Dillon’s Little League past a driving force in celebrity softball game

 

WILMINGTON — NASCAR drivers Austin Dillon and Kasey Kahne traded in racing on the high banks of speedways for a game of softball on a diamond Tuesday afternoon.

Dillon and Kahne competed in the fourth-annual Dover vs. Pocono celebrity softball game hosted by Frawley Stadium of the Wilmington Blue Rocks.

Austin Dillon

Austin Dillon

It gave Dillon the chance to show off some of his baseball skills from his past. Before he made it to NASCAR’s top division, Dillon played in the 2002 Little League World Series as a second baseman for a team out of Clemmons, N.C.

Dillon led team Dover to a 10-3 victory, highlighted by a leadoff home run in the first inning. It helped give Dover a 3-1 overall lead in the series.

Dillon’s exploits, including some slick fielding at shortstop, surprised his fellow driver Kahne.

“This was nice because we got to play some softball and have some good competition with Austin,” Kahne said. “I came in thinking Pocono was going to win for sure and we got smoked so that was a surprise. The Dover team was really good and we all had a great time.”

Dillon played baseball until his sophomore year of high school, until his racing career took priority. He said he still stays in contact with his Little League teammates to this day.

“It taught me a lot about teamwork,” he said of his Little League experience. “You build life-long relationships, I still talk to those guys today and every now and then get them out to a race.”

Aside from Dillon and Kahne, the teams rounded out with members of national and local motorsports media, as well as other local media personalities. The game was scheduled to help promote the upcoming NASCAR races at Dover (May 15’s AAA 400 Drive for Autism) and Pocono (June 5’s Axalta ‘We Paint Winners’ 400).

Of course at the driver’s postgame press conference, there was plenty of discussion of recent NASCAR events, mainly the dramatic, crash-filled race at Talladega this past weekend.

Dillon was involved in three different wrecks, but still battled back to finish third. The race had three cars go airborne and 35 of the 40 drivers were involved in some type of crash.

As the cries for NASCAR to do something about the dangers of restrictor plate racing intensify, Dillon admitted drivers are torn about how they feel about going to the tracks those four weekends at Daytona and Talladega. Just last July Dillon was involved in a terrifying crash on the last lap at Daytona where his car flew into the catch-fence, but he survived without injury.

“Not many of us look forward to that because you know you’re putting yourself in some pretty bad situations those weekends,” Dillon said. “I feel like it’s part of the racing, and fans enjoy that type of racing. I enjoy it too because it’s one of the only places where you can go from being in the back of the field to the front in a short period of time. You can do a lot of passing but there is the opportunity to get caught in a big crash. If we can somehow make the cars stay on the ground then the drivers will be a lot happier.”

Kahne also said the threat of a rain-shortened race probably contributed to all of the crashes as it made the drivers more aggressive than normal.

“Speedway racing has a lot to do with the drivers and how they want to race,” Kahne said. “With how things were with the rain (on Sunday), that made things a lot crazier and a lot more crashes than what we usually would have there.”

 

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