The USA Network show Austin Dillon’s Life in the Fast Lane premiered this past week, and new episodes will hit TV screens every Thursday evening. It follows NASCAR Cup Series driver Austin Dillon, Dillon’s wife Whitney, the No. 3 team’s lead tire carrier Paul Swan and Swan’s wife Mariel, a former Monster Energy Girl at the track.
The quartet have been a unit of friends for years now: North Carolina-raised Austin and Wisconsin’s Paul were best friends for years before they met Whitney and Mariel, both from Tennessee, and grew ever closer with their respective relationships. The connections don’t end there: the Dillons have a now-two-year-old son, Ace, while the Swans welcomed a daughter, Bella, just over a month ago. Each couple are the godparents of the other’s children, as well, and Life in the Fast Lane follows the four as they begin the 2022 Cup Series season and how their lives revolve around NASCAR.
I caught up with Austin and Whitney ahead of the show’s premiere, as well as Paul and Mariel a week later, to discuss the longtime friendships between them and what it was like working on the show as production commenced. This piece is split chronologically: the interview with the Dillons first and the Swans second.
Adam Cheek, Frontstretch: Tell me about the genesis of the idea for the show — were you guys approached by the network, was it your idea or a little bit of both?
Austin Dillon: We were approached by an agency, and they wanted us to pretty much put out a reel for them to go shop, and then USA ended up picking up the show and we couldn’t believe it. We really didn’t do a whole lot, we kind of did some Zoom interviews over the computer, just kind of talking, doing interviews with our family and our friends. […] I didn’t know what to expect, because I told the girls and Paul, I was like, ‘Look, I’m not doing a show unless it’s just our group and we’ve got control over it.’ And every time I made an ultimatum, it just kind of got answered, and I was like darn, so we got a show.
Cheek: Take me through how you guys met. Austin, you knew Paul, [and] Whitney, you knew Mariel prior to the two pairs meeting, but take me through that process of how you guys all ended up meeting.
Whitney Dillon: So we all met the same night and it was at Kentucky Speedway. I had been talking to Austin, just through text messages, and so that was actually the first time that we met in real life, and then I brought Mariel with me and then Paul was with him. We just all met the same night and we all just bonded. I remember thinking, ‘oh my gosh, if this doesn’t work out with me and Austin, I could see us being really good friends,’ and Mariel was like, ‘I don’t think he wants to be your friend.’
Cheek: How do you guys bounce off of each other, given you’re all involved in [NASCAR in] such different capacities?
Austin: I think the big thing is the travel, and our sport is so tough. Mariel was a Monster Girl, so she could get to the track and we could all hang out, then Whitney always would nudge me [and say] ‘hey, can Mariel go this weekend so I have somebody to hang out with?’ And so Mariel started coming to a lot of races too, and Paul, he worked his way up to our pit crew. He was a college linebacker, came in and started at the bottom at RCR and worked his way up to the [No.] 3 team.
During that whole time, we were obviously friends, and that’s what the ultimate goal was — for him to make it to my team, and he’s one of the best guys on pit road now. […] We talk each and every weekend about the car, and […] I’m really in tune with the pit stops and what goes on during a pit stop, and Paul tries to keep up with the work that I’m putting in at the simulator. And the girls, they’re there supporting us and they’re our biggest cheerleaders.
Cheek: What’s it like filming a reality show? You’re obviously doing your normal day-to-day stuff, but you’ve got cameras in your face half the time. What’s that experience like?
Whitney: You know, this was the busiest season of our lives, so not only we’re traveling and we’re racing, we’re filming a TV show. And then Austin was named the GM of [a Professional Bull Riding] team, so our lives — they’re not lying when they say ‘life in the fast lane,’ so you’ll see our lives, it’s 200 miles on the track, 200 miles off the track. But that’s why family is so important, that’s why friendships are so important in this sport and in this lifestyle, because it is so wild and crazy, and really keeping God in the center of it all.
Cheek: How much involvement did you guys have in the show structure? Did they consult with you guys on putting it together?
Austin: We had a little bit of control. If we didn’t like to do something, or we wanted to do something different, we would come up with ideas, the prank wars [and] stuff that goes on. A bunch of those ideas were ours and different things throughout the show. It was cool experiences that we got to do and be a part of. The West Coast trip’s probably one of my favorites, just going on our road trip when we go out on the West Coast because that’s something that we do every year. We stay out on the West Coast during the three-week stretch and it was really fun going from [Las] Vegas to Phoenix and driving across, and you’ll see some of the activities that we get into. It was entertaining.
