“Since he was born, he was wound up, ready to go,” said Richard Childress, NASCAR Cup Series team owner. “He appreciates the sport. He’s grown up in it.”
Those words, spoken about driver Austin Dillon in NASCAR ALL IN: Battle for Daytona, the documentary series streaming exclusively on the MotorTrend app that follows three racers as they approach the Daytona 500, ring true: Austin Dillon is the son of Mike Dillon, who ran more than 150 races in NASCAR before an injury sidelined his driving career. He then went to work for his father-in-law, Richard Childress, and currently serves as general manager of Richard Childress Racing.
And it hasn’t changed. Dillon is still wound up, ready to go, finding it difficult to stay still for long.
Now 29, Austin Dillon was literally in diapers when he attended his first race. Though he insists that he and his younger brother Ty, also a NASCAR Cup driver, were never pushed into motorsports—after all, Austin played in the 2002 Little League World Series, and could have chosen a ball and bat over four wheels—racing was certainly always in their blood.
Austin began in the Bandoleros series, an entry-level car powered by a single-cylinder Briggs & Stratton engine, also a starting point for fellow NASCAR racers like Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, and David Ragan, before moving into the higher-powered Legends cars, which resemble miniature cars from the 1930s and 1940s, and are powered by four-cylinder Yamaha motorcycle engines.
That was in 2005; by 2006, Dillon had moved to the Late Model series that ran on dirt oval tracks, which have about 20 times the horsepower of the Bandolero cars he made his start in less than two years earlier. Short-track racing is still a passion for both brothers, who still like to compete at the grassroots level when they can find time.
In fact, Austin and Ty competed in the first pro NASCAR race on dirt in more than 40 years when three-time NASCAR Cup champion Tony Stewart, owner of the legendary Eldora Speedway dirt oval in Ohio, hosted the NASCAR Gander Outdoors truck series in 2013. Austin won the race, earning him a whole new set of hardcore race fans who believe dirt is for racing, asphalt is for getting to the races.
By that time, Austin Dillon was more than five years into his NASCAR career, beginning with the regional NASCAR Camping World East Series in 2008, followed a year later with his entry into the NASCAR Truck Series, winning Rookie of the Year in 2010, and he followed that up with the series championship in 2011. In 2012, he took the next step up the NASCAR ladder, to the Xfinity Series, taking that championship in 2013.
Dillon had made a handful of starts in the top NASCAR Cup Series by then, and he moved there full-time for 2014. He immediately made his presence known, qualifying on the pole for the season-opening Daytona 500.
While the legendary, late Dale Earnhardt owned his own NASCAR Cup team, Earnhardt began driving full-time for Dillon’s grandfather, Richard Childress, in 1984, and together they won six of Earnhardt’s seven NASCAR Cup championships, right up until Earnhardt’s death in a crash at the 2001 Daytona 500.
While many of Earnhardt’s rabid fans thought that his No. 3 should be retired forever, the number actually belonged to Childress, and that was the number Austin Dillon carried from his start in Little League onward. When he qualified the No. 3 Chevrolet on the pole at the 2014 Daytona 500, plenty of fans who had complained about the No. 3 appearing in the Cup Series for the first time in 13 years cheered after seeing it where they believed it really belonged—leading the field to the green flag in the year’s biggest race.
“If I didn’t think Austin was ready,” Childress said at the time, “he wouldn’t be in that No. 3 car in the Daytona 500.”
And the No. 3 indeed made its way back to victory lane. Dillon’s first Cup win came in 2017 at arguably the second most-important NASCAR race, the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Less than nine months later, it was in victory lane again at the 2018 Daytona 500, a race Earnhardt was able to win only once despite his total of 76 Cup Series wins, after Dillon came from being a lap down to make a pass for the win on the final lap.
So Dillon knows what it is like to win the biggest NASCAR race of them all. “But that only makes you want another one all that much more,” he said on NASCAR ALL IN: Battle for Daytona.
Winning Daytona “feels like that Super Bowl moment. It feels like The Masters, because everybody’s eyes are on you and it’s our sport’s day. I can barely wait every year for it and I cherish that.”
At the moment, Dillon is bearing down to make the playoffs in the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series, but there’s something else on his mind: Wife Whitney, a former NFL cheerleader with the Tennessee Titans, is pregnant with their first child, a boy, due this spring. And they’ve already picked a name: Ace. It’s the same name that has been Austin’s nickname since his mother started calling him that when he was a kid.
And when it’s all over—when it is time to hang up the steering wheel—Dillon is convinced he will still be involved in racing. After all, it’s what his family does. “I feel like when that time comes, and I am no longer helping as a driver, I want to help in some way because it’s my family’s company,” he said. “I have put a lot of love and effort into that already, and would love to continue on the tradition of RCR.”
By then, Ace might be ready to take over the driving duties.
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