Chevy Racing–Tuesday Teleconference–Austin Dillon


THE MODERATOR: Good morning, everyone. I appreciate you joining the call. Thanks again. It’s certainly been a busy last 48 hours for everybody in the NASCAR community, and we are certainly thrilled to have Austin Dillon, driver of the No. 3 Dow Chevrolet SS for Richard Childress Racing, here with us today. He’s already had a busy morning talking to some folks about what went on this past weekend in Daytona at the Coke Zero 400, an eventful evening for Mr. Dillon. Just to remind everyone, he was actually on the front row, qualified second and finished top 10 and had an amazing, amazing weekend.

First, Austin, again, thanks for joining us. Why don’t you start us off, just kind of talk us through the actual incident itself and how you found yourself in that situation as you were coming to the checkered flag.
AUSTIN DILLON: Yeah, I guess I’ll just start from the beginning. When we took the white flag, I was riding behind Jeff there and giving him a good shove down the back stretch just trying to gain as many positions as we could on the bottom line, and coming off of 4, felt like we were in pretty good position. I knew that we were going to have a good finish there, and getting ready to take a checkered, I think it’s going to be over. Usually right after you take a checkered, we’re starting to roll on the gas, we’re still wide open right there, and the 11, when it got turned, it threw sparks everywhere. I kind of knew that we were in a bad situation at that point, when he was turned in front of us.
The car, when he connected with us, it was kind of really quick at that point. I just remember getting launched up, and then the first violent part of the wreck was when we turned upside down. It just happened so quick, and I knew at that point I had already… it was going to be big.
Tensed up and kind of just really gripped the wheel hard. When we hit the catch fence first, I didn’t realize kind of where I was. I knew the whole time where I was, but I didn’t know where I was on the track, if I was hitting get by a car or what it was because it happened so fast, obviously.
As we came down, I was just kind of talking to myself the whole time, like you’re almost through it, you’re almost through it, hold on, hold on, and then I thought it was over, and then when Brad came through and hit us at the end, it was pretty hard, that last lick.
But shortly thereafter, I mean, it felt like no time that there was guys at my car. As soon as they got to the car I felt pretty comfortable there, there was people around that we were going to be okay. The biggest fear as a driver is probably fire would be the next thing you worry about, so the oil kind of running around the car at that point, I just wanted to get out.
I told them I was okay, and worked my way out of the car and got away from it.

THE MODERATOR: You obviously signaled to the fans. Tell us how that even came up, the idea to do that. That was obviously something that everybody there…as you know, it was packed there even at that time of night. How did it occur to you to actually let everyone know that you were okay?
AUSTIN DILLON: Well, the night before when we won the XFINITY race, some of my guys in the XFINITY crew, we watch “8 Seconds” a lot with Lane Frost, who’s probably one of the bull riders of all time, and it was just kind of cool; to after we won the first race Saturday night, I thought it was a cool tribute to him to kind of start doing that, was going to try to take it over and just embrace it because he was one of my heroes.
Sunday after the wreck, I thought it was appropriate because that was a pretty wild ride. I had actually texted one of my buddies. He’s a bull rider. His name is Luke Snyder, and he had texted and asked if I was all right and everything. I said, Yeah, man, screw riding bulls. But he’s like, I don’t know about that. Maybe screw racing, and I said, No, I love what I do.
But it’s fun to kind of look back at the way I have now because that was a really crazy wreck and just got to thank NASCAR and the good Lord above for taking good care of me. They did a great job to make our car safe, and I’m here today talking to you guys and feeling pretty good.

