Motorcycle maestro Gill enjoys second straight Bristol title


Mike Gill in action at Bristol Dragway.

CHAMPION AGAIN
By Jeff Birchfield
STAR STAFF
jbirchfield@starhq.com
They say repeating as champion is tougher than winning the first time around, but that wasn't the case for Bristol Dragway champion Mike Gill, who capped off a second consecutive title run in the Motorcycle class on Sunday.
"It was a little easier this year," said the Elizabethton resident, who already had wrapped up the title going into this past weekend. "Maybe, I was lucklier was what it was. It was probably tougher racing this year than last year, but I got a lot of lucky breaks."
Gill put an exclamation point to the season, making it to the finals on both Saturday and Sunday. Both days he lost to Cherokee Dragway champ Scotty Lee, who exacted some revenge for Gill going to Rogersville and beating Lee four times at his home track last season.
Looking at the bigger picture, Gill beat former Carter County resident and ex-Bristol champ Tommy Lane by 160 points in the final track standings. Third place went to David Rogers, who calls Whitesburg, Ky. home.
Compare that to the 2002 championship run, where he won the title by only 35 points over runner-up Lane and had only a 10-point lead going into the final day of racing.
"I had it wrapped up going into the final weekend," Gill, who rides a 1992 Suzuki 1100 GSXR, commented. "There was no way second place could have caught me, but I wanted to win the last two races. Earlier in the season, David Rogers really gave it a run. We went back and forth. One week he would lead in the points and the next week I would lead."
This time around Lane could actually thank Gill for helping him to finish higher in the standings.
"Tommy got put out on that final day and I had to race David Rogers," Gill explained. "If David would have beat me, he would have passed Tommy. Tommy lost earlier in the day. When I beat David, that kept Tommy in second place."
Asked reasons for his improvement over last season, Gill offered up the following answers.
"I changed some things over the winter to become more consistent," said Gill, a Huntington, W.Va. native. "I did a few things working with the delay box. Then I had more experience and track time. I have to again say there was a lot of lucky breaks that I caught."
With five wins during the 2003 season, Gill has bumped his career total up to 20. He also finished second place this season on three other occassions.
On a personal side, Mike and his wife, Melissa, are the proud parents of six year-old Taylor Nicole.
As is the case with many racers, Gill is still searching for a major sponsor. Still, he has been quite successful in that arena getting support from local businesses Hayworth Tire, Jim's Honda/Suzuki in Johnson City, the Cutting Edge in Elizabethton and from Kent Peay with AMS Oil. APE and his employer Superior Wheels of Johnson City are other contributors to his racing efforts.
Gill is looking forward to an upcoming trip to the NHRA Regional bracket finals in Gainesville, Florida. Last year, he and the contingent from Bristol Dragway made a similiar journey to Montgomery, Alabama and it was a trip still not forgetten.
That Friday night, Gill won the Race of Champions where he bested the track champs from 21 other drag strips. The following day, Gill did go out in the first round eliminations. However, the previous year in Atlanta he made it all the way to the quarterfinals out of 64 entries.
"There is some pride when track champions are facing off," said Gill, 34. "At that Race of Champions, I won a Wally (a trophy that resembles NHRA founder Wally Parks). That was a big highlight of my career to beat all those other track champions."
"This time, I would love to win in Gainesville on Saturday and get to go to California. You roll through the gate in California, they hand you $3,500 and you race for another $5000. That's what I am shooting for."
What Gill is referring to in California is the National Finals for NHRA motorcycle racers at Pomona Dragway.
Unlike cars which tend to be hyper sensitive to track conditions, Gill says there are no major changes he has to make to the bike when racing in Florida as oppossed to the mountains of East Tennessee.
"The times will change I'm sure, but as far as changing anything mechanically, I don't expect to have to do that," said Gill. "You just have to adjust to the altitude. That will play into the time trials. You will either pick up or slow down or sometimes it even stays the same. I don't think I will have to change anything. I think I'm ready. I just want to go down there and make it to the final four or final two running."
Note: There were several other Carter County-based racers who finished in the top ten of the Bristol Dragway point standings at season's end. Jason Buckles was sixth in the Pro standings, Carl Widener took seventh place in the Sportsman division, David Elder of Hampton wound up fifth in the Motorcyle class and Chad Cathell finished third in the Junior Dragster Division 1.