Wiedmer: NASCAR's Dillons right at home in Scenic City

Wiedmer: NASCAR's Dillons right at home in Scenic City

July 30th, 2014 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Ty Dillon drives through Turn 1 during the NASCAR Nationwide series auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis on Saturday, July 26, 2014.

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

Austin and Ty Dillon woke up Tuesday morning in Watkins Glen, N.Y., ready to run a few tests laps over the nation's most famous road course in preparation for the NASCAR races scheduled there for the weekend of Aug. 9.

Yet by lunchtime, thanks to a Richard Childress Racing private jet, they were back home in North Carolina to pick up a few family and friends before arriving at Boyd's Speedway by midafternoon to ready themselves for a little dirt track fun in Tuesday evening's Southern Nationals.

"Three different states and two different tracks in four or five hours," said 22-year-old Ty, who just won the Nationwide Series race last weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "An asphalt road course and a dirt track. Not many people ever get to do that, but it's the life we love."

Added 24-year-old Austin, who drives the late Dale Earnhardt's storied No. 3 on the Sprint Cup circuit for Childress, who also just happens to be the brothers' grandfather: "This is where I won the first race I ever entered. I was 16. These races tonight, this is a very competitive little tour. This is a very well-run series."

No offense to Boyd's or the Southern Nationals, but they mostly came here because of another set of brothers, Dale and Shane McDowell, of whom Ty said, "They're almost like father figures."

Said Austin: "They're like family. They've taught us so much about racing."

"Yeah," Dale chimed in with a grin, "we've taught them what not to do."

Whatever they've taught them, it's apparently working to perfection. In his rookie season, despite the enormous pressure of driving No. 3, Austin currently stands 14th in the 16-driver Chase for the Championship with six races to go, beginning this weekend at Pocono.

"It's been great," he said. "I've tried to be patient. I know I'm a rookie."

And if Dale Earnhardt Jr. had any misgivings about the No. 3 returning to the track for the first time since his father was killed at Daytona in 2001, he hasn't shown them.

"He's one of the reasons I'm in the No. 3," Austin said of Junior. "Dale Junior's really been great about helping us out."

Then there's Ty, who's just coming off his big Nationwide win by holding off Kyle Busch down the stretch.

"I just tried to keep him behind me," Ty said of Busch, who's sixth in the Chase standings, "not make a mistake. And I was able to do it for the last 25 laps."

Daytona 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race pole winner Austin Dillon poses by his car after his qualifying run at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., on Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014.

Daytona 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race...

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

But if the Dillon brothers are quick to credit the McDowells -- Shane now works for RCR in Welcome, N.C., while Dale has become part-owner of Boyd's -- for what they've taught them on the track, they are just as quick to praise them for the intangibles they've taught them off it.

"They're great driving coaches," Ty said. "But they may be even better life coaches. They's taught us how to live the life of a racing driver -- what to do and not to do. They've just meant everything to us."

And because of that, Chattanooga has become quite comfortable for both the brothers.

"I've been on Brainerd Road a lot, especially Bud's," Austin said. "We eat at Chili's sometimes downtown because it's the only place open after we get done working on our cars. And we love Bea's. That might be our favorite place."

At least their favorite place to eat.

"We've slept more than one night in our cars in the parking lot outside the Electric Cowboy," Ty said.

But the fact that they chose to spend Tuesday night at Boyd's, where, as Dale McDowell said, "You pit in Tennessee and race in Georgia," pleased more than a few area racing fans.

"This is awesome," said Billy Greathouse, who brought his 7-year-old son Kyle to the event. "I still don't think the 3 car should be back on the track. I think it should have been permanently retired. But I think it's great to have both Ty and Austin here."

Said Lance Sells, whose 5-year-old daughter Amelia was one of the first in line to collect the brothers' autographs and pose for pictures with them before the races began: "This is really a lot of fun. To see guys who don't have to be here come anyway and show so much passion is great. I pull for the younger guys a lot, and I really like both the Dillons and Kyle Larson."

Then there were Betty and Roy McAlister of Cleveland, Tenn., who celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary last month.

Because she wore a University of Tennessee T-shirt, Betty was asked which she liked more, car racing or the Volunteers.

"I like racing better," she said.

"I like racing better, too," added her husband.

Before the night was over, two lucky fans -- one with each Dillon brother -- were expected to really like riding a couple of laps around Boyd's three-eighths-mile oval in a 525-horsepower two-seater.

Asked how fast it would go, Dale McDowell said, "It'll get north of 100 [mph]."

Yet if there's nothing the Dillons like as much as racing -- well, other than a well-stocked Lazy Susan at Bea's -- they do get into other sports.

"I like South Carolina in football and I've always cheered for Wake Forest in basketball," Austin said.

"I'm for Alabama in football, but my favorite school is Wake Forest," Ty noted.

Regardless of those rare nights spent in the Electric Cowboy parking lot, their favorite place to sleep remains back home in North Carolina, where they were expected to fly after the Southern Nationals.

But that doesn't mean they won't return to the Scenic City soon.

"We love it here," Ty said. "Chattanooga is almost like our second home, because it's Dale and Shane's home."

And unlike finishing No. 2 in an auto race, our town being viewed as a second home to a couple of NASCAR's best young drivers certainly sounds like a certain winner for, at the very least, the Dillons' three B's: Boyd's, Bud's and Bea's.

Now if they could just get the Electric Cowboy to open a bed and breakfast.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.