Cheek: What’s it like being a part of a sport and being a part of a TV series, that’s [consistently] more in the public eye?
Austin: NASCAR gave us this platform, so you always want to leave the sport that gave you these opportunities in a better place. I’m just hoping that we bring more eyes to the sport, it’s really a good time to be a fan of NASCAR — I feel like our sport’s thriving, and obviously what F1 got from their Netflix show was a lot of eyeballs that they hadn’t gotten before. So I feel like this show is going to be fun […] and you get to see some behind- the-scenes action too. It’s a lot of fun. I’m pumped for it.
The following is from the interview with Paul and Mariel Swan, one week after chatting with the Dillons.
Cheek: What was your involvement in the idea of the show?
Paul Swan: They pretty much just came to us with it, and thought it’d be a cool idea. We did some interviews with them once they wanted to get it going, and it was us being us. We’re like, ‘Well, yeah, cool. If you guys want to show who we are, show what we’re all about, show our cool friendship, we’re all about it.’ They thought it would stick and it’s worked out, and we loved watching that first episode. It’s been a fun ride — it’s been a long process, but it’s been a fun ride.
Cheek: Take me through how you guys met.
Mariel Swan: It’s really crazy because Whitney and I, we were going down because —
Paul: They were coming to the Kentucky Derby!
Mariel: We were going to Kentucky Speedway, and it’s really crazy, because right when Austin and Whitney met each other […] we all knew that was going to be her husband. And it was funny because Paul and I, we started off as best friends, but there’s a photo of us with me in a cowgirl hat and he’s got his arms around me. I’ll never forget, Austin was like ‘those two are gonna get together,’ and then you fast-forward like four years later, Austin and Whitney have gotten married and had a kid and now —
Paul and Mariel: We’re married and have a kid.
Mariel: So it’s crazy, because Whitney and I, we were roommates cheering for the Titans and we came down to Kentucky and Paul, you and Austin, you guys were living together.
Paul: Yeah, I moved in with Austin in 2015 into the barn. We were the barn boys, just livin’ life having fun, and then we met our soulmates.
Cheek: Has your close relationship with Austin and Whitney, who of course have Ace, helped you guys at all [with daughter Bella]?
Paul: It’s huge. It’s super special, and we’re Ace’s godparents and we made Whitney and Austin Bella’s godparents. So it’s just the connection the four of us have, and now the six of us all have together, it’s unbreakable. It’s something that I don’t think you see a lot in this day and age, and it’s special to have, and it’s really cool that people are interested in seeing that. We’re just trying to give them the best light we can of who we are and what we’re all about.
Mariel: […] Me and Whit always kid, too — she’s like the big sister. So she gets married first, and I get married, then she has a kid and I have a kid and so it makes it work. We always have somebody to go to and ask questions like ‘what’s this like?’ or ‘what’s that like?’ Or ‘what do you do with this in motherhood?’ and vice versa.
Cheek: All four of you — or all six of you, now — are involved in NASCAR but in different capacities, but you bounce off each other so well in the show.
Paul: I think for me and Austin, we’re definitely a little opposite of each other with some stuff. So it’s good: we both meet in the middle, he needs me, I need him for stuff, and it’s great. We complement each other very well. I think the ladies, they’re a little bit more both juiced up and energetic, but we all have our differences and think it really plays well with all of us. We all play off each other so well.
Mariel: Yeah, all of us are all very similar, but also different. But it is crazy. It’s almost like we’re all like little puzzle pieces, and we all just kind of come together to make a unit. But it’s like we all kind of pick up each other’s strengths and weaknesses and we just balance each other out.
Cheek: [So it has] that element of support [and] you’ve got so many people at the track that have your back every single day?
Paul: It’s cool. There’s nothing more special than being able to pit for your best friend and your brother. I’d go to war for Austin and I know he’d do the same for me, so it makes it that much more special. It’s not just a job, it’s family, and you want to do your best and you know they expect your best. You expect your best from them and you can hold each other accountable, and if we don’t have a good weekend we talk about it […] The love we have for each other, it’s just something super special, and the ladies definitely keep us cool at times too when we probably need it.