Q. I saw you on The TODAY Show today and I thought you did a really good job, but you were sort of grilled and then they were flashing quotes from fellow drivers up there, including Ryan Newman, and they were pretty powerful. I wonder how difficult it is to…and we all understand and we all get the hair on our arms standing up at restrictor plate racing, but they were pretty much telling you or asking you that they thought it shouldn’t be because it was so dangerous. We know danger is in the sport, and then behind you are these quotes from your fellow drivers. How hard is that, and what do you think when you have to answer that question?
AUSTIN DILLON: You know, for me I have to make my own opinion, first of all, of it, and I have a lot of respect for everybody at NASCAR and the drivers. Going through something like that, there’s other drivers that have gone through wrecks similar. This is probably one of the most violent ones, obviously, and I feel like my opinion was I’m here today talking to you guys, and right now my groin is a little sore, my tailbone is a little sore, but other than that, my head and my neck, which is the most important part to me, I have no headache, I have… my traps are like a little sore just from tightening up before the wreck, you know, making sure I was tight when I hit the car so I wasn’t too relaxed when I hit the fence.
But I think it’s pretty impressive to see how far we’ve come after learning from other wrecks, the black box that NASCAR takes and looks at to see the impacts and how far we’ve come to change the different chassis bars in the car to strengthen the roof. The roof looked like the cage itself held up well. The catch fence did its job. It kicked things back into the track where we needed to.
A lot of things have innovated to make everybody still safe today. Luckily the fans are all in good shape. We’re obviously going to probably enhance more safety after this, and we’ll keep developing as our sport grows, and I think NASCAR has got the people there to do that.
I will definitely be another advocate for safety myself. If I can help them in any way, I’ll do that. But I’m just happy to be in the position I am. I’ve had worse injuries playing football growing up and stuff like that.
It’s pretty impressive to see after something like that, to watch it and then be able to talk to you guys like I am right now.

Q. And do you think tightening up and the fact that you’re very athletic and you thought of that, that that helped you?
AUSTIN DILLON: I definitely think being in good physical shape helped. You get twisted around like that, I don’t think…I think someone… if you don’t take care of your body and stay healthy, you’re more injury-prone for sure. I think I could be more sore, I could have… my muscles could be hurting worse right now, but my core strength, I think I lean a lot on it, my abs are perfectly fine, and everything is fine. Everything is good. And the seat, obviously the carbon seat that Hendrick made held up really nicely.

Q. Austin, I was wondering whether…you’re kind of walking through the shop. I don’t know if you have or if you’ve talked to a lot of people at RCR, but was there any unsettledness from the people, your coworkers and everything after seeing just the No. 3 car in such a vicious accident at Daytona?
AUSTIN DILLON: Oh, yeah. I mean, walking into the shop, talking to the guys; I came to the shop yesterday, talked to a few different people. I talked to my interior guy that kind of bolts everything in. I think that’s probably one of the worst fears for a guy that does interior is the safety of the driver. It’s what his main focus is, and I went and thanked him this morning as soon as I got here for keeping all the bolts tight, doing his job.
Different guys you see are shaken up more by it, but they’re proud of their work and glad it was safe and that I’m safe and we get to go race this weekend at Kentucky.

Q. With the history of the 3 at Daytona and Dale and everything, I didn’t know whether there would be any… as much as the return of the car number was celebrated last year, I didn’t know whether this accident and just seeing replays and seeing the slanted 3 in such an excellent was unsettling at all just from the people who were around in 2001.
AUSTIN DILLON: Yeah, for me, I haven’t talked to a lot of people about that. Had a few different questions about it, but the way I look at it is I think from what I’ve learned from those crashes, for instance, what happened to Dale, our sport has taken a whole turn of 360 degrees, and it’s all about safety, and we’ve been able to learn from our mistakes in the past, and that’s what you have to do. You have to learn from history and develop and innovate new ways to make our sport safe, and technology has come a long way.
The safety, from the Dow foam in the car and everything, every little bit goes a long way. I think for me, just what we’ve been able to do to look at a horrific crash like that and be able to develop from it, and we’ll develop from this one just like we have in the past.

