News & Media

Dillon finds track return helps cure what ails him

April 16, 2011, Dave Rodman,

TALLADEGA, Ala. -- After being sidelined by a blood clot, RCR VP back in the garage at Talladega

This weekend has been the best medicine possible for Richard Childress Racing vice president of competition Mike Dillon, who's officially back at a NASCAR race track for the first time since early March.

Dillon, 46, who's married to his team owner's daughter, Tina, had a hand in getting youngest son Ty into Victory Lane after Saturday's 3 Amigos Tequila 250 ARCA race. He also spent plenty of time in the Nationwide and Sprint Cup garages, interacting as only "Dillon," as he's usually known, can.

"You've still got to work 60 or 70 hours a week -- but you don't got to work 100."


"It's really good [that he's back] because he plays a huge role at RCR," Childress said on Friday afternoon. "He's really one of our key players at RCR, at the track and at the shop, so we sure missed him when he was out all that time."

Dillon was sidelined, and briefly hospitalized, when a blood clot was discovered in one of his lungs, between the NASCAR weekends at Las Vegas and Bristol. He was released from the hospital March 19 and since then, life as he had known it hasn't existed.

Dillon's daily regimen includes travel, diet and activity restrictions. But there's one thing neither doctors, nor family, nor teammates, can limit -- Dillon's sense of humor. His father-in-law testified to it all.

"Oh yeah," Childress said. "Anytime your life is at stake you really get a wakeup call. But he come back [to Talladega], just joking and kidding -- typical Dillon.

"And I done forgot, but somebody said, 'Can you take prayers back?' because [Dillon] was giving him a bunch of crap."

Dillon, who formerly in the Busch Series, might be the epitome of the perfect racing executive. He's able to motivate, advise or aggravate alternately or simultaneously -- whatever a situation requires. And in this case, he's done what he's needed to, to the proverbial "T."

"You got to be both [serious and humorous]," Childress said, laughing. "Naturally I'm really worried about [Dillon]. I wanted his health to be back and wanted him to be back, good -- mostly from the family side but from the business side as well. Mostly he's a huge part of our family and we need him back."

After he left Victory Lane, Ty Dillon, 19, reflected on just how special it was to have his father back at a track -- though the circumstances of the ARCA schedule meant the father missed none of his son's events.

"It makes you think a lot more about things and it makes you appreciate the things you have, in life -- like having my dad here this weekend," Ty Dillon said. "My dad feels fine, he's on the road to recovery and he'll be trying to be back at the track, bothering people, like he always does."

The youngster did a double-take when he was asked if, as a concerned son, he had tried to give his father any counsel.

"Give him advice?" he said. "I don't give him much advice -- it's all about him giving me advice. If I can't learn from him, I can't learn from anybody."

And the elder Dillon didn't hesitate to indicate that it's never too late to learn something -- about yourself, or even about your sport.

"I tell you what, I've been amazed at how many people in this garage area -- in this sport -- have been affected by this, have had clots or are taking blood thinners," he said.

Sprint Cup veteran driver Brian Vickers learned the same lesson a year ago, when his career was interrupted by clots and a subsequent surgical procedure. And once he found out the details, Vickers was only too happy to share the secret with his buddy Dillon.

"I've got a lot of friends here, and that's what's most important to me," Dillon said. "Obviously I want all our teams at RCR to run well, win races and be competitive. But I've been amazed at how many people are genuinely concerned about your well-being, and that means a lot and you miss those folks -- and the camaraderie."

"Anytime your life is at stake you really get a wakeup call. But he come back [to Talladega], just joking and kidding -- typical Dillon. And I done forgot, but somebody said, 'Can you take prayers back?' because [Dillon] was giving him a bunch of crap. "


Dillon said Vickers was particularly helpful bringing into human terms what he had gone through, and what he faced moving forward. And Vickers was moved by the help he'd been able to provide, after getting a tip from Childress about Dillon's condition.

"I just wanted to reach out to Dillon as a friend, and a colleague, because I knew what he was going through, and how difficult it was," Vickers said on Friday morning. ""You talk to a lot of doctors but they can't relate to you and what you do in your life. So I explained to him that when it happens, it's such a mysterious thing.

"It gives more meaning to the experience you've gone through, if you can help someone -- absolutely. When it first happened [to me] you were like, 'Seriously? What are the odds of this happening to me?' It happens and then you find out how prominent it is.

"I've spent half my life in this garage, and never heard of anyone in this garage having clots. But since I did, I've had NASCAR officials, other crewmen and media come up to me about it. And I did the same thing by sharing my experiences with Dillon."

Dillon hesitated when asked about adjustments he's had to make, then said "Oh, yeah. I didn't even realize how much I was going, all the time, until my wife actually told me that [Thursday] morning.

"I'd get up at 6 in the morning and go to the shop and work. I'd get done there and go to the dirt race shop and work there until 8 or 9 o'clock, then come home. And I did that constantly -- all the time, wide-open. So this has made me understand that maybe I ought to throttle back a little bit.

"You've still got to work 60 or 70 hours a week -- but you don't got to work 100."

Dillon said his schedule might've hit him shortly after Speedweeks in February, which was followed on consecutive weekends by trips to Phoenix and Las Vegas.

"I came down with some kind of bug -- the kind of thing that just sweeps through your whole shop," Dillon said. "I was taking a bunch of decongestants, and they're not sure that didn't have something to do with [the clot forming]. But we're still not really sure."

The bottom line was, Dillon was hospitalized and had to go on blood thinners. In conjunction with that, doctors forbade him from traveling by air, due to sitting at length and the danger of clots forming at altitude.

"It's crazy the things that you just don't know," Dillon said. "But I do know that I can't fly for a while. But I don't think it'll be too much longer -- not being on thinners, because your body dissolves the clots on its own.

"The purpose of the thinners is to keep it from happening again, until they can determine what caused it. But it's amazing how many people it happens to a year."

So Dillon's been serious about his condition, but in typical Dillon style.

"I snuck over to Martinsville [April 2], snuck in [to the garage] and went down between the trucks and hung out," Dillon said, smiling. "And I went to Bulls Gap [Volunteer Speedway in East Tennessee] that night -- but I was out too late and it wore me out, so I didn't make it back to Martinsville [Sunday].

"But I've found out that I can find out more information at home than I can when I'm actually at the track -- and that might be a problem we have. I can listen to any one of our race teams on the computer, watch what's happening on DIRECTV and then watch the race [on FOX]. And my wife's got 'NASCAR Headquarters' at home -- so she's on it."

Talladega was Dillon's first full-fledged race trip since Las Vegas, March 4-6. The interesting fact was he and Tina traveled by motorhome -- something Dillon said he'll do "to everything that's within about eight hours" until he's once again cleared to fly.

The neatest thing for the family is that once older son Austin's dirt race at Volunteer Speedway was rained out, Austin planned to fly to Talladega with his grandmother, Judy Childress. His dad said Austin was coming to see his buddy, musician Tim Dugger, perform Saturday night in the Talladega infield.

The family plans to spend the night together in the infield, then make a decision on how to get home on Sunday.

"We do a lot of things together," Mike Dillon said. "But it'll be neat to have us all here. Ty wanted to stay for the [Aaron's 312] Nationwide race. The boys may want to just take the truck [Sunday] and go on, but we'll have fun [Saturday]."