Q&A: Driving American Ethanol to the Front

Austin Dillon shares his earliest memories of a life spent in motorsports, his love of dirt track racing and the role ethanol plays in NASCAR’s sustainability push.
By Tim Portz | June 26, 2013

In Daytona in 1998, a then 8-year old Austin Dillon witnessed history at victory lane. Dale Earnhardt, the famed driver of his grandfather Richard Childress’s No. 3 car, had finally won the Daytona 500. Video footage of victory circle clearly shows Austin standing next to his younger brother Ty and Earnhardt. Fifteen years later Dillon races in NASCAR’s biggest series and is the driver face of American Ethanol, the ethanol industry’s standard bearer in this country’s most watched spectator sport. Paired with NASCAR’s commitment to and use of E15 as a racing fuel, Dillon and the American Ethanol car carry the industry’s message of clean and domestically produced fuel to millions of race fans. 

You were 5 years old when your father made his driving debut in the NASCAR Busch series. What are some of your earliest memories of growing up around motorsports?

Growing up in a racing family and going to the track and being at the track and seeing things that people dream of seeing my entire life, it’s been pretty awesome, and I’ve been fortunate to see the things I’ve seen. Probably one the coolest memories I can think of is being at Daytona 500 when Dale Earnhardt won in 1998—being at the track and getting scooped up by my grandmother and taken to victory lane and doing the hat dance and not knowing the kind of history that I was being a part of and how much fun it was at the time.

When did you first drive in a competitive event? Where were you and what were you driving?

I was in a Bandelero, which is like a full -bodied race go-kart. We were at the quarter mile at Lowe’s Motor Speedway inside the track. We raced right before the qualifying night, and me and my brother both ran the race and we were racing for dead last, wrecking each other. That was our first race I think. We both spun out three times.

You, like lots of drivers racing at the highest levels of competition in NASCAR, have raced in a number of different series and different vehicles. How difficult is it to get a feel for the differences in horsepower, driving surface and racing styles in each of the different formats?

The learning curve is always a little tough to get used to but the great thing is to be able to drive a bunch of different race cars. My family pushed us to run dirt. In dirt you have so much horsepower. From the time you get into a late model on, it’s just a bunch of horsepower.  So you get used to sliding around and using that horsepower. I think that is what helped me to adapt to different series and different cars.

Speaking of different racing surfaces, you’ve certainly done very well on dirt. It seems like a lot of drivers have an affinity for dirt track racing. Why do you think that is? 

I think you can get away from all of the pressures at an asphalt track and just relax and have a good time. Also, you are with the core group of racers that you grew up with. It's good racing and you can slide and take positions that sometimes you wouldn’t be able to take on an asphalt track. You follow the grip lines. You follow the lines on the track. You follow the dirt and how it changes. Everybody loves that because it's real racing, and we enjoy anytime you can go out there and slide around and have a good time and mess around with your buddies afterwards, stay up all night and go race again. 

Talk about getting that first NASCAR victory in the truck series at the relatively new Iowa Speedway back in summer 2010.

It was great. To get your first victory behind you, it’s just a whole weight comes off your shoulders. Not only that, but my grandmother and my grandfather were there to be with me and that was just something I’ll never forget. That memory will always be etched in my mind. The first one, there’s nothing like it. It was a blast. 

When you win at a track, does it feel like you have more confidence the next time you run at that track? 

Yeah, it does. Any time you go to a place you can run well at and that you know you can go out there and win, there is just more confidence. You get into the car and you’re excited and you have a feel that you are looking for, to try and find again. You are always looking for that same feel that you won with and if you can get it, man, it’s another good weekend.

You’re an outdoorsman. What do you do?

We try and hunt a little bit of everything. We love being in the outdoors. I love fishing. I love hunting. I’ll hunt anything.
 
Talk about how you feel about NASCAR’s commitment to be the greenest and most sustainable spectator sport out there.

It’s great. Everybody needs to look toward a greener country. That’s the greatest thing about our sport is that NASCAR has taken lots of steps to make sure that we are going green. We’re doing it with our fuel and we’re doing it at the tracks. You saw the first track last year (Pocono) actually go to all solar power. It’s great to see all the pushing that NASCAR is doing.

The ethanol industry feels strongly that its partnership with NASCAR will get its message out to a key audience. What makes NASCAR unique in its ability to connect its fans with products and ideas?

It’s probably just the brand awareness and that people love seeing their drivers. They connect to something and that’s what’s on your car, what’s on the side of your car. And for sponsors with a product, like American Ethanol that is used on the track, fans also get to see it get used and proven. That’s the greatest thing, that ethanol is used on the track! 

Has anything surprised you about being the driver face of our industry’s historic American Ethanol partnership with NASCAR?

I think there are a lot of people that are passionate about ethanol and what we’ve been able to do with it in NASCAR. You see a lot of fans that are really interested in it, people that want to learn about it. There are a lot of people out there that don’t know what the benefits of ethanol are. Being able to show them a clean fuel that runs good on the track is pretty awesome.