracks. We won Lowden this year and raced at Dover, Watkins Glen.”
For McAnally, he finds it really rewarding to train the next generation of NASCAR drivers, mechanics and engineers. Cole Custer, a regular on the Xfinity series now, has driven for BMR as has Cup driver Clint Bowyer. Kevin Harvick, who will race this weekend for the Cup series championship, raced for McAnally in 1998.
“Martin Truex, Jr, Kyle Larson, all used the K&N for their step up, so it is a ring in the ladder as they climb in NASCAR,” McAnally said.
And, it appears as though he’ll have to find a replacement for Gilliland next season for it looks like he’ll be moving up the ranks, too.
“He’s going on to bigger and better things, he’s graduated from ‘college,’” McAnally quipped. “That’s what we do, have them come in here, get their fundamentals and their development done. We work them not just in the race car, we work with them in learning how to talk to the media, learning how to work with sponsors and they are ready for the next step.”
McAnally thinks he'll keep his race teams employed for quite some time, too.
"I look forward to waking up each morning and going out there, so I don't see myself quitting any time soon," he said.