Above all else, Austin Dillon is one of NASCAR’s most dynamic personalities and racers at the track. Certainly, Dillon’s expressive personality, high and tight haircut and determined driving style are distinct.
However, Austin Dillon, embraces his ways and being himself whether on the track or away from it. In his eighth full time NASCAR Cup Series season, Dillon continually showcases his tenacity behind the wheel.
Surely, Austin Dillon’s reunion with crew chief Justin Alexander resumed the No. 3 team’s repositioning as a competitive team. In this case, Dillon improved from 21st in the 2019 driver’s standings to 11th with a Texas victory last year.
No doubt, Dillon acknowledges how some fans may hold preconceived notions about him. Conversely, Dillon, a Cup veteran at age 31, realizes his best approach is being himself.
Of course, Austin Dillon wants more wins and his first Cup championship. Indeed, the North Carolinian has a couple of crown jewel wins like the 2018 Daytona 500 and the ’17 Coca-Cola 600. Now, Dillon looks to build off those moments and more in his No. 3 Chevrolet.
Earlier this season, I caught up with Dillon and got his thoughts about his personality, Chevrolet’s resurgence and starring on a Netflix sitcom. Now, let’s all get “In the Hot Seat with Austin Dillon” here on The Podium Finish!
Rob Tiongson : Austin, you’re one of the unique characters in NASCAR in terms of you being very expressive and sensible with your image and approach. How important has it been for you to remain true to yourself as a driver and as a person?
Austin Dillon : I think always kind of relying on my morals. And never trying to go too far from what I was taught as a kid. Be nice to others.
For me, I love being me as far as going out and doing what I like to do. Racing, hunting, fishing, outdoors, enjoying time with friends and family. But I guess that’s just me.
I’m very open with what I do in my off time. I love sports and I love competition. So I don’t know how I would be able to hide who I am, really, I guess.
Tiongson : The thing that makes you very refreshing in terms of not only being a racecar driver, but as an athlete. When I think of the sporting world as a whole, most people keep to themselves and don’t really reveal a lot about who they are. And you get little fragments of who they are on the field. So it’s really cool that you’re one of those few individuals who… what you see is what you get, I suppose.
Dillon : It’s definitely, I feel like, as time’s gone on, harder and harder to really… as you’re saying about other athletes, it’s hard to do that. You just see things that have gone wrong in the past, I guess, being out there for people, because you’re constantly looked at under a microscope. It’s tough sometimes.
It can make you not want to be yourself, or just be more to yourself, like you put it. Keep to yourself. Because someone always has an opinion about what you think or do. Right or wrong, it’s just an opinion.
And I think that’s one thing that’s kind of helped me is just knowing that some people aren’t going to like me, and some people are, and being okay with that. Some people, some athletes, I think, aren’t okay with not being liked. And I think that’s why they just start being closed off or less personable, just because they really don’t want to let that negativity in.
I think it comes from just a state of… you can’t really care, because people are always… no matter how good you are, how perfect you are, try to do the right things, say the right things, people aren’t going to like you for one reason or another.
Tiongson : That’s quite true. Maybe the only person you need to please is yourself. If you do, everything else takes care of itself.
You continue what your grandfather Richard started. What does it mean to you as you carry that torch of your family’s name?
Dillon : Well, it means a lot. And that’s the part that kind of goes along with all that is I feel like, if people take the time to… and I’ve learned this, kind of adding to all that first stuff.
When people actually take the time to get to know you, I feel like that goes a long way. So, I’ve always been kind of the same way with people. Just try and get to know them and really give everyone a chance.
I was given that chance by my grandfather to go race, and try and take advantage of it and use it to the best of my ability. And I’ve been able to do that and be pretty successful at it.
But along the way, there’s been a lot of people that also had to take that chance on me and believe in what I was trying to do, and made me work hard for them because I wanted to be successful.
It’s been an awesome ride being able to get where I’m at in the Cup Series. And I’ve really enjoyed racing and where I’m at and the level of competition we have. Hoping for just more trophies to add to his legacy at RCR, and mine.
Tiongson : Since reuniting with crew chief Justin Alexander last year, you guys have meshed so well together. When the decision was made last year to have you guys put back together with the No. 3 team, how motivated or fired up were you to be working with him again?
Dillon : Yeah. You know, Justin has this calm about him that… I’m a fiery guy. And I’ve definitely learned that I need someone around me that’s not exactly the same and that can put calm over my emotions.
That’s what he’s always been able to do is really focus my attention in the right direction. And make me work hard in the areas I need to be focused on, not in other areas. Take my mind and put it in the right place, and not be kind of scatterbrained, worrying about things that really don’t matter.
