Bob Dillner once delivered Newsday. In fact, he was cited for delivering this newspaper in a blizzard, all the way up old Maple Hill Road in Huntington. Today, he covers NASCAR for SPEED. Not bad. As the Chase for the Cup continues, we caught up with Dillner to talk about his racing roots on Long Island and the state of NASCAR.
Trading Paint: Auto racing isn't among the sports that interests Long Island kids. How did you get introduced to the sport?
Bob Dillner: My Dad was a figure eight driver at Islip. He quit when I was at a young age, but he still brought me to Islip, Freeport and Riverhead to watch the races. My friends would ask me, What are you doing this weekend? And I would say, 'Going to the races?' I'd get a lot of, 'What's racing? Aren't you going to the ballgame.' No, I'm going to Islip Speedway. They would ask me, 'What's that?' I was the odd man out.
TP: What do you remember about those old Long Island tracks?
BD: I think my fondest memories growing up was that we all just went as a family. Islip was my favorite. That's the one that we didn't miss a single week of action. I was in school dreaming about my favorite drivers from Long Island. We sat between turns three and four and my father had one of those old orange seat-back chairs. He'd slide it into the bleachers, take off his belt and fasten me in. He'd give me the steering wheel from his figure eight car and I'd be making noises and racing the race with all my favorite drivers.
TP: Share with our readers how you got started covering the sport.
BD: I went to Huntington High School. I was not the best of students. I was usually sitting in class dreaming about my favorite drivers from Long Island -- Charlie Jarzombek, Fred Harbach or Jim Hendrickson. I got a bad report card and my Dad was very strict, He sent me to my room for a few weeks and all I could do was read or write. I was so bored, I wrote about racing. Afterward, my parents were like, ya know, you should send those stories in to a couple of papers. I got a call from Area Auto News in Trenton. They said, your stuff is pretty good, can you write for us? I was only 15 or 16 and now I am getting into the pits. All these guys I looked up to, they took me under their wing. I learned lessons then that I still use today. And that is, respect everyone and treat them how you would want to be treated.
TP: Who is going to win the Chase this year?
BD: I love everyone that's saying JJ is not going to win the championship this year because I think they are completely wrong. He's the favorite because if you look at the tracks he's going to and the team he has, now is the time for them to shine. I don't think anyone in the Chase from the historical standpoint, has done what he's done on those tracks. I think Jimmie is savvy and together with Chad Knaus, they get into the heads of everyone out there.
TP: Who could derail Johnson?
BD: The two people I think that have a shot at knocking Jimmie off his pedestal are Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards, who is riding a bit of momentum. And I think momentum is key. He told me once, 'I don't believe in momentum.' Well, he's had a bunch of top 10 finishes lately and I said to him, 'You say you don't believe in momentum?' He said, 'OK, you got me. I believe in momentum.'
TP: A lot of fans and media types are saying the layout of the Chase favors Jimmie Johnson, should some of the tracks be changed?
BD: To keep the sport progressive you have to change things around when they become stale. I like Jimmie Johnson personally, he's a great racer. But the Chase, the way it is now, it favors that 48 team. So I think NASCAR would be right in changing some of the venues to make it a more level playing field. I'm a big proponent of ending the Chase at Daytona, the same place it started.
TP: How do feel Danica Patrick is doing?
BD: First, Danica Patrick is great for the sport. Do I think she's ready to compete successfully in NASCAR, absolutely not. If she could forget about the open-wheel side and just focus on NASCAR, I think she'd have success. I think it would behoove her to make a decision as to what route she should go. Everyone out there thinks she is important to our sport. I think bringing Danica into the mix is exciting. I think it's extremely important to have Danica in NASCAR now because we've seen these tough economic times and the ebb and flow of NASCAR is up and down.
TP: Will there ever be a track in the New York City area?
BD: Realistically, I don’t see a NASCAR Cup level racetrack here and I say that with a sad face because I believe that New Yorkers would support that track like you wouldn't believe. But there are so many political obstacles.
Photo Courtesy SPEED