Dave Blaney gets early Father's Day gift from son; third-generation of racing family starts down familiar road paved by patriarch Lou Blaney. HARTFORD, OH. -- Dave Blaney got his Father's Day present nine days early and it was a gift any racing...
Dave Blaney gets early Father's Day gift from son; third-generation of racing family starts down familiar road paved by patriarch Lou Blaney.
HARTFORD, OH. -- Dave Blaney got his Father's Day present nine days early and it was a gift any racing dad would cherish. Dave's only son, nine-year old Ryan, is in the infant stages of the dirt-surface schooling that has brought the reserved Blaney family the sort of noisy notoriety not associated with the quiet area of northeastern Ohio that is their homestead.
Last Friday night, Ryan Blaney won in his first-ever competitive quarter-midget event--a 15-lap affair--on the front-stretch short-track outside Pocono Raceway. He drove a red and white No. 10 car--a familiar family number and paint-scheme--in the Lehigh Valley Quarter-Midget Racing Club-sanctioned event. On Saturday night, he won again, in a rain-shortened race at a higher competition level.
Up until last week, the youngest Blaney had been only testing to see if the broader family passion was to his liking, turning laps on the small hard-clay surface his dad has tucked in amongst the trees in the front corner of their property at home in North Carolina.
Apparently, the motorsports genetics that have propelled his father, driver of the #77 Jasper Engines & Transmissions Ford in NASCAR Winston Cup Series competition and the 1995 World of Outlaws champion, as well as uncle Dale and grandfather Lou to continued racing successes have carried into the next generation.
It remains to be seen whether the newest Blaney to claim a checkered flag will someday choose the sport to which his family has dedicated much of their lives as his own full-time pursuit, or whether he will view his own father in the same singularly high regard that Dave Blaney views his dad, Lou, a dominant and still-active dirt-track presence in northern Ohio and western Pennsylvania for four decades.
Neverthless, there is little doubt that the proper templates and appropriate opportunity for a productive racing career are available to Ryan Blaney, set in motion by his father's unwavering sense of who was and remains most influential in his ascent from the weekly events at the local Sharon Speedway oval his family now co-owns to the high-wattage NASCAR stage on which he now performs weekly with some of greatest drivers in the world.
To Dave Blaney, his father, Lou, has always been the most central and significant figure in his motorsports life.
"I was lucky to have grown up around sprint-car racing, going to the tracks with my Dad (Lou) before I started racing myself," said Blaney. ""Without question, my dad, who is still racing pretty regularly (at age 62) and still whipping their butts most nights, has always been the driver I admired the most and the person who showed me the right direction to go racing if that's what I ended up wanting to do.
"We're a racing family. We grew up around it. My brother, Dale, was an All-American basketball player at West Virginia University and played in the NBA and CBA, but he came home to race. Our family is all in a partnership to own and run our hometown track (Sharon Speedway) in Hartford, Ohio. My dad and his brothers all raced there when they were coming up, and it's what got me started. He always raced clean, and aggressive, and he set a good example for both Dale and me on how you need to be on and off the track. He's still that way. I hope I can be that way for Ryan."
"My dad still races as hard today as he did 30 years ago and its great to see that he can still run at the front. He's not racing nearly as much as he used to, but our involvement in running the track has changed the way both he and Dale have raced. Dale was full-time with the World of Outlaws for a lot of years, and Dad raced three nights a week, but we took on this project last year to get Sharon Speedway back up to the level it once was when I was growing up. We've got good partners and we're making progress, but it fun to be able to work together as a family and keep doing something we all enjoy."
After years of considering the possibility, the Blaney family bought historic Sharon Speedway, the hometown track for the racing family and one of the oldest continuously running weekly racetracks in the United States, late in 2001. Blaney purchased the track, which began competition in 1929, with father, Lou--still a regular competitor at the facility--and a group of local investors, including businessman Jim Weller and members of the Kirila Construction family from nearby Youngstown, OH. They expanded the track's capacity (with new backstretch grandstands) to 8,500, and modified the track's length and shape for better competition.
The high-banked 3/8-mile oval now hosts four regular divisions on Saturday nights from late spring through the traditional Sharon Nationals over Labor Day weekend and features two World of Outlaws dates, an American Motorcycle Association event as well as special events like the visit this Thursday of both Blaney and defending Winston Cup champion Tony Stewart--the most recent WC winner after last weekend's victory at Pocono--to join the track's regular Dirt Modified division.
Before the Sharon Speedway project, the usual vision of the three racing Blaneys working side-by-side in the family race shop adjacent to the former Blaney Lumber Company site was a predictable one. Dave has often said--when asked what his interests outside the Winston Cup Series are--that racing for the most part is what he does when he's not racing the #77 Jasper Ford. The same applies for the other family members.
After outstanding high school careers in basketball and baseball, brothers Dale and Dave went separate directions, the former to West Virginia University and the Los Angeles Lakers as a prototype 6'6" swing guard in the mid-1980's while older brother Dave started his sprint-car career. Eventually, Dale would also return to motorsports when gimpy knees slowed him a step. Through all the sibling success at various levels of open-wheel racing, the one constant in the family's racing resume is father Lou's consistent curve of short-track success spanning four decades.
"You don't have to be around Lou Blaney very long to realize that the apple really doesn't fall very far from the tree," said Bill Davis, Blaney's first NASCAR owner after his transition from the World of Outlaws in 1998. "It s a family of what we call 'racers'. It's what they do. It's what they think. It's why Dave's had such a good experience learning the stock cars with us at Bill Davis Racing after racing for 15 years in the sprint cars.
"Unlike so many of the new drivers we get into our sport who just want to climb in and drive, Dave wanted to be in the shop from the first day he came to BDR, learning the cars from the ground up. That's the way he learned to race, working in the shop beside his dad and his brother building the cars and understanding why they turn left and go fast. It's a dying breed of driver but there's no replacing that approach to racing knowledge if you want to win. I guess his dad is still racing hard and beating them every week by working harder at it."
Strangely, it's probably a good thing that Lou Blaney still stays busy with his management role at Sharon Speedway and his own racing. He's never been comfortable watching son Dave on-track despite the significant progress he has enjoyed in stock cars, although he was a regular track-side for Dave's World of Outlaws championship-contending seasons between 1993 and 1997.
"My dad's proud of all Dale and I have done in sports but I think he's still happiest when he's driving himself," said Blaney. "And some of the happiest times I've had in the past have been the times I've been able to go home work on his car, be on his crew and help him race. We had a lot of fun working on improving Sharon Speedway, which had kind of fallen in disrepair before we all got working on it last year. It's a project that hopefully will be central for all of us a long time after we've stopped driving."
All of them, that is, except Ryan Blaney, who would seem to be perfectly poised to perpetuate what is a very strong link to what racing really is all about.