Austin Dillon's 'barn' has helped shape him

Credit: Jeff Siner

Credit: Jeff Siner

Austin Dillon is trying to put his foot down as he stands at the front door of his house.

"Hey, don't bring that thing in here," says the 28-year-old NASCAR star, his voice tinged with irritation. Then, more forcefully: "No, don't!"

His best friend, Paul Swan, ignores Dillon's warning and hits the throttle on his scooter, pulling it past Dillon and into the house, where he parks it a few feet from the zebra rug that sits in front of a large sectional.

But the scooter actually doesn't seem out of place at all, given the fact it's lined up next to a sport-bike motorcycle, a few feet away from the custom-wrapped gold 2010 Chevrolet Camaro that Dillon has situated behind that sectional. Oh, and did we mention Swan had to cross the indoor basketball court to get to his makeshift parking space?

If it's hard to picture, we don't blame you. It's hard to wrap your head around, even when you see the inside of the barn for yourself.

That's right: Dillon _ the reigning Daytona 500 champion, who this Sunday will race to defend his title in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway _ lives not in a monstrous mansion on Lake Norman, not in a posh penthouse in uptown, but in a 2,300-square-foot barn on the edge of the woods in Lexington, a little over an hour up I-85 from Charlotte.

"This place is crazy. It's awesome," says Swan, a jackman and front tire carrier on the No. 3 Chevrolet that Dillon drives for Richard Childress Racing. "When I bring my friends here ... they're just like, 'Holy crap, this is where he lives?' "

The building originally belonged to Dillon's father, Mike, the general manager of RCR, who built the place in 2010 with an eye toward turning it into a shop where the family could work on race cars. Finished concrete floors. Metal- and wood-paneled walls. Industrial lighting and exposed beams high above.

At the time, Austin was a bachelor living in the cozy single-story house near the foot of the driveway that leads to the barn; but when his dad's shop plans fizzled, Austin sold that home to his younger brother Ty, bought the barn, moved in, and started ... re-decorating.

Or, whatever you want to call what he did to the space.

Some guys have man caves. Austin Dillon has a man barn. And it's the quintessential man barn.

He fully stocked the bar, adorning it with bottles of Jagermeister, Southern Comfort and Jack Daniels, and a TV that's permanently stuck on ESPN. Across from it, he had a stage put in so he could enlist bands to play raucous parties.

He hung _ among dozens of other random treasures _ a signed picture of Robert O'Neill, the Navy SEAL who claims to have killed Osama Bin Laden; a "Tombstone" movie poster signed by Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, Sam Elliott and several other stars; a guitar signed by Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson; and multiple pieces of rare NASCAR memorabilia signed by Dale Earnhardt Sr. That's in addition to all manner of hunting prizes: a mountain lion Dillon took down in Montana, the head of a huge bull elk he bagged with a bow and arrow in Colorado, a number of large deer heads, a big moose head, several turkeys and ducks, a monkey, and on and on.

Out back he installed a resort-style swimming pool with Dash 4 Cash prize money he'd considered using on an apartment in downtown Charlotte. It's got unique features, from a towering customized water slide that looks like a ride at Disneyland to a giant "AD" monogrammed on the pool floor.

He eventually invited buddies Tyler Rader (his gasman) and Swan to move into the loft _ which sits directly above the pool table, the trophy area and the biggest Snap-on toolbox you've ever seen _ sending the testosterone levels to record highs for Davidson County..

Then Dillon met Tennessee Titans cheerleader Whitney Ward.

"We didn't really know what we were walking into," she says of the first time she and two of her girlfriends stepped inside. "We were like, 'Oh my gosh, this is so cool.' But it was kind of hilarious, because you could tell that three dudes lived there. The big animals on the wall, the really cool pool in the back, the hot tub ... I mean, it just looked like the ultimate bachelor pad."

