The Dillon brothers of Richard Childress Racing may be future NASCAR stars, but they're willing to watch, learn and listen before moving up the stock car racing ladder toward the big leagues.
Austin Dillon loves to hunt. But perhaps more than the act of hunting itself, he loves the preparation.
He'll spend hours scouting the zone where he plans to take down a deer, readying the area and even taking note of what time his potential target walks through.
Only then, after all the work has been put in, is Dillon ready to fire.
Dillon's younger brother, Ty, is the same way about video games. A sports nut, Ty will spend hours learning the intricacies of games like Madden to figure out where he can find an advantage. He'll study the plays and memorize the statistics of each individual player before he feels prepared to start a season.
So if you're wondering why the Dillon Brothers are taking one of the most patient approaches to the NASCAR ladder in years, just look at how they're wired. Before they get to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, they want to be prepared.
"I lack experience," Austin said. "I need to be better. When I get to Cup, I don't want to be like, 'Yeah, this isn't one of our best tracks. A top-15 would be good here.' I want to go to every track knowing I can win. If I go and show up to run around in 25th, I don't think that's right. At that point, you're just doing it to do it."
That approach is in stark contrast to the modern-day NASCAR mentality, which is to try and reach the big leagues as fast as possible, then worry later about running well enough to stay there.
The Dillon boys have the advantage of being patient, though. Their grandfather is Richard Childress, the legendary team owner of Richard Childress Racing who helped guide Dale Earnhardt to six of his championships.
Despite being born with a foot in the NASCAR door, the Dillons are choosing to take their time. Austin, who has 11 top-five finishes as a Nationwide Series rookie, recently announced plans to run another full-time Nationwide season in 2013 instead of moving up to Cup. Ty, a Truck Series rookie, will do the same in his series despite being second in points.
"Growing up around the sport, we've seen drivers come up too fast and get lost in the shuffle," Ty said. "They get hyped up and then after one or two years, people are like, 'Oh, he's not really all he's cracked up to be,' and their careers get thrown down the drain. We don't want to be one-hit wonders, and we're fortunate to have the opportunity to take our time before going to the next level."
This isn't necessarily a case of Childress or their father, RCR competition chief Mike Dillon, holding them back. Neither of the boys want to take the next step until they feel completely ready.
The brothers, two years apart in age, are best friends. They live 100 yards apart from each other on the same property, spend much of their time together and pull for each other to win.
Though they haven't raced on track together all that often growing up – Austin estimates only 25 percent of their races have had both brothers – they vow not to change their relationship if both someday race in the Sprint Cup Series.
In 2010, Austin got into a scrape with Matt Crafton during the Bristol Truck Race. Ty, sitting in the stands, charged down to the crossover gate after the race, ran across the track and bolted the pits to Austin's truck, ready to defend his brother in battle if necessary.
"If anybody messes with us, they've got a duo to deal with," Ty said.
That's not to say the brothers are always angels toward one another. Off the track, they are fierce competitors and relentlessly rib one another about everything.
Last week, during an appearance to promote the upcoming race weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway, they were divided into teams for a trampoline dodgeball game with local kids.
"Let's get all the kids out first and then just go at it, one-on-one," Austin whispered to Ty.
A camera crew asked the brothers to preview the game. The brothers immediately started ripping on each other ("Hi, I'm Austin Dillon, the better-looking of the Dillon brothers"), but neither showed the slightest bit of reaction at the slams.
"I'm planning on smoking Ty right off the bat," said Austin, 22. "He's the first guy I'm going to get out."
"He's kind of short and has small arms, so he probably doesn't have much speed on the ball," the 20-year-old Ty replied, non-plussed.
The brothers spent the next 15 minutes unleashing dodgeball rockets aimed at both each other and the kids (who all received race tickets, if not a bruise or two). Austin's team won handily – 3-0 – but Ty was quick with an excuse.
"I ate popcorn before the game, and my hands were slipping," he said. "He threw it really slow and I couldn't really judge it. I think there was a 3-year-old kid who was throwing faster than him."
"A win's a win in my book," Austin said with a confident shrug.
Off camera, on the way to a joint appearance at Bass Pro Shops, the trash talk continued in the car.
"The first person I got out was you," Austin said, teasing his brother while the two scarfed down some fast food.
"I'm a gunslinger," Ty countered. "I got out like three kids before you got me."
