August 06, 2014 - By Meg Peters
Review Staff Writer
Chevrolet NASCAR driver Austin Dillon rode through a different setting at General Motor's Orion Assembly last week, and learned a thing or two about the line.
"It's unbelievable how many parts and pieces it takes to build these vehicles and how efficient they are pumping out high-quality cars all day long," the American stock car racer said.
Dillon currently races the No. 3 Dow Chemical Company/General Mills Chevrolet SS in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for his grandfather Richard Childress who owns and operates Richard Childress Racing (RCR).
Although Dillon helps build chassies for his grandfather, which Chevrolet sends templates for, he said he has a newfound respect after watching his first car be assembled.
Dillon starting off his career driving Bandaleros and Legends cars in 2008, and has since won numerous titles including Rookie of the Year after winning two races at Kentucky Speedway in 2012 leading the series in top 10 finishes.
The 24-year-old had never been through a manufacturing plant until touring the 4,300,000 sq. ft. Orion Assembly. Beginning at the body shop and ending at the final quality and care line, Dillon and other GM team members tested a Chevy Sonic through GM's dynamic vehicle test, running the sonic through rollers, through all the gears and exercising the engine at the end of the tour.
"We didn't actually put him in the driver's seat because we were afraid since he knew where the end of the line was that he would just drive off and it would be a while before we saw him again," Orion Assembly Plant Manager Steve Brock joked.
"As an avid NASCAR fan, it was a pleasure hosting Austin and his team. Austin is a very visible driver for Chevrolet, so the more he knows how we build quality and safety into the car, it's just great in terms of promoting that awareness. It's motivating for the team," Brock said.
After the tour, plant employees had a chance to ask the 2011 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion (the youngest champion in series history at 21-years-old) all the details of his career—about his favorite race tracks, most grueling competitions, his hectic schedule, about his pit crew, and how many cars his team goes through, among other questions.
Dillon grew up racing at Tony Stewarts' dirt races. He, has not been home in three months. He loves traveling the United States every weekend to different speedways. His team goes through 13 to 14 cars a year, races against the Ford Fusion and the Toyota Camry,††and says his mother still gets nervous watching him race even after watching his dad, Mike Dillon, and grandfather compete for years.
"I'm a Chevy man. My family has always been. My grandfather wouldn't let us drive anything else," Dillon said.
Dow Chemical Plant Service Representative Jason Hannibal was one of the team members who gave Dillon the tour and asked the first question about Dillon's favorite track.
"I grew up loving NASCAR, in the Brooklyn Irish Hills area so I've been to just about every race since I was five years old. Actually starting to hang out with NASCAR drivers is surreal. It's an unreal experience," Hannibal said.
In response, Dillon enjoys Michigan International Speedway because unlike many other speedways, it's not too hot.
"Dover and Bristol are harder physically, but Daytona and Talledega are harder mentally because you are running 40 plus cars at 200 mph constantly hitting the guy in front of you," he said. "The Coke 600 in Charlotte at 600 miles is the longest race and it's just really hot. It starts in the day and ends at night, it's probably the most grueling," Dillon said.
His next race is August 10, the Cheez-It 355 at the Glen International Speedway in New York.