Gill brings two-wheel title to 'Betsy

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR STAFF
jbirchfield@starhq.com

   Thanks to Mike Gill, Elizabethton can now boast about being the home of a racing champion. Gill recently captured the motorcycle title at Bristol Dragway in dramatic fashion, beating former track champ Tommy Lane on the final day of racing.
   Gill headed into the weekend clinging to a mere 10-point lead over his rival before racing his way to a 35-point final margin.
   Like other racers, Gill feeds his need for speed. But, in the art of bracket racing, consistency each time down the track is the main factor between taking home a trophy or going home empty-handed.
   "Being consistent and cutting the light is what's it all about," said Gill, 33, about the keys to becoming a champion bracket racer. "The speed is the fun part. If I could go 200 miles per hour and be consistent, I'd do it. I wouldn't care, if I could go fast.
   "I've been racing regular at Bristol four years now. In '99, I finished third (in the points), in 2000 I finished second and in 2001 I was third again. This was my best year. I had more wins last year, but I was more consistent and got better overall finishes this year."
   In the track's final standings, Gill stood atop with 374 points, Lane ended up second at 339, Jerry Turner of Piney Flats was third with 276 points and another Elizabethton rider, George Richmond, rounded out the top four.
   One unique thing about this quartet is not only their competitive desire to win, but their close friendship.
   "Tommy Lane, Jerry Turner and George Richmond, they were all tough to beat," remarked Gill. "There were no gimme's. Every week you better pull up there ready when you're running one of them, because they're going to be right there.
   "We have all known each other for five or six years and we have all become good friends. We do stuff away from the track, like we're all going down to Alabama in two weeks. I feel lucky to have made good friends. If one of them needs help, I will help them or give them parts and they all will do the same for me. We're all there to help each other out.
   "When it comes to racing, we race our hearts out against each other. But, we come back when it's over and shake hands, pour a beer or water over each other and celebrate all in fun. It's a good time."
   Originally from Huntington, WV, Gill spent his teenage years in the small mountain town of Jenkins, Kent. He moved to Elizabethton nine years ago after gaining employment with Superior Metals. He says that while their is some local racing in the Kentucky and West Virginia area, they have no tracks quite like Bristol Dragway.
   "They have a little track in Isom (Ky.), but it's not real big," said Gill. "Especially the bikes, about 10-12 bikes is the most you would ever see. It's great to have a program like Bristol. It's an honor to race there every week. You hear the big boys like John Force talk about how Bristol is a state of the art facility and we're there every week."
   Mike also races at tracks in Rogersville, Newport, Seymour and Knoxville when the schedule allows. In fact, he took top honors this past weekend at Rogersville's Cherokee Dragway bumping up his career win total to 14.
   "Rogersville is one of my favorite tracks," stated Gill. "Me and Jerry went to the finals this past weekend and I beat him. Last year, I went down there one time and got runner-up. It's just a fast, good track with a lot of good competitive racing."
   Gill receives a lot of support from his wife Missy and their five year-old daughter Taylor, who double as the pit crew. Friends have also been helpful. Case in point, the engine work on Gill's bike was furnished by Britt at his Ken's Cycle shop in Boones Creek.
   One look at Gill's racing machine and it's apparent there is little resemblance to a street version of a 1992 Suzuki. "It's an 1100 GSXR," said Gill. "When I got it, it was in boxes and we put it together. We modified the frame. The frame has all been cut, stretched out and lowered. The motor is a 1216 that has been bored out and built.
   "It's far from a street bike. The body is all fiberglass with a two-quart fuel cell good for about one run (down the quarter-mile). It has all the electronics, a delay box and an air clutch two-step, you name it. About three years ago, I ran the bike without wheelie bars.
   "If you spun out of the hole, you were all right. But if it hooked, it went straight up. That wasn't bad, but the coming down, you would bend and tear up the pipes underneath. One time, it got pretty wild. The bike went straight up and I about took the Christmas tree out. I had a few close calls."
   There have been few close calls lately for Gill, who scored four wins at Bristol Dragway in 2002. Surprisingly, little work is now required on the bike other than basic maintenance and adjusting tire pressures to track conditions. But there is still room for improvement, especially in the area of sponsorship. While he has some support from Hayworth Tire and AMS Oil, nothing would please Gill more than to have a primary sponsor's logos adorning his bike.
   It would be especially sweet for the champion racer, if that sponsor was a company in his adopted hometown.
   "If you notice, the bike is solid white," said Gill. "I'm waiting to put somebody's name on it. Some kind of sponsorship would be a great help. I would love to have a sponsor from here in Elizabethton. I would put their name right in the back and leave it there all year long. It would be some good advertising."
   With the Bristol Dragway season now finished, Gill is preparing for the NHRA Divisional Final races at Montgomery, Alabama. We wish him and all the local racers making the South bound trip much success in the endeavor.