Q. I know you and your family hold great reverence and respect for Daytona. You talked a little bit about it after you won the XFINITY race on Saturday night. And I was just wondering, this accident was now the third time since 2012 that fans have been injured during races at Daytona, and I wondered if you thought that what’s been transpiring lately may somehow tarnish the track’s reputation as one of the most revered and prestigious racing venues that NASCAR has to offer.
AUSTIN DILLON: I sure hope not. I mean, I think that just adds to what it is at Daytona in some way. I think when you go there, you’re going to see some wild and crazy things happen. It seems like there’s always a story line at Daytona, no matter if it comes from qualifying, practice, race, there’s always going to be a story line there. I don’t know what it is, there’s something magical about the place. Things happen there. For me, I think we just keep developing our sport into new ways.
You can’t blame things on Daytona. I feel like it’s a racetrack that has done its job to put on good races. We just have to keep developing to keep our stands safer, our drivers safer, and do what we can as a sport to develop and bring new technology, like I said, to keep it safe.
But for me, I think you can’t tarnish Daytona. For me even after wrecking like that, I got to experience one of the greatest things in winning there the night before that, and it’s a part of it, and I still had a good finish on Sunday. I finished seventh. That was pretty cool.
It’s a wild place that you have lots of up and downs and you have to be able to ride them and have a good attitude going into it.

Q. Since the accident have you had a chance to look at any of the videos, whether it was from the TV broadcast or the many fan videos that were taken of the accident, and did it change your perspective any on what you went through?
AUSTIN DILLON: I did. I checked out a little bit of everything. I looked at photos; I looked at fans’ videos on YouTube. I’ve looked at a little bit of everything, like I said. At first I didn’t really… after getting through the infield care center, I didn’t know if I wanted to watch it. After I took a shower, cooled down, I was like, all right, here we go, let’s start watching them.
I watched a lot of videos, and just watching it in live speed, it is violent looking. It’s a wicked crash. When you see the fence just… the thing just blows apart. But for me, I think it kind of set in when I got to talk to my brother. He wasn’t… after the race, I already got into the infield care center, I was pretty much fine. I wasn’t shaken, and I was just kind of telling my parents, I’m okay, I’m okay, and talking to them. You could see how upset they were, and I hadn’t seen the real footage of the wreck. I knew it was bad but I didn’t know how bad. When I talked to my brother, it was like… it was another level because he was upset, and hearing him on the phone upset was… it was like, man, I’m going to have to watch this, because he’s a tough guy, and to hear him be upset about it and worried about me, it was like, all right, I need to look at this wreck, and I did, and you can see where a guy watching it from home not knowing how I was and the pit crew kind of running out to the car, it was pretty dramatic right there for 30 seconds, 38 seconds or so.
But I feel like it was the safety that made it possible for me to be here today.

Q. I want to follow up a little bit on what Bob Pockrass asked you. Specifically your grandfather, how did he do after that accident? Was he shaken up or was he okay?
AUSTIN DILLON: Yeah, I think I just, going back to watching it in live speed, I think it was way worse for everyone at home watching and for him watching it. He had a good view of the wreck. And then also, the worst part for family members is you want to let them know you’re okay after a wreck through the radio because they’re listening, and the radio cord had ripped or something had ripped to make it… I could hear them but they couldn’t hear me, so it was one of those deals where I knew they were upset and I felt bad because I couldn’t get to them. The steering wheel had done its job, it kind of had released and was up in the roof. I grabbed it and pulled it back to me and keyed the mic to let them know I was okay, but they weren’t able to hear anything. It was just kind of a… I was saying I’m okay, I’m okay, but it wasn’t going through, and I could hear in their voice how scared they were, and they were saying, Talk to me, Buddy, talk to me, and I couldn’t respond to them, so that was a time for them I’m sure it was just painful because they didn’t know how good I was. Luckily the guys had gotten there fast enough, gave everybody the thumbs up to let them know that I was fine.