Justin’s always been able to pull that from me. Even after we split up there, it was one of those things, the way he handled the situation, the way he went through the following year. I mean, it taught me a lot. And I’m really glad to be working with him because he’s really good at what he does.
Tiongson : I think it goes both ways. Not only has he been helpful for you, I think you’ve also allowed him to capitalize on what he’s thought about with the cars and the show-up-and-race format.
I think it’s a huge testament to you guys to not only pick up where you left off. Building off what’s been established back in 2017. I think what you said earlier about being a contender again and getting more of those wins.
Dillon : Yeah, you know, I really hope so. I think the work and effort is there. And I think RCR as a whole has shown a better showing with this package. With the ECR engines, I can’t say enough about the power that we’ve had. And Chevrolet as well.
I think Chevrolet [is] really coming together. And Eric Warren, I don’t really know his title at Chevrolet now. But he’s pretty much running the competition side of things.
I think his guidance… he was at RCR for a long time. And he kind of led our path to where we were last year.
Now he’s gone to Chevrolet. And I think that Chevy as a whole will benefit with that. We’re going to have to continue evolving what we do at RCR to keep up.
Tiongson : I can imagine that for sure. Going back to your unique and refreshing personality, you showcased some of that in the recently released Netflix series The Crew. What’s your take on being one of the racers who portrayed themselves on the show to those unfamiliar with racing?
Dillon : Yeah, I think it’s cool. I was hoping to do a little bit more and show more at the track. But I think COVID hit during their filming. And we were supposed to have some sessions as far as being at the track and part of the show there. I’m sure that kind of changed their plans.
But yeah, it was cool, you know what I mean? Showing Blaney and I together, hanging out. Winning the 500, or my height. Any of that is just funny and cool. I’m glad that there’s a show that they’re working on, obviously, through NASCAR.
But I haven’t actually got to watch the episodes or anything. I’ve heard mixed reviews and some good reviews. And some are like, “Man, I don’t know. It’s kind of goofy.”
I think it’s cool and great for our sport to bring it to a different audience. Sitcoms are different. Some people like them, and some people don’t.
I’ve never gotten really into them. But I’m sure I’m going to sit down and watch this when I have some time.
Tiongson : I imagine for sure. From what I’ve seen, I thought it was funny. And I love seeing you guys pick on each other.
Whether that was scripted or impromptu, I was like, “Yeah, that’s pretty much what I imagine seeing what you guys do outside of the track.” I can’t wait to see it in full as soon as possible.
Dillon : Yeah, that was great.
Tiongson : I loved it. I’m going to have to give Blaney some slack for that when I get to talk to him at some point.
Now, we have seen you do some unique winning celebrations throughout your career. But the one that stands out to me, of course, is the slide in the grass.
I think you did that at Nashville back in 2011 for a truck race. What inspired you to do that slide? Was it kind of a spur-of-the-moment decision?
Dillon : Well, I think I’d have to give some credit to Carl Edwards for the backflip. I thought it was cool that somebody was doing something different than just getting out, cheering, and moving on. You know what I mean? Or doing donuts only.
I just thought, theatrically, it’d be nice to have something to go along with what you do when you win. When there’s grass and I win, I’m going to end up doing the slide.
Now, I will say, as I age, it doesn’t go as well when you hit the paint and scorpion over your back. So, yeah. The first time it kind of was supposed to be a slide. And I learned real quick you can’t slide on paint.
And then Texas, when I won the Cup race, I was literally just too tired to get out and act a fool [because] I don’t know if I would have made it back to the car. I literally went to the infield care center as soon as the race was over because I was so dehydrated.
But it was just something… I wanted to be a little different and create a celebration that no one had really done. It was fun. And I’d still do it when I feel good enough to do it. And there’s some grass that’s slick.
Tiongson : Hopefully you don’t have to be that dehydrated and spent as you were last summer in Texas. I live here in Austin, Texas. It is brutal down here in the summer. So I do not blame you at all for not attempting that slide at all.
Dillon : I barely made it to victory lane. Man, it was cooking that day. And I put a lot into those last couple restarts.
But it was well worth it. I wish I could have celebrated a little more comfortably after the race. It was a grind.
Tiongson : If you got to be in charge of NASCAR’s schedule system, with more road courses like COTA around, what other tracks would you add to the schedule?
Dillon : I think it would go back to some short track racing. Some of these older short tracks that really built the NASCAR background. I think Nashville Fairgrounds is a place that’s hard to do pit stops there. But we could have a break.
