CANTON, Mich. — Rookie NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Austin Dillon can handle himself on any race track, wet or dry.
But on ice — well, for a beginner, he's not too bad at all.
Dillon, who drives for Richard Childress Racing, looked pretty stout Thursday during his first-ever outing on ice, warming up and taking it easy at first and gaining some speed and confidence toward the end of the session.
Of course, he had two veterans helping him sort out the conditions — 2014 Olympic ice dancing gold medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who dropped by the G-M Arctic Edge Ice Arena in Canton, Mich., where they train, to offer Dillon some free advice.
The trio met up to promote the Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR event at Michigan International Speedway on Aug. 17, where Davis and White will serve as grand marshals and give the order "start your engines" before the Cup race and to watch Dillon, who drives for his grandfather Richard Childress. Dillon is battling for a spot in NASCAR's Chase for the Cup playoffs, in which he is currently in 13th position.
"I'm pretty nervous — I'm going to need a helmet and a HANS devise on," said Dillon, who drives the No. 3 American Ethanol Chevrolet, before stepping on to the ice and sharing the arena Thursday with more than two dozen young Olympic hopefuls. "Are you kidding me? There are good people out there. I don't have training wheels on. I'm going to get run over."
Before Davis and White coaxed Dillon on to the Canton ice and out of his comfort zone, they talked racing, future skating plans, Big Ten football and the conflict between Russia and the Ukraine.
"Charlie and I are from the Great Lakes area and are proud to represent Michigan all over the world, and the link for us acting as grand marshals for the Pure Michigan 400 race is great," said Davis, who, like her longtime skating partner, is a student at Michigan. "Speed is a huge part of what we do (on the ice). But, obviously, we've never experienced anything like Austin goes through. We are super excited to be going to MIS."
White, who is a serious Michigan football follower, will be taking in his first NASCAR race at MIS.
"We're getting a chance to embrace other things after the Olympics," White said. "Michigan will be our first real race experience — what a start!"
Dillon, an all-around athlete who played on a Little League World Series team, said he watched the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, earlier this year.
"I've never been ice skating before but I watched the Olympics in Russia and looked up Meryl and Charlie's background and bios," Dillon said. "They're pretty awesome."
Since the Olympics, Davis and White have been performing in ice skating shows around the globe, having just returned a few days ago from dancing in Japan. They also competed in the popular TV series Dancing with the Stars but have chosen to take the current season off from international competition to recharge their batteries.
"There were other things we wanted to do," said Davis, who is from West Bloomfield. "We've been excited to do some shows and skate in a different capacity. But I think at the end of this competitive season, we will really take a look at whether we want to return to competition and go for another Olympics."
White is enjoying the break from the cutthroat world of international ice dance, he said.
"Four years (until the next Olympics) is such a long time — a lot could happen," said White, who was raised in Royal Oak. "We've just expected so much out of ourselves for the last four, eight — well, our entire career — to just have a year stress-free and then kind of re-evaluate ourselves, we are looking forward to that."
Regarding the Russia and Ukraine situation, White paused a moment, somewhat uncomfortably.
"I think any time that there is violence and strife in the world, regardless of if you competed in that country, I think like everyone else, you are hoping for a peaceful conclusion," he said.
Now they have a little more time to themselves, Davis and White say they will take in a U-M football game or two this season.
Can the Wolverines regain national recognition and compete for the Big Ten title?
"I think so," White said. "It's been a tough transition from Lloyd Carr to Rich Rod to Brady Hoke and the philosophy of the program has been trying to find itself. I think we have been getting the right kind of player and that will translate to the field. But I'm not going to lie: I'm still very nervous."
When asked about their romantic lives, White described a recent trip to northern Michigan with his fiancée and fellow ice dancer, Tanith Belbin, whom he'll marry in April.
"I was able to take my fiancée to Petoskey for her birthday," White said. "That's one of those trips Up North everyone loves to talk about."
Davis, who partnered with dashing Maksim Chmerkovskiy to win season 18 of DWTS, was a little less forthcoming when asked if there was a love interest in her life right now.
"Not today," she smiled.
Dillon, could there be someone special?
"One day at a time," he replied with a grin.
After lapping the G-M Arctic Edge Ice Arena for about 20 minutes, tutored by Davis, Dillon returned to the pits — well, the boards — for a rest.
"Now, that was a blast," said Dillon, who looked to be a natural on ice. "I'm definitely going to do that again. I had the best teachers you could ever have."
Brudenell writes for the Detroit Free Press