Seat saviors: The men who helped ensure Austin Dillon’s safety at Daytona


SPARTA, Ky. – Tommy Wallace woke up Monday morning to a text message that terrified him, even though the news ostensibly was positive.

“That was the worst crash I’ve ever seen in my life,” the message read, “He’s OK. I talked to him a little while ago. Don’t worry. He’s fine. Nothing’s wrong with him.”

Wallace, the interior mechanic who is responsible for the installation and security of the seats in Austin Dillon’s No. 3 Chevrolet, felt his stomach turn after reading the dispatches from Josh Sisco, who manages the car’s interior at the racetrack.

Then Wallace went online and watched the video of Dillon’s spectacularly terrifying crash at Daytona International Speedway that has dominated the highlight reels the past four days.

And he felt even worse.

source:  Richard Childress Racing
Tommy Wallace installs the seats for the No. 3 Chevrolet driven by Austin Dillon. Richard Childress Racing

“I was pretty upset,” Wallace told NBC Sports in a phone interview Friday. “Reading his texts, it pretty much scared me. So then I got a chance to pull it up and watch on video, and it was unreal. I don’t know how to explain how I felt.

“You know there’s a person’s life in your hands. You have to remember that at all times. When you’re working on (the seat), you’ve got to think about, ‘What if you were sitting in this car? What if your family was sitting in this car?’ You have to have that same type of mentality, and these guys are like family to us. You have to make sure that everything is right to the best of your ability.”

It was at Daytona, where Dillon emerged with only a few bruises after taking one of the wildest rides in NASCAR history –from 200 mph on the pavement, to sailing through the air to a dead stop with a catch fence pole in an explosion of parts and pieces to a jarring collision in the pits with Brad Keselowski’s Ford.

Among the first people Dillon thanked in interviews was his team, and in particular, Wallace, whom he greeted with a bear hug on returning to the Richard Childress Racing shop in Welcome, N.C.

“He come up to me with that big Austin Dillon smile and shook my hand and thanked me,” Wallace said. “I knew he would. That’s how he is.”

“I told him good job for keeping everything together and safe,” Dillon told NBC Sports. “Tommy is a hard worker and very concentrated on how the interior is. He asks a lot of questions about where I want things. It’s nice to have a guy working like that for you.

“You want a guy who comes in on time every day, that takes pride in his job, and Tommy is definitely one of those guys who has always been very focused and meticulous.”

A thorough and redundant system

If there were a one-word job requirement for the unheralded team members who help keep Sprint Cup drivers such as Dillon safe, “meticulous” might be it.

There are more than three dozen bolts inside the cockpit that are designed to hold the seat, leg braces, steering column, seat-belt mounts and other myriad equipment in place during crashes as violent as Dillon’s. Each of the bolts, measuring 3/8ths of an inch (1/16th of an inch thicker than the NASCAR minimum as a precaution), is checked by a wrench at least four times from when the seat is mounted to when the driver climbs aboard.

The process begins with Wallace, who can spend up to a day and a half on installing each new seat (which is constructed out of carbon fiber for RCR’s cars at Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway and aluminum at other tracks). Much of the time is consumed by custom-building and welding brackets to attach the seat to the car and affix the head rests and halo section.

source:  Harold Hinson Photography
Josh Sisco, right, talks with Austin Dillon at Kentucky Speedway. Sisco insures the interior of the No. 3 Chevrolet is comfortable and safe for the driver. Harold Hinson Photography

At the track, the handoff is made to Sisco, who makes any adjustments Dillon requests (such as changing his steering column or belts) and is the last person to ensure Dillon is comfortable before the command to fire engines.

A failsafe system involving torque sealing, which essentially leaves a paint mark on each bolt, ensures everything stays tight. If a mark is missing when the car arrives, Sisco knows a bolt might have moved.

“It’s a very redundant system,” Sisco said. “At the track, I just maintain the interior and make sure nothing serious is happening. Tommy’s the one who welds it all together. That’s his baby.”

It’s a job relished by Wallace, a 44-year-old from Richmond, Va., who has spent a lifetime in racing. After starting his career on the road as a tire changer, he came off the road and has spent the past 10 years at RCR, the past seven working on seats.

“This is what I love to do,” he said. “I love working on race cars. I love working on interiors.

“When something bad happens. you have to question yourself do you really want to do it, because of the fact that if someone gets hurt, you feel like you’re responsible for it. Nobody wants to think about that side of it. This is a dangerous sport. The drivers don’t really get the credit they should. The amount of energy that is applied to them when they crash is just unreal – and how they can stand that, and how their bodies can hold up to that.”