Mariel: It really is so special. I remember whenever Paul and I first got married, both Whitney and Austin’s biggest dream was for [Paul] to be on Austin’s team, so we can all always be able to cheer for the same team. And then what’s even crazier is that we got [engaged] in January , the Daytona 500 was the month after and [Paul’s] first time being on Austin’s team, they won the Daytona 500.
Cheek: [Paul], you worked your way up the ranks of the pit crews […] and Mariel, you were involved with Monster for a while. Take me through your journeys to NASCAR on the national level.
Paul: My journey is very similar to my football journey. I went to Bowling Green on a scholarship, and you got to start at the bottom of the totem pole and work your way up to me becoming a three year starter, two-year captain. It wasn’t always like that. I had to work hard, worked my way up. So then when I got into NASCAR, I didn’t know much about the sport. I had to, again, start on the bottom of the totem pole and drive all over the Midwest making pretty much no money to do these late model races [and] ARCA races just to kind of get my foot in the door, and show I want to do it while working my ass off at practice when I got the opportunity.
— Michael Massie (@m_massie22) April 3, 2022
Fast forward, this is my fifth year being on Austin’s pit crew at at the Cup level, so it’s been a really cool journey and you appreciate every step of the way and all the ups and downs. And you take it for granted sometimes, but it’s all about the hard work you put in. You’re gonna get out of it what you put into it. So it’s been a really cool journey, and I just want to keep it going and do it for as long as I can.
Mariel: It’s been a really awesome process. So before, when we came into the sport, I started off as a victory lane model in NASCAR with Monster Energy, and so I did that for a couple of years. Paul and I got married, and then I kind of started focusing on being married and stuff like that, and now we have a kid. It’s been really awesome to just be able to be a part of such an amazing sport, like coming from being in victory lane and being a victory lane model to now really pouring in and supporting the [No.] 3 team. It’s been awesome.
Cheek: What was it like filming a reality show for you?
Paul: It’s awesome. I love it. I love being in front of a camera, in case you haven’t noticed, and so it was all fun for me. I would be down to do anything. I don’t know how everybody else […] feels, but for me it was it was super fun, and bring on whatever. That was my attitude.
Mariel: I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it, especially this show, because it was about us four, so it’s really near and dear to our heart. And we were able to just be like our authentic genuine selves and showcase not only our friendship, but [also] NASCAR, so it’s really awesome.
Cheek: There’s a part in the first episode where you guys are practicing pit stops with the Next Gen, but you’ve got the cameras [for the show] rolling. Does that add any pressure to it?
Paul: I think yes and no, because every weekend we got cameras on us and we’re in pressure stages, but you obviously don’t like to mess up when the cameras are rolling. We did mess up in that competition, that was probably our worst day ever we’ve had with the Next Gen pit stops, and it just so happened to be the day that we’re filming our competition day before we go to Daytona. So it was the perfect storm, and then Austin and his dad coming down there stirring up the storm, but no, I don’t think it adds pressure. It’s more of an opportunity to just showcase how hard we work [and] what we do, but we dropped the ball a little that day.
Cheek: What did it mean to you guys to be a part of the show with your best friends?
Paul: It means everything. The fact that the four of us are best friends, and we get to do a show about our lives and just us being us, our genuine selves, it’s really cool. Sometimes you got to sit back and just kind of reflect on it all and be like, ‘Man, we’ve been blessed with so much in our lives, and it’s been such a journey and such a cool experience.’ And it’s nice when you go to the track and people come up to you, like ‘man really liked the show,’ or ‘really enjoyed it, can’t wait to see more,’ and just to know the fruits of your labor are paying off.
Mariel: It has been absolutely awesome. I say this a lot, this world is very fast paced, and so it’s constantly bam, bam, bam, bam, bam. So it’s really cool too to relive those moments when you watch it back on like television, and so that’s been really cool. […] I feel like God has done such a mighty work in all of our lives, and to be able to showcase it to the world, that’s been everything.
About the author
Adam Cheek joined Frontstretch as a contributing writer in January 2019. A 2020 graduate of VCU, he works as a producer and talent for Audacy Richmond's radio stations. In addition to motorsports journalism, Adam also covered and broadcasted numerous VCU athletics for the campus newspaper and radio station during his four years there. He's been a racing fan since the age of three, inheriting the passion from his grandfather, who raced in amateur events up and down the East Coast in the 1950s.
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