The brothers fight sometimes, but the bad feelings never last long. One of them (usually Austin) will pick at the other until somebody gets mad. Then the brother who gets angry will storm off, but they'll usually be back together within a few minutes. Arguments never last more than a day, they said, because their parents wouldn't allow it.
Austin is a big talker with a gregarious personality who thrives on conversation. He takes after his father, Mike, who ran 154 Nationwide races from 1995-2001. At family dinners, dad Mike and Austin do most of the talking while Ty and mom Tina (Childress' daughter) wait for a break in the conversation to have their turn.
Ty, the boys agreed, shares the more reserved and methodical nature of their grandfather, who they grew up calling "Pop-Pop."
Racing wasn't the plan
Though the boys spent plenty of time around the RCR teams when they were young, they didn't necessarily want to be drivers. Many memories of the early days consist of just hanging around the motorhome lot and being kids.
"I remember there was one track where we couldn't play outside because there were ants everywhere," Ty said.
"Darlington," Austin said.
Their parents, knowing how difficult the racing world can be, steered them toward team sports. Austin was a midfielder in soccer, a point guard in basketball who captained his junior varsity team and a baseball player with a strong arm. Ty, the taller of the two, wrestled and also played fullback and linebacker in football ("I loved to hit," he said).
But when the brothers got the chance to try racing Bandalero and Legends cars, they immediately caught the bug. It felt like the "perfect fit" to Ty, while it appealed to Austin because there was so much to learn.
"I was starting to get burnt out on the other sports," Austin said. "But I couldn't get enough of racing. I still can't. In baseball, you learn every situation and it becomes a matter of repetition. Racing changes all the time. There's always some innovative way to find the cutoff man, always a new and better way to do something."
Both brothers believe the concepts they learned in team sports apply directly to racing. No matter how good the driver is, Austin said, "you can't just be LeBron and take over a race." In that sense, he believes it's important to view the crew members as equals.
"The driver has the final say in how the day goes, but it takes the whole team to get you there," he said. "You can't take an awful-driving car and make it win. So when someone is working for you and you dog them, they're going to say, 'Why do I want to keep working hard for this guy?'"
Though their grandfather and father have plenty of racing knowledge to offer, the Dillon brothers insist they have more to learn before they can entertain thoughts of Cup stardom. Austin pointed to Jimmie Johnson's philosophy, in which the five-time Cup champ adjusts his driving style based on who tops the charts in practice.
"There's someone faster than you at every track," Austin said. "You have to realize you don't know it all. If you're not open-minded and listen, you're not going to know what it takes to be fast there. I dream of being the best guy every week, but you can't do it without listening.
"I know that I don't know. You have to keep an open mind."
The brothers debate who is more aggressive on the track – each think the other one is – but Ty said their racing personas are similar even if their off-track personalities are not.
"I watch everything he does, every practice," Ty said. "We were raised the same way as people, so that reflects on our driving."
Similarly, both were raised not to expect anything in terms of job security – at least with driving. They do not have a sense of entitlement. The brothers said they could easily find themselves working in the RCR race shop if their driving careers flopped, and neither takes the opportunity for granted.
"I worry about my job every day," Austin said. "(Childress) is not gonna fund it without a sponsor, and I wouldn't want him to. I don't think just because he's my grandfather he has to put me in a car. That's how I've been brought up: I never feel comfortable."
Childress has enlisted Max Papis to help coach his grandsons. Papis, a NASCAR driver who once raced Formula One, told the Dillons when he got to F1, there was nowhere else to go – so they'd better be ready if they ever get to Cup.
"I'd rather struggle now than in Cup," Austin said.
But neither driver is struggling at all. Austin – last year's Truck champion – has completed all but one lap in his rookie Nationwide season and is fourth in the point standings; Ty has completed every lap in his rookie Truck campaign and has a top-10 finish in every race but one.
Still, the brothers refuse to be in a hurry. The only reason Austin said he'd have considered moving up a level in 2013 is if he thought he could help improve RCR's Cup program. Short of that, he needs more time.
"Even at the worst track, I want to have a good shot at winning," Austin said. "When I get more experience, maybe I'll feel that way. Then, even on the days I might not have the car to win, at least I'll know I'm capable."
Whatever the Dillon brothers do, they'll be doing it together. Whether it's watching football on Sundays or debating setups, two of NASCAR's future stars are never far apart.
"I couldn't imagine going through all this stuff without having him here," Ty said. "We're best friends. We'll always have each other's backs."