‘Everything worked as it was supposed to’

Sisco, who is in his fifth year at RCR and first as an interior mechanic, also has contemplated the hazards of NASCAR. He worked on Joey Coulter’s truck, which tore a hole in the Daytona catch fence in the 2012 season opener.

“I don’t think you ever worry about the stuff breaking or not performing because you know how thorough we are, but you just don’t know when it gets in the fence,” said Sisco, a 28-year-old from Nashville, Tenn. “The fence did everything it was supposed to do, but man, it’s a lot harder on the car than the wall is. The engine was gone. You hit a wall, the engine never comes out. It’s just the fence is almost like a cheese grater when it starts cutting through stuff.

Austin Dillon
Austin Dillon’s No. 3 Chevrolet hits the catch fence after the last lap of the Coke Zero 400. The Associated Press

“The first thought is just what hit the fence first and what did the fence get to? Once he landed and you could see the driver’s compartment still intact, there was no worry about (Dillon) coming free or anything like that.”

There still was one heart-stopping element: the cord to Dillon’s radio was disconnected after the crash, precluding the team from confirming Dillon’s well-being until a visual inspection.

But the silver lining that emerged from those anxious moments? The radio was the only significant piece that broke free inside the cockpit during the brutal tumble down the frontstretch.

“That was probably the coolest part: Everything else was still where we bolted it before the race,” Sisco said. “That was pretty neat. Everything worked as it was supposed to; nothing moved on him.

“I think proud is a good word, that we built something like that. All of us, even the chassis guys, they never get any credit for building that sturdy of a car. Where they put their adjustments, their brakes, all that stuff matters. It made me proud that everybody that worked there put that much effort into it and was able to come away from that violent of a hit. That was the first thing was, ‘Man, we built a really nice car.’

The emotions were somewhat different for Wallace.

“I wouldn’t say a sense of pride,” he said. “It was more a sense of relief that (Dillon) was OK. The last thing you want to do is be the person who worked on something that someone got injured in, and I was very relieved he was OK.

“I’m a fairly religious guy, so I truly believe the Lord’s hand was on him, and that’s the only reason why.”

NASCAR Championship Weekend returns to Phoenix in 2024


Phoenix Raceway will host the championship races for the Cup, Xfinity, Craftsman Truck and ARCA Menards Series in 2024, NASCAR announced Wednesday.

The races will be held Nov. 1-3, 2024. The Cup season finale will be Nov. 3, 2024. The only other Cup race for 2024 that has been announced is the Daytona 500. It will be held Feb. 18, 2024.

Phoenix Raceway has hosted the championship finale for Cup, Xfinity and Trucks since 2020. Chase Elliott won the Cup title there in 2020. Kyle Larson followed in 2021. Joey Logano won the crown there in 2022.

This year’s Cup finale at Phoenix will be Nov. 5 and air on NBC.



Drivers to watch at World Wide Technology Raceway


After the fireworks from the Coca-Cola 600, NASCAR heads to World Wide Technology Raceway, a 1.25-mile speedway just outside of St. Louis. Sunday’s race (3:30 p.m. ET on FS1) marks the second time the Cup Series has raced at this track.

Much is at stake. The race to win the regular season championship has intensified. Tempers are high. The pressure to make the playoffs builds. Ten drivers have wins this season. Twelve races remain in the regular season.


Kyle Larson

  • Points position: 11th
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Richmond, Martinsville)
  • Past at WWTR: 12th last year

While a driver coming off back-to-back finishes of 20th or worse might not seem like a frontrunner, it actually does make Larson one. His topsy-turvy season has seen him place outside the top 10 in back-to-back races four times. In the three previous times he had consecutive finishes outside the top 10, he came back to finish second, first and second. Can he keep that streak going this weekend?

Bubba Wallace

  • Points position: 15th
  • Best finish this season: 4th (Las Vegas I, Kansas I, Coca-Cola 600)
  • Past at WWTR: 26th last year

Wallace has scored three consecutive top-five finishes, his best streak in his Cup career. He has climbed from 21st to 15th in the standings during this run.

William Byron

  • Points position: 3rd
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Las Vegas I, Phoenix I, Darlington I)
  • Past at WWTR: 19th last year

Byron has finished no worse than seventh in the last five races. He’s led nearly 20% of the laps run during that time. Byron has averaged nearly 47 points a race during that streak.


