BRISTOL — Austin Dillon is looked at as one of the brightest new stars in NASCAR racing, but being a witness to an old-school incident has brought much attention lately to the 21-year-old driver.
Dillon was instructed by his 65-year-old grandfather, Richard Childress, to hold his watch after a recent Camping World Truck Series race at Kansas. As Dillon looked on, Childress proceeded to settle a dispute with 26-year-old Kyle Busch by placing him a headlock and punching him in the top of the head.
Dillon had seen the incident building up and knew Busch had been warned.
“It was pretty wild to see that,” said Dillon, who was at Bristol Motor Speedway Tuesday to promote next month’s O’Reilly 200 Truck Series race. “My grandfather still has a lot of fire and he’s a man of his word. He’s always been that way.
“You could tell after the race he was frustrated. It had been building for a while. He gives people a lot of chances and it’s hard to get that guy mad, but when you do, he’s not a good person to be on his bad side.”
Dillon has shown the same fire driving the famous black No. 3 Chevrolet.
Not only does the young driver share his grandfather’s passion, but he has plenty of old-school experience. Both his grandfather and his father, former Nationwide Series driver Mike Dillon, have insisted on Austin having a varied background of racing on asphalt and dirt.
Learning such car control has paid off with the young driver from Lewisville, N.C., winning two races in the Truck Series last season. He also earned rookie of the year honors and finished fifth in the point standings.
This year, even with a full schedule of classes at High Point (N.C.) University, he’s off to an even better start with two pole positions in the first nine races and currently fourth in the points.
He’s also been successful on dirt, two weeks ago taking a victory in the Carolina Clash, “Tennessee vs. Carolina Brawl” at Volunteer Speedway.
“The biggest thing about running at Bulls Gap, where I run at a bunch, is the banking is similar to Bristol and the reaction times are quicker,” Dillon said. “It gets you ready for Bristol because everything happens so fast. When you have 800 horsepower with all the acceleration those cars have, when something happens off the corner, you can react and be ready.”
The recent win gave Dillon the opportunity to show off rim-riding skills, taking the high groove around the 4/10-mile, high-banked dirt track.
“I got passed, but I passed the guy back so it was good racing,” Dillon said. “It was cool to go out there and run the high banks up at the top of the track.”
It isn’t surprising Dillon would love dirt racing so much. He’s always taken a different path than most youngsters looking at a NASCAR career. While racing has been in his blood, there is also a love for the baseball diamond. As a standout talent in another sport, Dillon was a second baseman on the Forsyth County (N.C.) team which reached the 2002 Little League World Series.
“I always pull for the Southeast Region team since that was the team I played for,” he said. “It was cool with that, to bring a new aspect into my family where it wasn’t just racing. It was nice to accomplish something in a different sport.
“We had a great team before we got to Williamsport and we jelled well together. We had a great coach and were discliplined at a young age.”
Still good friends with his former teammates, Dillon said baseball taught him the teamwork which he uses daily in the racing career.
It is a promising future with plans to move to the Nationwide Series full-time next season. There is also the challenge of driving the black No. 3 paint scheme made famous by seven-time NASCAR champion Dale Earnhardt. With the number comes a huge fan base and great expectations.
“Some driver may look at his number and think it’s just a number,” Dillon said. “I look at it as a challenge where I want to run well for those fans. It gives me that little extra push to go harder and I love that.
“As a race car driver, I’m glad to have that little extra to do my best.”