Race car driver Austin Dillon is only 23 but he has the pedigree, the talent and the coveted pole position as he heads into Sunday’s Daytona 500 race in Florida. And there’s something extra. The grandson of famed RLC Enterprises LLC NASCAR race car team owner Richard Childress, Dillon is making some history when he brings Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s #3 back on the track for the first time since the legendary race car driver, who drove for Childress, died in a racing accident at the 2001 Daytona 500. On Tuesday, in the middle of yet another snow storm, Dillon made his first trip to Bristol-based sports mecca ESPN where he was the guest on a slew of shows. But in between the sprint from studio to studio, the very mature, very polite and very single young driver found some time to very quickly Spill the Beans with Java.
Q: How is a Southern guy like you liking this Northern snow?
A: It is definitely a different weather climate then where I came from in Daytona. I am already ready to get back to Daytona. But I love driving in the snow when we get snow in North Carolina, which is not very often. When we do, we always like to mess around in it with the car and have some fun sliding around a bit.
Q: Did you know you had won the pole after the qualifying run? Could you feel it?
A: We knew we had a car capable of winning the pole because when we came for the test early in February we were the fastest car there. So then bringing back the same car brought some confidence. But the other guys brought a lot of speed to the track, too, and in practice we weren’t the fastest. But then everything went right for us to get the pole and it was pretty special.
Q: Who do you consider your biggest competition Sunday?
A: At Daytona there is so much competition because everybody is on equal playing ground. There are a couple of competitors. I know that all the Chevrolets are strong; the Fords are up there too. As far as drivers, there are so many good ones. But I’m not scared of any of them.
Q: Have you been to ESPN before? What do you think?
A: No m‘am, I haven’t been here before. But it’s been great being able to talk sports with SportsCenter reps.This is pretty awesome to be here for sure. I watch ESPN religiously.
Q: It’s the anniversary of Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s untimely death and not to pull a Christin Cooper Olympic moment, but are you feeling any sadness as you bring his #3 back on the track? I know you knew him since you were a youngster. Do you feel his karma as you get ready to race with his number?
A: Who is Christin Cooper? For me it is good fortune to be bringing back the number that Dale made famous and created so much history with. Having support of Earnhardt Jr. and the family has been great. We just want to add to the legacy the number already has. I am just focused on what my goals are this year and trying to win the Daytona.
Q: You have quite a racing pedigree in your family, your own personal success as a driver and the Earnhardt connection. How are you handling the pressure knowing all eyes will be on you Sunday for so many reasons?
A: On the day we qualified, I slept until about 1 p.m., got out of bed, walked over to the track, jumped in the car, talked to my crew chief and asked what our plans were. It’s all been pretty good. I stick to what I know and that is going to the dirt track for seven days and that puts me in a comfort zone. I stay busy and that helps. There is a lot of pressure. You just stay busy and try to stay focused on the goals.
Q: When Austin Dillon climbs into his car before each race, what does he say to himself?
A: Don’t mess up.
Q: Any lucky charms going with you Sunday?
A: No lucky charms but I do wear the same cowboy boots every day of the week of a race and then again when I go to the race. This time it’s these brown ones. These are Justins.
Q: Any lucky ladies going with you on Sunday? We might as well put it out there.
A: No I am single. I am very single but hoping so put it out there.
Q: I read somewhere that you are juggling college and racing. True?
A: I had to give up college. It was just too much. I went for two and a half years and each semester had to keep cutting back the number of credits I was taking. I was majoring in communication.
Q: Would you ever want to be an ESPN show host or commentator?
A: Maybe one day. That would be awesome, but Connecticut is so cold.
Q: What will the headlines say once the race is done?
A: I hope they say “Austin Dillon Wins the Daytona 500 In A Dramatic Fashion.”