Corey LaJoie

  • Points position: 20th
  • Best finish this season: 4th (Atlanta I)
  • Past at WWTR: 36th last season

NASCAR’s one-race suspension to Chase Elliott gives LaJoie the chance to drive a Hendrick Motorsports car for the first time. This will be the best car LaJoie has driven in his career. Many eyes will be on him to see how he does.

Ross Chastain

Chastain has finished 29th and 22nd in the last two points races. He’s not gone more than three races without a top-10 finish this season. After his struggles last weekend at Charlotte, Chastain saw his lead cut to one point over Coca-Cola 600 winner Ryan Blaney in the standings. Five drivers are within 17 points of Chastain in the season standings.

Aric Almirola

  • Points position: 26th
  • Best finish this season: 6th (Martinsville I)
  • Past at WWTR: 5th last year

Almirola has finished 13th or worse in all but one race this season for Stewart-Haas Racing. In the five races since placing sixth at Martinsville, Almirola has finished an average of 21.0.

NASCAR suspends Chase Elliott one race for incident with Denny Hamlin


NASCAR suspended Chase Elliott one Cup race for wrecking Denny Hamlin in Monday’s Coca-Cola 600, the sanctioning body announced Tuesday.

“We take this very seriously,” Elton Sawyer, senior vice president of competition, said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “The incident that happened off Turn 4, again after looking at all the available resources — in-car camera, data, SMT, which basically gives us (a car’s) steering, throttle, gives us braking — it was an intentional act by Chase in our opinion.”

Hendrick Motorsports stated that it would not appeal the penalty. Corey LaJoie will drive the No. 9 car for Hendrick Motorsports this weekend at World Wide Technology Raceway. Carson Hocevar will drive LaJoie’s car this weekend.

Hendrick Motorsports also stated that it would submit a waiver request for Elliott to remain eligible for the playoffs. Sawyer said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that “I don’t see any reason at this point in time why wouldn’t (grant the waiver) when that request comes across our desk.”

This weekend will mark the seventh race in the first 15 that Elliott will have missed. He missed six races after breaking his leg in a snowboarding accident in early March. Elliott, who is winless this season, is 29th in points.

Elliott and Hamlin got together shortly before the halfway mark in Monday’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

As they ran together, Hamlin forced Elliott toward the wall. Elliott’s car slapped the wall. Elliott then made contact with the right rear of Hamlin’s car, sending Hamlin into the wall.

“I got right-rear hooked in the middle of the straightway,” Hamlin said after the incident. “Yes, it was a tantrum. He shouldn’t be racing next week. Right-rear hooks are absolutely unacceptable. He shouldn’t be racing.”

Said Sawyer on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio: “In the heat of the battle, things happen, but they have to learn to react in a different way. … Our drivers need to understand that you have to handle that in a completely different way than hooking someone in the right rear and putting them in harm’s way, not only with just a major head-on collision like Denny had, but also other competitors.”

Sawyer also said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that “nothing gave us the indication that on that particular contact with the fourth-turn wall … that anything was broke” on Elliott’s car and could have caused him to come down and hit Hamlin’s car in the right rear.

NASCAR also announced that Scott Brzozowski and Adam Lewis, crew members on Michael McDowell‘s team, had each been suspended two races after McDowell’s car lost a tire in Monday’s race.

Winners and losers at Charlotte Motor Speedway


A look at winners and losers from Monday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway:


Ryan Blaney — Blaney stopped his winless streak at 59 races and gave team owner Roger Penske his second major race victory in two days. Blaney had the best car but had to fight through restarts late in the race to win.

William Byron — Byron, the winningest driver this season, barely missed getting victory No. 4. He finished second and scored his fifth straight top 10.

Martin Truex Jr. — Truex logged his third top five of the season.

23XI RacingBubba Wallace was fourth and Tyler Reddick fifth, giving 23XI Racing a pair of top-five finishes for the first time in a points race.


Jimmie Johnson — The seven-time champion admitted having problems adjusting to the Next Gen car on a 1.5-mile track. He crashed early and finished last.

Legacy Motor Club — It was a bad night for Jimmie Johnson and his team’s drivers. Johnson finished last in the 37-car field. Noah Gragson was 36th. Erik Jones placed 32nd.

Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin — Two drivers who had strong cars didn’t make it to the finish after crashing near the halfway point. Hamlin said Elliott “shouldn’t be racing next week. Right-rear hooks are absolutely unacceptable. He shouldn’t be racing.”