Dillon made stops to the home of Dick and Marian Atkins, Rick Atkins and the final delivery to Texas Motorsports Hall of Famer and former Indy car driver Jim McElreath and wife, Shirley. Meals on Wheels, Inc. of Tarrant County, which began in 1973, provides home-delivered meals, professional case management, and other needed items or services to elderly and disabled homebound residents in response to community needs: malnutrition, food insecurity, social isolation, poor mental and physical health, etc. The organization has a volunteer force of more than 4,000 deliver meals to more than 4,000 residents each year and Dillon enjoyed his day in that role.
“It’s awesome, anytime you meet a guy that has so much history of racing, it’s awesome,” Dillon said. “I’m a big fan of the history and how it’s progressed over time, but still the same core values are there. It’s pretty cool to meet a guy that has so much history. Just coming out here to his home and checking out some of the things he has in his garage, he’s still a dedicated racer. He loves to talk about it and has a vintage sprinter out here, so it’s pretty awesome.”
McElreath’s talents as an Indy car driver helped him earn five victories during his career in USAC Champ Car, along with 15 appearances in the Indianapolis 500 from 1962 to 1980. He also was named the 1962 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year following his sixth-place finish.
McElreath and Dillon took a trip down memory lane as the former Indy car driver opened his home and garage to a collection of motorsports history. McElreath shared his collection of historical photos, race trophies and even sprint cars that he drove during his career. The two even exchanged their own racing memorabilia as Dillon presented McElreath with a signed AdvoCare hat while McElreath returned the favor by signing a Firestone Racing hat.
“He’s a hero,” Dillon said of McElreath. “I’ll have this (hat) sitting on my mantle when I get home, for sure.”
The opportunity to share the history of motorsports with one of NASCAR’s youngest, brightest stars is something McElreath relished also.
“It was great to talk racing with Austin because he has a bright future,” McElreath said. “Any time I get to share my love of racing with a fellow driver, it’s a good day.”
For Dick and Marian who have been married for more than 60 years, the visit by Dillon was a thrilling surprise. Dick, a retired Air Force Colonel, has a love of fast machines.
As a former fighter pilot in the Air Force, Dick experienced the thrill of speed. It has carried over into a passion for NASCAR. While he is a fan of Hendrick Motorsports driver Jeff Gordon, Dick believes there may be a new favorite driver for the couple after their visit.
“Jeff is reaching an age where he is about to retire and I’m looking for someone else to root for,” Dick said. “You are my replacement. I suspect you are going to be big time in racing.”
For Rick, a former sprint car driver, Dillon’s visit was an opportunity to share racing experiences. Rick was injured in a sprint car accident at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, years ago. He sustained a broken neck and burns, leaving him in intensive care, but it never dampened his love for the sport. He will be in attendance when Dillon competes this weekend during the NRA 500 weekend, making his visit that much more enjoyable.
“I’ve got to meet Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Dale Earnhardt Sr. and now to see the man who has raised the flag in his corner, doing it in the No. 3 car makes me feel very proud,” Rick said. “I can’t believe someone of his stature is at my house. I’m blown away.”
Dillon is ready to return to action this weekend after a two-week layoff. However, this weekend will provide a different challenge as he will pull double-duty as he competes in both the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 and NRA 500. A move to put Dillon behind the wheel of the No. 51 Phoenix Racing entry for Saturday evening’s Sprint Cup Series race was finalized yesterday, making him the 16th driver competing in both races this weekend. It will be just the fifth career Sprint Cup Series start for Dillon.
“It’s awesome, the No. 51 team and James Finch have put a lot of effort into it this year, and they do every year,” Dillon said. “I think the best thing about this year is that they’ve been rewarded with some great finishes. I think we can get in there this weekend at a track that I run pretty good at and have a good finish.”
Dillon has made two career Nationwide Series starts at Texas Motor Speedway, both of which came last year. He qualified fourth in both events and went on to a fifth-place finish in April’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 and a sixth in November’s O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge. Dillon, who will be driving the No. 3 AdvoCare Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing, currently is fifth in the NASCAR Nationwide Series points standings on the strength of three top-six finishes in his first five races.
His chief concern running a rare double duty weekend is staying hydrated, but it is beneficial to have a sponsor such as AdvoCare for such instances.
“I’ve been drinking a lot of water all week,” Dillon said. “I have a great sponsor in AdvoCare that has rehydrate products and rehydrate gel. I’ll be using those all week and also their energy drink, Spark. It’s an awesome company to be linked with, especially when you’re running double duty.”
The NASCAR doubleheader weekend kicks off with the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 scheduled for 7:30 p.m. CT on Friday and followed by the NRA 500 at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.
Tickets for the NRA 500 and O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 are available by calling (817) 215-8500 or by visiting www.texasmotorspeedway.com.