After climbing from the wreckage of his No. 3 Chevrolet at Daytona International Speedway, Austin Dillon put his own spin on informing the crowd of his well-being.
Rather than the standard wave acknowledging the support of fans, Dillon made a dual motion with his hands, which he explained Tuesday was a tribute to legendary bull rider Lane Frost.
“He’s probably one of the best bull riders of all time,” Dillon said. “After we won the (Xfinity) race Saturday night, I thought it was a cool tribute to him to kind of start doing that 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.”
Dillon said he spent much of Monday looking at photos and replays of the airborne crash, which tore down a 60-foot section of the Daytona catchfence.
“I checked out a little bit of everything,” he said. “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 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, the thing just blows apart. But for me, I think it kind of set in when I got to talk to my brother (Ty). 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 OK, I’m OK,’ 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 was another level because he was upset, and hearing him on the phone upset, 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.”
During a Tuesday teleconference with the national media, Dillon addressed several topics related to his wild ride at Daytona.
On the nature of restrictor-plate racing in the wake of disparaging comments by teammate Ryan Newman:
I have to make my own opinion, first of all, 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 catchfence 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.”
On how his team handled the aftermath:
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.
On if the involvement of the No. 3 in a Daytona crash was unsettling because of its link to Dale Earnhardt (killed in the 2001 Daytona 500):
Yeah, 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 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.
On if having fans injured for the third time in three years at Daytona tarnishes the track:
I sure hope not. 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.
On grandfather Richard Childress’ reaction:
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.
On if future crashes can be prevented:
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.
On rival team members coming to his aid:
The first guy that got to my guy was the GEICO crew from Casey Mears’ team, and 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 crew members 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.
On his speed during the crash:
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.