Austin Dillon literally grew up in racing; it was impossible to avoid, considering his grandfather is NASCAR team owner Richard Childress. The son of another former racer, Mike Dillon, Austin has been competing in the sport since he was four years old. He progressed through the ranks of racing, naturally successful in Bandoleros, rising through Legends and cutting his teeth on both asphalt and dirt. Before breaking into the national touring series of NASCAR, Dillon scored a second-place finish in the K&N East Series point standings for the 2008 season. In 2011, he won the championship in Camping World Trucks and followed that up with a title, last season in NASCAR’s Nationwide division. This season, he is running for Rookie of the Year in Sprint Cup, trying to be the first to one day capture a championship in all three of the sport’s top series.
Dillon is under a microscope in 2014 thanks to driving the famous No. 3 in the Cup Series for the first time since the death of Dale Earnhardt in the 2001 Daytona 500. The number was in the Childress stable before Earnhardt ever drove it, so Dillon is continuing a family tradition by fielding the number in Cup; still, controversy and national media scrutiny followed the decision. It’s an avalanche of expectations that the driver has handled well, ones that only rose after a Daytona 500 pole to start the season.
Has the year balanced out since? When Dillon sat down with Frontstretch at Bristol, he talked about the attention dying down over the No. 3, his favorite sports teams, his favorite places to hunt and who was responsible for the coolest-looking pit wagon on pit lane.
Mike Neff: We’re three races into the season. It seems like the furor over the return of the No. 3 has died down. Are you now able to just be a race car driver instead of having to deal with the scrutiny over the car number?
Austin Dillon: Yeah, it is nice. It was such a big deal at Daytona, and that was great. I enjoyed every minute of it, and it has all been good. Now, we’re getting into the season and things are settling in a little bit. There is so much travel right now, going back and forth from the West Coast to the East Coast. Just trying to settle in and do something consistent would be nice. We’re going to tracks that are totally different, too. We go from Daytona to Phoenix to Vegas and now Bristol. We’ve hit every type of track we can go to besides a road course, so now I would like to settle in and get some of these mile and a halves in and some short tracks together and try and figure out what our niche is now — try and get better at each one of them.
Neff: You’ve run Cup races in previous years, and now you’ve logged three events this season. Are you finally starting to get a feel for what you want a Cup car to feel like for you to succeed?
Dillon: I think so. Vegas was a good run for us. It was solid and definitely something we needed. This weekend, we’ve been pretty decent, we just got screwed during qualifying. Somebody pulled up in front of us during qualifying, so the new qualifying format threw us for a few loops into the starting position. Starting position is so big here because track position is huge here. Everyone is so good here. We’re disappointed we have to start 26th here but we’ll just take our time and work our way up through the field. It is a long day. We’re 13th in points after three races. We’ll take that, it is definitely a solid start. If the Chase started today, we’d be in it. We just need to keep working hard, get better each and every week and learn as a rookie. I’m just looking forward to getting going. It feels like it is just a slow start because these tracks are difficult and different. I’d really like to get some of these mile and a halves underway.
Note: Dillon wound up 11th at Bristol, holding steady at 13th in points.
Neff: Do you follow other pro sports? I know a lot of these guys follow different sports and teams. Do you follow baseball, basketball and the like or are you too busy racing?
Dillon: Oh yeah, I’m a huge sports fan. I’ve been following the football free agency like crazy. Panthers fan and a New England Patriots fan as well. I love football and basketball, I love the Golden State Warriors and the Bobcats. Baseball, I’m just Braves only.
Neff: Golden State Warriors? Really?
Dillon: Yeah, I don’t know. I just enjoy watching the team they have now, watching Steph Curry, he’s from the state of North Carolina, and watching him play has been pretty fun.
Neff: We’ve seen the pictures of you and Ty in Victory Lane at Daytona when Dale Earnhardt won the race. He passed away shortly after that and you were relatively young. Did you get to spend a lot of time around him and what do you remember of the time you did get to spend with him?
Dillon: I got to spend time around him. I remember him being a prankster and a jokester in the garage and he was always pinching people. I was a little kid and he would pinch me. I remember fun times and everyone joking around. I was kind of young but that’s what I remember.
Neff: You grew up in an environment where you could have most anything you wanted, but you didn’t grow up drinking tea with your pinky extended. You did have to work for things you wanted but you were able to get them. Being Richard Childress’s grandson, and the things that it afforded you, how cool was is growing up in that environment?
