Austin Dillon: From the Little League Baseball® World Series to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
With an impish grin and a wide-brimmed cowboy hat, Austin Dillon is a natural favorite on the stock car circuits. His pedigree doesn’t hurt. His grandfather is Richard Childress, former NASCAR racer and owner of Richard Childress Racing (RCR). His father, Mike Dillon, was also a pro NASCAR driver, and is now general manager of RCR. And in 2013, it was announced that he would bring the famed number 3 car back to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, made famous by the late, great Dale Earnhardt. Mr. Dillon was raised for the racetrack, but for a few months in the summer of 2002, he wasn’t worried about checkered flags. Instead, he was running and gunning for a Little League Baseball® World Series banner.
“It was the third inning of the Region Championship game, and we turned a double play to get out of a jam,” said Mr. Dillon. “I will never forget that. I just remember I was on my knees praying that we’d win that game.”
Mr. Dillon and his teammates on the Southwest Forsyth Little League from Clemmons, N.C., got out of that inning, only to give up two runs in the bottom of the fifth. Southwest Forsyth came back, though, and knocked in four runs in the top of the sixth to win that game, defeating Virginia champion, Bridgewater Community Little League, 4-2, winning their way to South Williamsport. And while Mr. Dillon had been around racing legends and the bright lights of the track his entire life, the thrill of coming to the Little League® International Complex remains one of his fondest memories.
“Looking back on it, what makes Little League so cool is that you come together with other kids for one goal,” said Mr. Dillon. “Being able to play on that big of a stage at such an early age, and meet Harold Reynolds, and have ESPN there, it was incredible.”
Only the third team from North Carolina to make it to the Little League Baseball World Series, the boys from Southwest Forsyth had a rough time in South Williamsport, going 0-3, losing their first game to eventual champions, Valley Sports American Little League from Louisville, Ky.
“That Kentucky team was just unbelievable,” said Mr. Dillon. “Aaron Alvey was a beast. He hit the game-winning home run against us in that first game and went on to pitch a shut-out in the championship game.”
Mr. Alvey went on to have an incredible Little League Baseball World Series. He had a nine-inning no-hitter going against the Southwestern Region champion, Westside Little League from Fort Worth, Texas, before being taken out of the game. His replacement let up a hit and a run, but Mr. Alvey’s Valley Sports American team went on to win that game. He currently holds the Little League Baseball World Series record for innings pitched (22) and strikeouts (44). During their six-game championship run, Mr. Alvey batted .308, had three home runs, scored four runs and knocked in four RBI. Mr. Dillon only faced Mr. Alvey once during the World Series, reaching on a fielder’s choice.
In the years following his Little League Baseball World Series appearance, Mr. Dillon took to the wheel. He was 2008 Sunoco Rookie of the Year on NASCAR’s K&N Pro Series East as an 18-year-old, the same year he raced his first NASCAR Nationwide Series event. He then moved to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, winning those Rookie of the Year honors in 2010. In 2011, Mr. Dillon won the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Championship, and in 2012, he won two Nationwide Series events; taking home Rookie of the Year honors for that circuit, as well. He believes his Little League experience helped him achieve his success. Last year was the most successful one of his career, racing on the NASCAR Sprint Series and capturing the top spot in the final the NASCAR Nationwide Series standings.
Austin Dillon now as a NASCAR star, and then as a Little Leaguer®.
“If you grow up just racing and you don’t experience team sports, you do things a little differently,” said Mr. Dillon. “One of the coolest things about my experience is that I had a great team aspect and really knew how to work with my team once I got to the professional racing circuits. The experience of playing on such a close-knit team at such a young age has really helped me when working with different people with different personalities.”
It’s that well-rounded sports experience that Mr. Dillon, and his younger brother Ty, have used to stay grounded and focused as they race for their grandfather’s racing team. Mr. Dillon hopes to continue to build his current success and further cement his family’s legacy as one of the best names in racing. It’s not just the Childress legacy he races for though, driving the storied number 3 car, made famous by the legendary “Intimidator,” Dale Earnhardt, Sr.
“The Nationwide Series and the Camping World Truck Series have given me great on-track experience,” said Mr. Dillon. “I’m really looking forward to racing more Sprint Cup Series races and going up against the elite drivers of the world.”
Mr. Dillon knows what it’s like to face the elite of the world in competition thanks to his trip to South Williamsport.
“Getting the opportunity to come to South Williamsport and meet all those kids from different countries, but all there to play baseball is one of my greatest memories,” said Mr. Dillon. “Hopefully I can get back to South Williamsport some day and trade some pins.”