Daytona 500 champion has local ties

Jeff Birchfield • Feb 20, 2018 at 6:34 PM

A decade before he was waving the checkered flag at Daytona, Austin Dillon was holding up a championship belt at Bulls Gap.

This year's Daytona 500 champion has seen his share of success in the Tri-Cities area from the local dirt tracks to Bristol Motor Speedway.

In 2007, a 16-year-old Dillon won his first-ever Super Late Model race on the dirt track of Volunteer Speedway. He won the pole position for the race and led all 35 laps of the feature to hold off Bryan Hendrix of Knoxville for the win.

A year later, Dillon returned to the Greene County track to win the 40-lap "Late Model Showdown at the Gap." His brother, Ty Dillon, has also been a Volunteer Speedway winner, while in 2011, Austin finished second to Newport driver Jimmy Owens in a 50-lap Super Late Model race at Volunteer.

Both brothers have also raced at Wythe Raceway in Rural Retreat, Va., where Austin Dillon won the Food Country $10,000-to-win Southern Nationals in 2011.

Of course, his biggest win in the local area came at Bristol Motor Speedway in the 2016 Food City 300. A late-race crash in which Kyle Busch's car was bumped by Brad Keselowski and collected Ty Dillon's car forced an overtime finish. Austin Dillon passed Keselowski, who ran out of fuel, then held off Justin Allgaier and Kyle Larson for the win.


It was pointed out numerous times after Sunday's victory how Dillon was a 7-year old in victory lane when Dale Earnhardt won the 1998 Daytona 500.

His bump of Aric Almirola on the final lap of Sunday's race certainly brought back memories of another time the black No. 3 Chevrolet knocked an opponent out of the way on the last lap. That was Earnhardt's bump of Terry Labonte at the 1999 August Night Race, which led to the famous line of, "I didn't mean to wreck him. I just meant to rattle his cage."

Another Bristol tie was race runner-up Darrell Wallace Jr. driving the iconic No. 43 for Richard Petty Motorsports. Wallace was the winner at the inaugural Short Track U.S. Nationals at BMS last May.


Dillon wasn't the only Volunteer Speedway racer to win big in Florida over the weekend.

Scott Bloomquist of Mooresburg set fast time in qualifying, won his heat race and then the 29-car feature at the $10,000-to-win DIRTCar Nationals race at Volusia Raceway Park. Of course, that's chump change to the seven $100,000-to-win races Bloomquist has won at Eldora (Ohio) Speedway over his illustrious career.

The 53-year-old Hawkins County driver is closing in on 600 career wins on the dirt ovals.


Legendary NASCAR crew chiefs Ray Evernham, Larry McReynolds and Jeff Hammond will be the guests of honor at the Speedway Children's Charities annual dinner to launch the Food City 500 weekend on Thursday, April 12.

The dinner, to be held on the third floor of the O. Bruton Smith Building at Bristol Motor Speedway, ends with a live auction, which is one of the largest fundraisers of the year for the Bristol Chapter of SCC.

Evernham teamed with Jeff Gordon to win three championships and 47 races in the 1990s. They included a stretch of four straight Food City 500s from 1995-98. He later was a car owner for NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott.

McReynolds had 23 Cup wins and led both Dale Earnhardt and Davey Allison to their only Daytona 500 wins. He won the 1990 Bristol spring race with Allison. He's best known to newer fans for his television work as an in-race analyst and on NASCAR shows.

Hammond was Darrell Waltrip's longtime crew chief and they won 43 races together, including the 1989 Daytona 500. He was on the crew for Waltrip's record seven straight BMS wins from 1981-84, and the crew chief for five of them. They later won two more BMS races together. Hammond has served as a television analyst and pit reporter in recent years.

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