Dillon Steuer wasn’t the favorite to win Saturday’s Islip 300 at the Riverhead Raceway, but the 15-year-old entered the race thinking he could. His dad knew he could and so did his car owner Grant Williams.
You see, despite his young age Steuer is a proven winner. He won in Slingshots first. Then last year he took first place in a dirt Sportsman feature at N.Y.’s Orange County Fair Speedway; plus annexed two Crate Modified features at Riverhead.
His dad, Chuck, a former Riverhead Modified race winner and champion, saw his son’s potential. So Chuck went to car owner Grant Williams of Northeastern Office Equipment last year and asked if he could step aside and let the boy drive the Tour-type Modified. As they say, the rest is now history.
“He’ll (Dillon) definitely be better than I was, that’s for sure” said his dad proudly after his son had won Saturday’s race. “I was struggling, trying to focus on my son and drive this car myself last year. I said to Grant ‘we need to put my son in the Modified’. I told Grant that Dillon ‘can be better than me if you give him the shot’, and he believed me.”
Last year Dillon got his feet wet in less than ten races at Riverhead in the Modified. Now he’s not only a feature winner, but the victor of a 300-lap $7,000-to-win event!
“We came here to win,” said Dillon after Saturday’svictory. “To get my first in a 300 is pretty cool.”
“Cool” is a word kids often use with friends. On Saturday, however, Steuer put the heat on men like former NASCAR Whelen Modified champion Ryan Preece who competed on the NASCAR Xfinity Series last year and rugged Riverhead track champion Tom Rogers Jr.
“You come here like any other driver,” said Dillon, of racing with his elders. “It doesn’t matter how old the driver is.”
Dillon timed second quick, but fell back early on hard tires. Preece, on soft tires, lapped him and everyone else. A lap behind, Dillon was then caught up in a multi-car tangle that bent a spindle and knocked the alignment out of the front end.
“I knew we still had time and two tires to put on,” said Dillon, adding he wasn’t worried.
“I knew there was the ‘lucky dog’. I was just trying to be the first car a lap down to get it.”
Steuer was in position to get the lucky pass, but to get it he couldn’t pit to fix the car. His team wisely kept him out to get him the free pass and then he made a march to take the win that thrilled the fans.
“As soon as I got back to the lead lap I went to work,” said Dillon. “It actually felt better with the tow out anyway.”
He caught, hounded, and then passed Rogers for the lead in lapped traffic.
“I knew if I waited and was patient at some point something would happen,” recalled Steuer. “When it did, I was able to get my nose under him.”
In the final laps Preece caught Dillon and tried to make up a lost lap, but with his radio not working Dillon thought it was a race for the win. He tried his best to hold him off, but didn’t succeed.
“I thought he passed me for the lead,” said Dillon. “If not I would have let him go.”
Dillon’s dad said he wasn’t nervous, but I think he was lying.
“The way our season has been going, anything that can go wrong does,” said Chuck. “We only finished one race all year. I thought something was going to happen, but I wasn’t nervous.”
It wasn’t until after the race was over that Dillon found out that he had won the race. With joy he spun the car around several times in a cloud of tire smoke. When he was done doing donuts both rear tires were flat and he possibly may have done damage to the engine.
“We’ll worry about that next week,” said Dillon with a laugh. “We’re going to enjoy this tonight.”
Dillon’s winning car was new for his dad last year. The engine, however, was used by his dad during his heyday at the track.
“This motor was built in 2003 with used parts,” said Chuck. “My friend Jeff Castaldo freshened it over the winter. It was all done in- house.”
Dillon was a hero afterwards, the fans stood and cheered for his accomplishment at such a young age. Afterwards in the pit area he signed autographs for a long line of fans, many younger than he.
“I like that,” he said of all the attention. “It’s fun.”
Dillon’s dad isn’t afraid to move his son to the next level quickly. In one year he moved his son from Crate to full-blown Modified racing on both asphalt and dirt.
“It’s a cool transition,” said Dillon. “It’s pretty cool when you can do both dirt and asphalt. I think it’s paid off for me.”
You would think his dirt experience would help him in an event such as the 300 when the asphalt Modifieds got loose after the tires had worn out.
“It’s totally different,” said Dillon. “I was trying to keep it straight and smooth tonight and not spin the tires. Nothing like dirt.”
Saturday’s win is more than huge for the teenager. He’s now proven himself against the competition. He’s now proven his dad’s hard work and that of the crew along with the money spent by Williams has been worthy.
“It’s a definite confidence boost,” said Dylan. “Now I need to get a win on dirt.”
The kid’s not cocky, he’s quiet and polite. No talk of the NASCAR Cup series at this point.
“We’re just taking it one race at a time,” he said modestly.
And how about his dad. He brought him and his sister Larissa up alone. He sacrificed his own driving career for his son.
“It’s so awesome to have a dad that takes you racing all the time,” said Dillon. “He really cares. It’s cool he let me drive it, but I think he enjoys it too.”
Williams has been around racing and Chuck Steuer’s career for decades. He took the chance and agreed to put the boy in his dad’s Tour-type Modified last season at age 14 and for them to go dirt racing as well.
“I always want to win for Grant,” said Dillon. “He puts a lot into it for us and time to go as well. He’s like a member of my family.”
On Saturday, Williams stood to the side and enjoyed the moment with them.
“He’s a racer,” he said of his young driver. “He absorbs so much and his dad is a great mentor.”
Proud isn’t a strong enough word to describe how Chuck feels about Dillon. “This is better than any win I ever had.” said Chuck.
The sky might be the limit for this youngster, but the racing budget isn’t.
“Our budget is limited to where we are at,” said his dad. “But we like racing dirt and asphalt.”
This Friday night he’ll be back on dirt, racing a Modified at Delaware’s Georgetown Speedway. They’ll make the long trip back to Long Island afterwards so he can race on Saturday at Riverhead.
“I love the dirt and I want to do that as much as I can,” said Chuck. “We spread our budget around so we can do both.”
Their winning asphalt Modified doesn’t have the $3,500 seat mandated by NASCAR for the Whelen Modified Tour, so they’ll miss the two series events later this year at Riverhead unless he’s offered a ride or a seat.
They won the 300 with an older 18 degree built motor, to be competitive on larger asphalt tracks they’ll need a NASCAR Spec Engine.
On Saturday none of that mattered. The kid was the hero and he impressed those he raced with as much as he did the fans.
“Good for him,” said Preece who just a few years ago was the young gun on the block. But now he is married and considered one of the best in the division.
“It wasn’t that long ago I was young like he is racing a Modified,” said Preece. “It’s a big race to win.”
Preece ran Steuer hard trying to get his lap back at the end, but he showed him respect and didn’t rough him up.
“I had to get my lap back,” said Preece. “It was more up to him to be careful with me. He was racing hard and trying to win, I know he didn’t want me to get my lap back, and he had a really good race car.”
Rogers also had nice things to say about the young winner along with some advice afterwards.
“I congratulated him,” said Rogers. “But I told him we still had 60 laps to go, he didn’t have to lay the bumper on me. He needs to be more patient, but he’s young and very talented. He’s going to be a good racer.”
Ironically, Rogers was a bit envious of the winner. “The kid has a great future,” said Rogers. “He does awesome in dirt too from what I understand and that’s something I would love to do. But at my age, it’s a little late.”