Gill, Turner claim top Bristol honors
By Jeff Birchfield
Both the 2004 champion and runner-up in Bristol Dragway's Motorcycle class have reason to celebrate.
Elizabethton's Mike Gill last weekend won a third straight Bristol title. For Jerry Turner, being track runner-up is a bonus. Just one year ago, he was halfway across the world serving in the Iraq war.
"It was good having Jerry back with us this year, but he kept whipping us," said Gill, who rides a 1992 Suzuki. "Our bikes could pretty much run heads up every week. Races between me and him, it's always tight.
"We're good friends, though. We were the two that qualified from Bristol to go to the regional competiton in Atlanta, and we are traveling down there together."
Coming back from the desert war made Turner appreciate all the good things in his life much more.
"It's easy to take for granted the things in your life day-to-day, especially my wife Eva," said the Piney Flats racer. "Racing is included in that. Racing is one of the most fun things I get to do.
"I very much appreciate it more now. In Iraq, we supported the Third Infantry Division on their trip to Baghdad. I was blessed not to be in combat."
Gill. a 36-year old who grew up in Jenkins, Ky., is in a class by himself. He is the first three-time champion at Bristol since the track was rebuilt by Speedway Motorsports in 1997.
"The first championship was good, the second one was alright and now I've gotten used to it," joked Gill. "My goal every year is to win the title, go to Atlanta and go to the national meet in California.
"It's a pretty big accomplishment. I guess it hasn't been done before."
Turner may have posed a bigger threat, but had to miss selected races because of duties with his National Guard unit.
"I would have liked to have run all the races with Mike," said Turner, 41. "I don't know if it would have turned out differently, but I would have liked the chance."
Away from the track, Gill is an employee of Superior Industries. He and wife, Melissa, have one child, a daughter Taylor.
On the track, he was a force to be reckoned with, racking up six wins in the 2004 season. He even won a special race at Bristol, the National Dragster Challenge, beating Turner in the finals.
One race he failed to capture was an event named "King of the Track" where the champions of all classes, from the bikes to cars raced.
"I was so excited wanting to beat a car that I messed up," said Gill. "I forgot to air up my clutch and red-lighted."
The prospect of running against cars intrigues Gill, especially after visiting Cherokee Dragway in Rogersville one weekend when he made it to the fifth round, before losing to a dragster.
"I had been thinking about going to Rogersville, racing with the cars every week," said Gill. "Then I think about all the good things about racing at Bristol. It's such a great track.
"The banquet at the end of the season they put on is such a great event. I have good sponsors with Superior, AMS Oil, Jeff Hayworth and Jim's Motorcycle Sales. I hate to even think of going anywhere else."
Leaving Bristol would also mean a departure from close friends like Turner, who rides a 1984 Kawaski KZ 750.
"Liked we've talked before, the motorcycle guys are like a little family," said Turner, who works as the Information Services Manager at Highlands/Wellmont Health Network. "We all have been a close knit group."
While Gill has thought of buying a newer bike, a little bigger and faster, he's leaning toward refurbishing his tried and true piece of equipment for next season.
When asked who poses a biggest challenge to ending his reign at Bristol, Gill responded, "You have to start with Jerry. There's also Tommy Lane. Tom is a former track champion who didn't get to race with us much this year. There's also John Swafford out of North Carolina. He went to the final round in all the last five races."
Turner would love to be the one to top his good friend in 2005. He finished the season strong, taking a win in the final race weekend.
"It definitely is my goal to win the championship," said Turner. "I still have a two-year commitment with the National Guard and I don't know how that will affect it.
"When it comes to Mike, somebody has to beat him sometime. I would like that person to be me, but others would too. John Swafford put pressure on me at the end of the season. I clinched second place with the win on the final Saturday. That in itself was a good feeling."
Congratulations goes out to both Gill and Turner on their fine 2004 racing seasons.