But after the two got engaged in 2016 _ and particularly after Ward became Whitney Dillon last December in a "rustic glam" wedding ceremony at nearby Childress Vineyards (owned by Austin's mother's father, Richard Childress) _ the barn underwent a few changes.

Some were not necessarily surprising: The entertainment stage was removed. The code to the front gate was changed so that friends couldn't just come and go as they pleased. A "Mr. & Mrs. Dillon" welcome mat was placed at the front entrance. Rader and Swan moved out of the loft.

Whitney also insisted on some major modifications to the partitioned-off apartment, which she describes as having had "really dark floors, really dark cabinets, really dark everything. It was like Medieval Times." A recent wholesale remodel turned an unused separate garage into their bedroom and Austin's old bedroom into a giant walk-in closet. Whitney took the lead on redecorating, and gave the whole living space a brighter, cleaner look, from an all-white kitchen to light-colored hardwood floors.

"So now the country side is Austin's side, and the girly side is the living area," she says.

But despite the fact that he's no longer a bachelor, less has changed on Austin's side than you might think.

It continues to be the ultimate guys' hangout, and Whitney made it even more irresistible to her new husband's pals by scoring him a drool-worthy basketball shooting machine called The Gun 6000 as a wedding present.

Swan continues to be a regular. Partly because of The Gun, and the fact that it's how he and Austin keep up their skills for the basketball league they play in at driver Denny Hamlin's house every Monday night. Partly because his old bedroom has been converted into a studio, from which Dillon, Swan and friend Justin Voss record a weekly YouTube show titled (what else?) "Barn Life."

But mostly because he only moved about 400 feet away; in January, he bought Dillon's old house, where he lives with his fiancee Mariel Lane _ who just so happens to be Whitney Dillon's BFF.

And Austin Dillon continues to work on the space.

"I still got a lot of stuff sitting around that I wanna put up, like that Chevy emblem over there," he says, pointing at a vintage sign taking up space on the antique loveseat across the barn. But if it never makes it onto the wall, that's probably OK, because part of the charm of this place is that it's so rough around the edges, so scruffy, so haphazard.

He's crammed dozens of racing trophies onto a couple of vast shelves, and if you didn't know what you were looking for, you might just overlook the one that says "Harley J. Earl Daytona 500 Trophy" on it _ since it gets no better play on the shelf than trophies for, say, winning the 2015 Subway Firecracker 250 Xfinity race or the 2011 Fast Five 225 Truck Series race.

If you wanted to play pool, you'd have to remove the giant crossbow with a scope and the three arrows laying on top of the green felt. What's that tall, rounded vase next to the bar for? An urn containing the ashes of his father's father, Stan Dillon, who died in 2012.

Then there's the gold muscle car in the middle of the barn. "This was actually a graduation present from high school, and it was the first line of Camaros that came back out," Austin Dillon explains. "And when they came back out, my dad got one off the line and he ended up giving it to me. So it was all-black, and I just had the race shop wrap it gold 'cause I wanted something crazy and different, and I'd seen it on a Lamborghini, so it's kind of like a country Lamborghini."

A year ago, Dillon celebrated winning the Coca-Cola 600 by climbing into that country Lamborghini and doing his victory burnout inside the barn. The tire marks are now a permanent fixture.

And the Dillons might be, too. At least, in that area of Lexington. The barn sits on about 35 acres that Dillon owns and eventually, he and his wife say, they'd like to build a "regular" house somewhere else on the land. Austin says he'd then turn the barn into some sort of creative space for himself, his brands and his race teammates.

But Austin and Whitney Dillon don't seem to be in any hurry to get out of there.

"I don't know," he says, looking around. "I love this place. It's kind of a part of me now."

"I love it, too," Whitney says.

Then her best friend Mariel Lane cuts in, articulating a sentiment that may well be shared by anyone who's ever paid them a visit: "I could never imagine them living in anything but the barn. It's what makes them them."

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