TRUCKS: Dillon Brothers Shooting For NASCAR Stardom

Article by Jay Pfeifer,

Want to see some explosive competition? Just put the Dillon brothers — Austin, 20, and Ty, 18 — in the same room.

Throw in a few shotguns, a closet full of ammunition and their grandfather Richard Childress’ months-old skeet shooting barn and it’s: light the fuse and get away. There are going to be fireworks.

The boys share a lot — a last name, deep ties to NASCAR, athletic ability and a sharp eye with a gun — but an hour in the barn reveals the two also are completely different people.

Smaller, with spiky black hair, Austin is the extrovert.

“[Austin’s] definitely louder than Ty,” says Mike Dillon, the boys’ father, Childress’ son-in-law and the vice president of competition at RCR. “When he played football, they used to call him ‘Rooster’ because he walks around like that. He’s always been the louder of the two.”

Ty, with shaggy brown hair, is much more reserved.

“Austin’s bark is a lot worse than his bite. Ty’s the opposite,” Mike Dillon says. “When he gets mad, his bite’s a lot worse. He’s one of the quiet ones who explodes.”

Austin puts it a little more bluntly: “[Ty’s] like the Hulk. He holds it in and then blows up.”

The differences only become more obvious once the skeet are in the air.

This was only the boys’ second visit to “Pop-Pop’s” skeet shooting facility but they’ve been shooting for years at Childress’ Montana properties. Out West, Austin says, their grandfather has installed skeet throwers under the deck. To shoot, all the brothers have to do is step outside.

Here, at the base of a hill just a few hundred yards from Childress’ home, the boys can enjoy a state-of-the-art setup. Five trap throwers are arrayed in front of five shooting bays. Two throwers, one on the roof, one under the barn, toss skeet straight out, two toss skeet across the field of vision and the last throws toward the shooters. Behind the shooting bays is a table rigged with a trigger for each trap.

When the shooting starts, Austin is stuck using a smaller 20-gauge shotgun. And even though the size of the gun barrel — at this range, at least — really doesn’t make a big difference, he’s quick to remind everyone that he’s at a disadvantage. And he can’t resist tossing a couple jabs his brother’s way.

“Can you handle the 12-gauge there, buddy?” he asks.

After a warm-up round in which Ty, Austin and RCR development driver Tim George Jr. take their turns at a full complement of skeet, Austin immediately ups the stakes, calling for a game of “Annie Oakley.”

Under the game’s rules, all three shooters stand at the ready, waiting for a single skeet to wobble into view. The first in line gets a single shot at the target. If he misses, the next person down the line has free fire. If he misses, the third takes a shot. And if the second or third person hits it, those who missed are knocked out of the game.

But Austin, trigger-happy and eager to show up his brother, has a hard time adhering to the rules. He squeezes off two shots when he can and is frequently lobbying Danny Link, longtime family friend and property manager for Childress, on amendments to the rules. But Link is simply the trigger man — sending the skeet to their oblivion at the Dillon boys’ command — the rules are up to Austin and Ty.

To be clear, Austin is not petulant. He’s charged up and merely having fun. After instituting a few on-the-fly rule changes, he turns to a guest, and with a sly smile says, “I got a little bit of Childress in me, don’t I?”

Ty, meanwhile, gamely endures his brother’s ribbing. He prefers to let his shooting do the talking. Occasionally, after Austin has taken the first shot at a target and hit it, Ty will clean up — obliterating the largest fragment of the skeet with a second shot.

Later, when he is first in line for another round of Annie Oakley, Ty will hold his fire until the skeet has nearly landed, giving Austin almost no chance to shoot it. This will make Ty smile and Austin fume.

Ty, of course, isn’t above a little trouble-making. As George walks behind him, Ty sneaks the hot gun barrel down and quickly presses it against his arm.

Through it all, the brothers call each other names, starting at ‘dummy’ and growing ever more imaginative and offensive — stopping just short of the line that separates the juvenile from the vulgar.

Austin and Ty — despite being so competitive — do have a lot in common. The hand-eye coordination that makes them so strong at skeet shooting isn’t in short supply in the Dillon family. Despite their heritage — their father raced motorcycles before he could ride a bike, to say nothing of their grandfather’s influence — both were late arrivals to racing. Each was talented enough in stick-and-ball sports that Mike didn’t think they’d ever give it up.

Austin made an appearance in the Little League World Series in 2002 and was a captain of his high school basketball team. And today, he maintains that he was actually best at soccer.

Ty, meanwhile, came within a few outs of a World Series berth and played football.

“They had their taste of all their sports. We thought they would wind up doing that,” Mike says. “I thought Austin would play baseball at college. But then, they got the bug. Made a little Bandolero test at Charlotte and that’s what started this.”

He is, of course, referring to his sons’ burgeoning driving careers.

Austin, three years removed from his first start in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series, is making the adjustment to the Truck Series look easy. He won two Camping World Truck Series races and won the series rookie of the year award in 2010.

Ty, meanwhile, is making noise at short tracks across the Southeast. The weekend after shooting skeet for this story, he scored his first K&N Pro Series victory at Gresham Motorsports Park in Georgia.

Despite the success, however, both boys are still full-time students, juggling lives at the track and in the classroom.

Ty is a senior in high school. Austin, meanwhile, is a sophomore at nearby High Point University.

Needless to say, life without school would be a lot easier.

“I have to do most of my studying at night,” Austin says. “I really can’t study at the track so that means I have to do it during the week. And then when it’s the weekend, that’s when I want to see my friends. It’s hard to juggle my friends, school and racing sometimes.”

But their father won’t even countenance the idea.

“I did not go to college. It’s one of my bigger regrets,” Mike Dillon says. “I actually went for two years. I should have finished.

“That’s why they don’t have a choice.”

Does he worry about overloading his boys?

“I think all kids at that age need more to do. I think they can handle it,” he says. “We have to work hard at it. But it keeps them focused because they don’t have a choice. It’s like Denny Hamlin with a bad knee or an athlete that gets hurt but then has one of his best games or best races.”

Fortunately, Austin only has classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays and Ty has worked to get ahead on his senior year, giving him a relatively relaxed course load.

And regardless, it sounds like Mike worries more about racing success affecting their schooling than the opposite.

“Austin has two more years,” he says. “The pressure is going to be when Austin starts thinking, ‘Well, I don’t really need to do [college] anymore.’ If he continues to progress, that could happen. But when you get that education, you learn a lot more about life.” • Darlington Raceway president receives Palmetto Patriot Award