COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Austin Dillon's climb up the NASCAR ladder into the heralded No. 3 in the Sprint Cup Series was met with tons of fanfare last week. But Monday, there was still some fanfare yet to be had in celebration of his 2013 NASCAR Nationwide Series championship.
Dillon, 23, and his entire Richard Childress Racing crew set sail for a fully packed 17-hour journey to the heart of Ohio for NASCAR Nationwide Series Champion's Day, extending the celebration of his second national series title. NASCAR.com was fortunate enough to tag along and document all the festivities:
(All times Eastern)
6:32 a.m. -- Dillon arrives at Davidson County Airport in Lexington, N.C., to join his team on the RCR Air flight. The total list of passengers stands at 29, the former number of the Childress operation's flagship team.
7 a.m. -- Right on time, wheels up from the KEXX airport. Much of the conversation from Dillon and the crew centers around dirt track racing, fantasy football and the previous weekend's Performance Racing Industry show.
8:15 a.m. -- The flight lands in snowy Columbus with approximately one inch of accumulation on the ground. Snow showers, which will continue through the morning, provide a wintry backdrop as Dillon and the team prepare to board the bus that will carry them to all of the day's activities.
9:02 a.m. -- The bus arrives at the team's first stop, the Nationwide Children's Hospital, one of the largest pediatric medical facilities in the country.
9:23 a.m. -- After a tour of the emergency department, the team is given a comprehensive overview of the trauma unit -- fittingly stopping in Exam Room No. 3.
9:40 a.m. -- Dillon and crew chief Danny Stockman break off from the group for a trip to the ninth floor and a visit from a young patient named Colin, a Denny Hamlin fan. After Dillon signs a die-cast car, Colin punctuates the conversation with sound advice for Stockman: "Be a good crew chief. Don't let him wreck."
9:48 a.m. -- The team gathers in the Magic Forest play area and talks to a few more patients before loading back on the bus.
10:12 a.m. -- The team arrives in the heart of town at Nationwide Plaza 1 headquarters and is joined by team owner Richard Childress, Dillon's grandfather. The group assembles for a team picture at the blue Nationwide frame logo in the lobby, first flashing the No. 1 sign and then offering up the No. 3 for a second photo.
10:36 a.m. -- Dillon, Childress and Stockman sit in on a "Marketing U" panel in the Nationwide building's Jeffers Auditorium. The 30-minute session, moderated by local sports anchor Jerod Smalley, is generously attended by Nationwide employees, who participate in a brief Q&A session at the end.
11:01 a.m. -- An employee asks about Childress' departure from the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series next season and whether it extends also to Eldora Speedway, a half-mile dirt track in the Buckeye State. Dillon answers immediately, "Oh, we'll be at Eldora."
11:09 a.m. -- Employees line up for autographs from the entire team and then pictures with the Nationwide Series trophy with Dillon and Childress. Dillon yawns on a couple of occasions in between shots, apologizes, but flashes a trademark smile each time.
12:03 p.m. -- Dillon, Childress and Stockman break off from the group for a luncheon with Nationwide executives. The team, meanwhile, ventures over toward the Ohio State grounds for a pizza lunch at the Varsity Club, a popular campus hangout.
1:16 p.m. -- With Dillon indisposed at a commercial shoot, the team arrives at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center to tour the Ohio State sports program's facilities. They are greeted by a statue of the legendary football coach, entrenched in a forward stance, his cleats covered by a thin layer of snow.
1:24 p.m. -- Larry Romanoff, Ohio State's director of external relations for football, welcomes the team in a lobby full of Heisman Trophies, plus Big Ten and national title hardware. He previews what the Childress crew will see, saying that "you won't see these types of facilities in West Virginia." The team lets out a collective "Ooooh!" and focuses on a smiling Tyler Rader, RCR's gas man, a West Virginia native and a former college football player for the Mountaineers.
1:36 p.m. -- The team winds through memorabilia rooms and locker rooms with multiple countdown clocks on the walls that tell everyone that 347 days, 22 hours, 23 minutes and 43 seconds remain until Ohio State plays hated rival Michigan again. The rival school, however, is never referred to by name -- it's listed as "That Team Up North" or "TUN," for short.
