Austin Dillon's protective HANS device feels like his Superman cape.
While America watched in horror as his stock car went tumbling up and down Daytona International Speedway, Dillon had a quick thought: "Hold on! hold on!" Seconds later, it was over.
And he was good with it.
"I try and put it in the back of my head, forget about it and move on," Dillon said Tuesday of the last-lap crash in the Sunday late-night Coke Zero 400 that instantly became must-see TV. "You have to be able to move on and trust in the safety equipment. Like I said, 'If I can take a lick like that and feel as good as I do right now, I feel like I can do anything.' You feel like Superman."
And with wings to fly again, Dillon will hop inside his Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet this weekend for the Sprint Cup race in Kentucky because, well, it's business. Programmed like most world-class drivers, Dillon won't carry any demons with him from race to race.
Stuff happens in stock-car racing, particularly in the restrictor-plate speed traps of Daytona and Talladega, where the carburetor plates actually limit the speed to the 200-mph range but also bunch everybody up to produce the sheet-metal carnage unique to the superspeedways.
"The Big One," as they say.
Nature of the beast, Dillon says.
"You can't tarnish Daytona," he told reporters during a national teleconference. "It's a wild place where you have lots of up and downs and you have to be able to ride them and have a good attitude going into it.''
The biggest jolt may have been emotionally. Dillon lost contact with his crew and family because the radio cord had ripped.
"I could hear them but they couldn't hear me," he said.
But that was only briefly. He emerged from the car thanks to the help of rival crew members, including the boys from Casey Mears' team.
"I almost laughed because when he first got to my car, I thought it was Casey Mears," Dillon said. "I was like, 'How did Casey Mears get out of his car and get to me that quick?' Because it felt like six seconds, seven seconds before the first crew had got there."
And then he popped out of his car and let everyone know he was OK with a wave of both hands. It was an homage to the late bull-rider Lane Frost. Dillon had watched the movie "8 Seconds" with some of the guys from his Xfinity crew on Friday night. The next day he won the Xfinity race.
Things didn't go so swimmingly the following night. The ride wasn't smooth, but physically Dillon feels fine other than a sore groin and tailbone.
Although Dillon is OK with the inherent danger of his profession, there is quite a bit of discontent in the garage about the state of things involving restrictor-plate racing. Some of the most horrific crashes have involved wrecks at Talladega and Daytona.
The majority of drivers hate a bunch of variables: the safety issue, the random chaos, destroying cars that cost about $250,000, and the fact that a bad wreck can destroy a competitive chance at a season title.
"There isn't much good to say about what happened here tonight," Joey Logano, February's Daytona 500 winner, said after the wreck Sunday night. "It is a product of the racing here. That isn't the first time that has happened here, and it is just dumb that we allow it to happen more than once."
firstname.lastname@example.org Read George Diaz's blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/enfuego
Daytona's weather issues
Maybe, just maybe, in a time far, far away, NASCAR officials and their TV partners will listen to the sage advice of every single person who lives in Central Florida.
The chances of late-afternoon rain or thunderstorms in July are really, really, really high.
That means it makes really, really, really no sense to try to start the Coke Zero 400 at night. It's understandable to buck the Firecracker 400 tradition of running it on the morning of the Fourth of July. But it makes no sense to try to run it Saturday or Sunday night of a July 4th weekend.
NBC was hoping to make a big splash out of its inaugural race as a broadcast partner this season. A splashy circumstance was what everybody got as the race was delayed 3 1/2 because of steady rains. It ended at 2:41 a.m. Monday with Dale Earnhardt Jr. first across the finish.
Just a year ago, thunderstorms forced race officials to push the race from Saturday night to Sunday afternoon. And then after more rain rolled in, NASCAR officials called the race after drivers had completed 112 of the of the 160 scheduled laps. Aric Almirola was declared the winner.
In 2010, the race was delayed nearly two hours because of rain.
And back in 2005 Tony Stewart took the checkered flag at 1:45 a.m. in a rain-delayed event.
Trying to shoehorn in this race, oblivious to unpredictable Florida weather patterns, makes no sense. Think about the fans and how they might be inconvenienced with these prolonged delays. Fans spend good money to come to Daytona on a race weekend. Holding the race at night — thereby increasing considerably the chance of a rain delay — messes with their time and money. People have jobs, travel schedules, things to do after the race.
To everyone's credit, the vast majority of fans stayed after Saturday's extensive delay. NASCAR fans are loyal to the brand.
It's time for NASCAR and the TV gang to show the same consideration and move the summer race to the sunny side of the street — in daytime, not primetime — so we can all get a decent night's sleep.
NASCAR has announced new rules packages for races at Indianapolis, Michigan, Darlington and Richmond in addition to the changes that will be implemented at Kentucky this weekend. The changes involve minor technical adjustments, all with the intent to improve racing.
"Anything we can do to improve the race product for fans, we are going to do that," said Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR chief racing development officer.
Orlando attorney Matt Morgan has been retained to represent two fans injured by flying debris from Austin Dillon's Chevy in the Coke Zero closing crash. His clients were sitting three rows up from the point of impact when they were struck by debris that went through a catch-fence that took the brunt of the impact. Five fans were injured in the accident. One went to a hospital.