Dillon: It was fun getting to be around and go to a lot of races. That was the biggest thing but I was also going to a lot of Late Model tracks with my dad when I was growing up. I’d go to the track and get to play in the infield. I remember going to a bunch of Late Model races at places like Tri-County and Hickory and playing on the playgrounds because all of the old Late Model tracks used to have playgrounds. I remember being at those tracks and having fun times. I stayed at my grandmother’s a lot because my mom and dad and grandfather would be gone quite a bit. I would stay with my grandmom and my brother would stay with my mom. We’d kind of switch off who would stay where because my dad and grandmom would be gone. So everybody always had company. It was fun.
When I started racing, you’d think that being Richard’s grandson would present a lot of opportunities but I remember going to the museum and taking lead out of the cars in the museum and doing whatever we could to scrounge around to make our cars fast and get going. It was great. I had everything I needed for sure and some people think it is everything, but it changes a little bit when you’re going through it. My grandfather built it from scratch and he expects everything to be done right and taken care of.
Neff: What is your favorite place to go hunting? I know you get to travel around to some really neat places.
Dillon: I don’t know, I’ve always enjoyed Texas. I have some good buddies down there and we not only hunt but just hanging out with them is fun. Argentina is a good time. I’ve been there and it was a really good time. I was supposed to go back this year but we are going to be testing during the dates of the trip so I won’t get to go. I just love hunting in general. Traveling to different places, been to Wyoming, Montana, every place we go to it is a blast hunting. I don’t have one place I dislike going hunting, as long as we’re hunting.
Neff: Did you get to dove hunt in Argentina?
Dillon: Yes, it is a lot of bird hunting. It is so much fun. Just flocks and flocks of birds.
Neff: So tell us about the barn. You posted a picture on Twitter. How did that whole thing come together? Were you just looking for a place to stay and you decided to upgrade a barn?
Dillon: That was my crazy dad’s idea. He wanted a barn that he felt like he could live in. So he had a living area and then a place to keep stuff. You could have a race shop in there if you wanted to. You can store about anything in it and you live out of it. It is pretty nice. I bought it from him. He moved out and I moved in. I have the apartment in the front and that is all I really need. I can have my friends over, I have a bar in there, and we don’t have to leave to go anywhere and we just have fun right there at the barn.
Neff: Did you redecorate it once you got into it or was it pretty set when you got it?
Dillon: It was pretty set when I started. A bunch of stuff came from my Grandfather’s house on my dad’s side when he passed away. There is a lot of that older stuff in there, a rustic look. A lot of hunting, animal stuff in there, it is pretty cool decoration.
Neff: Speaking of animal stuff, tell us the monkey story. You’ve told it before but it would be cool to have it in here.
Dillon: Yeah, I shot a baboon in Africa. That was pretty cool. I shot two of them actually. It was definitely a fun little hunt. You’d be surprised how much monkeys look like people. They have pretty much everything a person has really, it is crazy.
Neff: Your pit box is definitely different than anything else on pit road. It has the whole wood grain thing and the TV had a video of a fireplace going while it was sitting there before the race started. Did you have any input on that deal?
Dillon: No, my guys came up with that. I was there and they said they had an idea for a pit box and they were going to run with it. I was like, “alright.” So the next time I showed up I was like “Oh my GOSH! This is awesome!!” It is like a chuckwagon. You could roll it down the road and eat out of it. It is cool, a cool-looking pit box.
Neff: You definitely have the coolest hero card holder in the garage. Was that you or your guys again?
Dillon: Nope, my guys. They are so creative and they love to have fun. They know I love tricking stuff out and they do a great job of making our equipment look really cool.
Neff: Country vs. Rock? We’ve seen the cowboy hat and the pit box. You’ve embraced the country look and gone down that road, is it more country than rock for you?
Dillon: No, I’m a little bit of everything man. I like every kind of music. I can listen to country, rock, rap, it doesn’t matter to me. I like it all.
Neff: Bowman-Gray Stadium, have you ever run there?
Dillon: I have, I ran a Legends race there and got black-flagged. I lost my bumper after using it quite a bit. What we used to do, after Nationwide races, we’d go home to watch Bowman-Gray races. As soon as we got off of the plane, we’d roll to Bowman-Gray to catch the end of the twin 25s or whatever was running. I grew up going over there so I love Bowman-Gray.
Dillon has handled himself with class throughout his career, even when bad-mouthed about his family ties and the perception that his career has been handed to him. He is a racer who is as at home slinging mud while sliding sideways at Volusia Speedway Park as he is at Daytona International Speedway. Austin knows how to work on his own cars and isn’t afraid to get some dirt and grease under those fingernails. He’s had more success than his father or grandfather, but it is too close to call with his brother Ty right now. Only time will tell if the eldest Dillon brother succeeds, living up to those expectations set driving the No. 3.
Photos in this piece were taken by either Mike Neff or used, with permission from Austin Dillon’s Twitter feed.
About the author
What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.
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