1:40 p.m. -- Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller trots over from a corner of the practice fields, wearing a black no-contact jersey. Once Romanoff tells the Buckeyes junior about their guests, Miller smiles and says, "Ahh, you're the guys who change the tires and stuff. Good to meet y'all."
2:22 p.m. -- After their brush with college football greatness, the Childress team heads back to the center of town and unloads at Nationwide Arena, home of the NHL's Columbus Blue Jackets for a friendly game of broomball.
2:26 p.m. -- The RCR crewmen pick sides and take the ice.
2:31 p.m. -- The RCR crewmen sustain their first injury, a bloody nose for Brian Bottlemy, the team's rear tire changer.
2:39 p.m. -- While learning that cowboy boots don't provide much traction on NHL-regulation ice, RCR's red team shoots its way to a quick 5-0 lead.
3:05 p.m. -- Momentum has shifted with the blue team rallying to take a 6-5 lead. After falling for the fourth time, Stockman exits the game. "I'm done," he says.
3:14 p.m. -- The final horn sounds, cementing a 7-6 victory for RCR's blue team.
3:34 p.m. -- The team, some members more sore than others, arrives at Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams in Columbus' Short North district, renamed Short North Pole for the holidays. Temperatures in the 20s and snow on the ground? Perfect time for ice cream. There the team finds a freshly shaven Dillon, smiling and having a waffle cone after needing to appear clean-cut for his video shoot.
4:13 p.m. -- After ice cream, Dillon and the team take a break at Mac's Caf�, an Irish pub across the street. Dillon phones in for a radio interview. He thanks Nationwide Insurance for the hospitality, but later laments missing out on the on-ice action with his team: "Man, I'm so bummed I didn't get to play broomball. Heard a lot of good stories. Lot of people were banged up but thankfully no one's hurt."
5:37 p.m. -- After arriving back at Nationwide Arena for the night's Blue Jackets game against the visiting Winnipeg Jets, the team wraps up dinner in the stadium's Founders Club. Dillon takes a microphone to thank everyone for the day and issue outunofficial broomball awards ? including MVP to Ben Schlosser, RCR's chief marketing officer. He also playfully teases Stockman for his early exit from the game.
6:25 p.m. -- Dillon, minutes away from taking in his first NHL game, dons a No. 3 Blue Jackets jersey with his name across the back. He acknowledges the broomball fever that seems to have swept over his crew -- "The guys won't stop talking about it, so I guess we'll have to install an ice rink now at RCR."
6:58 p.m. -- As the pregame light show stokes up before the 7 p.m. start, Dillon and Stockman split briefly from the group for a round of interviews.
7:08 p.m. -- Less than two minutes into the game, the gloves drop for one of two first-period fights. Dillon and Stockman crane their necks for a better view.
7:46 p.m. -- Dillon joins the Blue Jackets' radio announcing team for an on-air interview during the first intermission. Dillon demurs when offered a drive behind the wheel of one of the arena's two Zamboni ice cleaners.
8:04 p.m. -- Before a quick TV interview, Dillon poses for a picture with the young ladies from the Jackets' Ice Crew. It's good to be the champ.
8:43 p.m. -- Back in the team's suite, Dillon loses at air hockey and swigs a Red Bull as the game winds down.
9:37 p.m. -- The game ends in a 3-2 Winnipeg victory and the team exits to the bus.
10:09 p.m. -- Weary from the day, Dillon and the RCR crew board the team plane in Columbus for the 65-minute flight home. With headphones on and in-flight pillows now in short supply, the cabin is much quieter for the return trip.
11:29 p.m. -- The flight lands and moments later, the team disperses on the tarmac. Dillon waves and offers a thank you. The feelings expressed by the team over dinner -- "Let's do it again next year." -- come to mind.
FULL SERIES COVERAGE
- Dec. 10: Austin Dillon
- Dec. 11: Justin Allgaier
- Dec. 17: Elliott Sadler
- Dec. 23: Regan Smith
- Dec. 30: Sam Hornish Jr.
- Sports & Recreation
- Richard Childress
- Richard Childress Racing