Q. And in your mind, is what happened Monday morning, was that a freak accident or is that something that can be prevented in the future?
AUSTIN DILLON: I think we can do some things to prevent these accidents for sure. I think we need to, and we can. And that’s why I said that they’ve taken the car to NASCAR and they’ll look at the car and figure out ways to keep them on the ground. I think we’re trying to keep them from getting in the air, and we’ll do what we can.
The way the racing is set up now, it prevents… it doesn’t prevent, it breeds these kind of wrecks. It’s three-wide pack racing, and at Daytona it’s tighter than Talladega, there’s less room. I think if you’re at Talladega, this wreck might not happen because it’s a little bit wider. But it’s just a part of the racing that we’re in right now.
I think we can do things to help slow down some of the wrecks and might keep us from catching air, but we’ll just have to see the direction that NASCAR goes, and maybe they’ll ask the drivers their opinions, and we can give them a good opinion to kind of go together to make the racing still stay the same. I feel like we can create good racing because up until that wreck we had some really good racing Monday morning, but I think the wreck kind of tarnished a great race.
We’ll work and develop ways to make it where we’re not flying through the air.

Q. How different is a driver’s mentality going into a restrictor plate race knowing that some really bad things could happen at any moment and it’s not necessarily your fault or you can’t react or do anything about it?
AUSTIN DILLON: Your mentality going into a race, you know, for me, when I go to a restrictor plate race, my first goals are to put myself in a position for the last five laps, make it through the wrecks if there are wrecks, put myself in position where I’m comfortable that I feel like I’m around ties that I trust when I’m around them out there.
If it comes down to the last five laps, 10 laps even, you know you’ve got to put yourself in a position to win. That’s when you start taking your risk. Your risk versus reward starts growing. Your risks, you start taking more risk and higher risk, and at the end, with three to go, you’re pretty much checkers or wreckers is the way it’s looked at. I know that statement is used before, but it really is.
You’re doing everything you can to push, shove, to put yourself in a winning location. If it doesn’t work out and there’s a wreck, you hope you can slide through and either come out on top victorious or make it across the start/finish line. So that’s where you see guys going all-out at the end, it’s because it is all-out. It’s everybody trying to win a race to get themselves in a spot to be in the Chase.

Q. Following up on a previous question a little bit, was this incident an indication that something does need to be adjusted, changed, whatever by NASCAR? Would you be comfortable in coming back again under the same scenario, same aero package, whatever? Does something need to get adjusted?
AUSTIN DILLON: For me, you know, I think we can make subtle adjustments to improve by Talladega. I’m not sure what they’ll be. I don’t know if we have to come back with the same package, I’ll be ready for it. I think all the drivers will be, too.
But I think people would love to… the drivers themselves would like to see things done to make our cars stay on the ground. No one wants to see them put in the air, and everybody wants to still walk away from wrecks like that. The good part is our cars are safe. It did its job, but I think we can keep things on the ground moving forward.

Q. Austin, you talked about how your brother was scared and different people were scared after they took a look at this. When you had a chance to really look at it, dissect it, look at the video and the pictures that you talked about, did that emotion ever come into your process where even you thought like, wow, that was pretty scary, or is that something, an emotion you just don’t have over this?
AUSTIN DILLON: I don’t think you just… as a driver you try not to let that emotion creep into your head, because I’m confident as I’ve ever been right now because of the safety. When you take a lick like that… I used to think when I was racing going up through the ranks every now and then you had to take a good hit to get your confidence up in the safety equipment that you had. It never happened very often, but when you did, the next week sometimes you come back more confident, as long as you didn’t have a headache or something.
But for me, I try and put it in the back of my head, forget about it and move on. You have to be able to move on and trust in the safety equipment, like I said. If I can take a lick like that and feel as good as I do right now, I feel like I can do anything. You feel like Superman.