Some of these places that are just historical. I like road racing. But I think our cars are meant to go left on an oval. I’m a big proponent of different tracks, changing tracks up, trying different things. And NASCAR’s doing that right now. I don’t know what the system would be.
It would be kind of cool to see a lottery for tracks, you know what I mean? Or a lottery system each year. You get to draw. And you might not get to go to your favorite track that year for the Cup level. But it’d be cool to just switch it up and see a draw.
Obviously, the schedule would have to be set to make it convenient for the people getting to the track. But yeah, I think it’d be cool to change it up from time to time. And see what tracks had the opportunity in a lottery system. Kind of like the NBA draft, almost.
Tiongson : That’s actually a great idea. You mentioned the short track at Nashville. That would just bring back a lot of buzz and anticipation, I think, for everyone.
Dillon : North Wilkesboro would be cool. Some of those places… I mean, obviously, I think we’d have to find some of those tracks too that are in the Midwest that short track racing goes on.So, I think I’ve heard of this place called I-55 near St. Louis. You’ve got those type of places. I think one or two or those thrown in would be cool as well.
Some places that we’ve never seen. And somebody’s going to drive up to it, to the race, and literally they get there. They’re just good at it because they found a line no one else found. Those are the type of places that would be cool to see and see 40 cars get on there. And we lay a ton of rubber down.
I had a blast running Tri-County. And we went there, and it was such a bottom line track. Everybody ran around the bottom, ran around the bottom.
And then toward the end of the race, as much rubber got laid down, it was probably the most rubber they’d ever seen there with those type of cars and stuff. We went to the top, and we were ringing the top. I mean, it was just an awesome race to be a part of.
Actually, me and Matt DiBenedetto beat and banged for the win. I ended up second. I was leading on the white. And he doored me. I had doored him to get the lead, and he doored me back.
We went back and forth for a couple laps. And we both got out, and it was just an amazing race. I wish I would have come out on top, of course. But it was one of the coolest races I’ve ever been part of.
Tiongson : I’ll have to look that one up. That’s one of the things I want to see happen in racing again is having the influx of short track racing tracks around. That’s what I grew up with too when I was a kid.
Dillon : You’ve got Stafford where you were from up there. Stafford, Thompson, all those tracks too.
Tiongson : Yep, and that’s one thing I’m trying to raise awareness with in racing. Let’s have more folks go to short tracks.
Dillon : It’d be cool to see a short track lottery. If you only go to one of them, like every year, you put all the NASCAR home tracks into a pile. And they get a shot at a Cup race.
Tiongson : Yeah, I would think that would be brilliant. You’ve been around racing for most of your life. But what has to be that one defining moment as a driver that made you feel like you were accepted by your peers in NASCAR?
Dillon : Yeah, I think on the choose cone. Everybody kind of rallied around that rule, the choose rule. I kind of mentioned it on Twitter. And a lot of people kind of brought it up.
Now it’s something we’ve adapted to. And it’s a strong part of the sport. It’s kind of cool that I was a part of a rule that is implemented.
And then maybe the time I hit the fence and they had to add steel around our feet. That’s kind of a funny one. When they change the car for something that you’ve done, that’s kind of… not necessarily a great thing, because you’ve had a heck of a wreck, but yeah.
Tiongson : I think you’re talking about the wreck in Daytona. Was that six years ago at this point now?
Dillon : Yeah, yeah. They added a steel box around our feet, because it ripped everything out of there.
Tiongson : In terms of any celebratory moves that you’ve done, of course the wins are more important. But I would be remiss if I didn’t say the moment you climbed out of the car. And you let the fans know you were okay and did that rodeo salute…
Dillon : Yeah, that was not… man, I had just watched 8 Seconds. That’s where that came from. Lane Frost.
Tiongson : Man, oh, man.
Let’s just say that your team is holding an Austin Dillon Fan Appreciation Day. What bands or musicians would you invite to perform at this concert?
Dillon : What bands? Oh, man. I would say I would like to see Luke Combs. Let’s throw in Drake. So Luke Combs and Drake is who I’m going to go with.
Tiongson : That’s a wide variety right then and there. Once I do a follow-up interview with you, I think we’re going to talk about music. That is a pretty interesting mix of artists that makes my Spotify playlist look like nothing right now, so.
Dillon : If you looked at my phone, you couldn’t figure out who I was. It’s just all kinds of music.
Special thanks to Austin Dillon for taking the time for this latest “In the Hot Seat” interview series on The Podium Finish. Also, thanks to Jackie Franzil and Richard Childress Racing for making this interview possible. You can keep track of Austin Dillon on his Facebook and Twitter accounts, his official website and here on TPF!