Q. Austin, getting back to you that quote that you just said, I feel like Superman, can you kind of dumb it down a little bit for the average person who is involved in a wreck or sees that on TV and says, oh, my God, how can you get back in the car? Can you talk about a driver’s mindset and how it seems like it can be seamless for you to get back in the car at Kentucky next week?
AUSTIN DILLON: You know, it’s just one of those things where you have to believe that… for me I believe I’m still strong and confident, and I am. For people at home, I guess I don’t really know how to explain it. It’s just a mentality that I have as a driver. I think all the drivers do, that they don’t want to get out of their car. It’s what they love to do and be a part of. I love what I do. And if I was shaken, I promise you, I wouldn’t be getting in that car next weekend. I’m a pretty honest person when it comes to things, if I’m hurt or don’t feel good, I’ll pretty much come outright and say I don’t. But I feel fine, so why wouldn’t I?

Q. You mentioned earlier that everybody did their job, catch fence worked. You’re trying to keep your cars on the ground, keep from going in the air. You talked a little bit about speed. You mentioned it might be too fast, you’re going more than 200 miles per hour. Do you think it would be better if it would be a little bit lower, reduce the speed and you can still have an effective race?
AUSTIN DILLON: Well, if you look at the XFINITY races, I think they’re 20 miles an hour or 25 miles an hour less speed probably out there. I’m not sure what the speed is less, but I know it’s considerably… probably 20 miles an hour. And we have still bad wrecks. You can go back to when Larson had the wreck in the fence a couple years ago, and we developed the new style fence for those reasons.
I think that even if you slow it down, there’s the shock of getting airborne, so you have to develop new pieces and parts and styles to keep them on the ground, but less speed does help the recovery time as far as slowing down and being able to miss wrecks. When you’re going slower you can get on the brakes and slow down quicker.

Q. You said NASCAR is looking at how they can make it safer, that could be something…
AUSTIN DILLON: Yeah, definitely, it could be something, help slow the cars down and be able to get away from wrecks easier possibly.

Q. I wonder if you know which team that crew was from, the first guys to get to your car, and also, perhaps you could comment on the decision to start the race so late at 11:40 at night. Since you’d been there all day were you happy to get the race in or would you have liked to have waited until Monday?
AUSTIN DILLON: I was happy to get the race in. We have such a busy schedule in NASCAR, and if we would have pushed it back another day and the rain would have happened, it really would have put a damper on things for the next coming week.
As far as guys getting to my car, the first guy that got to my guy was the GEICO crew from Casey Mears’ team, and I actually thought… it was kind of funny, I almost laughed, because when he first got to my car, I thought it was Casey Mears. I was like, how did Casey Mears get out of his car and get to me that quick, because it felt like six seconds, seven seconds before the first crew had got there, and it sounded like Casey and had the same GEICO suit and everything. I was like, man, Casey got here fast. That’s crazy.
But it was one of the crewmembers there. And I couldn’t… there was someone on the right side, but I couldn’t tell who it was, and it was obviously Junior’s crew. But it was cool to see all those guys get there. Some of my guys even got there and they were pretty far down pit road to get to me, and it was special to have those guys get there.

Q. I wondered if you had an estimation of how fast you thought you were going when you crossed the finish line, and after the crash, you said that you thought the car should be slowed down. I wondered if you had any particular suggestions on how you think the car should be slowed down.
AUSTIN DILLON: Yeah, I’m not really sure. I think there’s quite a lot of ways we can do it, aero‑wise, to create drag. I think it’s one of those things we all have to come together as a group to look at, and I think after they… we’ve got a little bit of time before we go back to Talladega and we can kind of put something together because we have a lot of new packages coming. For instance, Kentucky this weekend we’ve already made changes to the package and hearing there’s going to be different changes. If we’re going to do that, we might as well start working on the speedway package, also.

Q. Do you know how fast? Have you heard any estimate exactly how fast you were going?
AUSTIN DILLON: I’ve heard numbers. I don’t know. I don’t have factual information. I heard 198 from one of my friends. I’d say you’re anywhere between 190 and 198 is probably accurate. But I don’t have a true reading. I will give you that when I have factual information to tell me how fast we were going.