Ryan Blaney honors father with Southern 500 paint scheme

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Ryan Blaney‘s throwback paint scheme for this season’s Southern 500 is personal.

The Team Penske driver will pay tribute to the NASCAR career of his father, former Cup driver Dave Blaney, in the Sept. 2 race at Darlington Raceway.

The No. 12 Ford will look like the No. 77 Jasper sponsored Ford the elder Blaney drove in the 2003 Cup season.

The car was revealed on NASCAR’s Facebook Live page. 

That year, Dave Blaney earned his first of two career Cup poles and his first of four top fives. The top five came in the spring race at Darlington.

Dave Blaney made 473 Cup starts from 1992 through 2014.

His son, in his first full-time season with Penske, will make his fourth Southern 500 start. His best finish is 13th in 2016.

Ryan Blaney is eighth in the Cup points standings through nine races.

MORE: Matt DiBenedetto pays tribute to Jeff Burton with Darlington scheme

Bootie Barker to serve as crew chief for Joe Gibbs Racing ARCA team

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Joe Gibbs Racing has hired former Cup crew chief Bootie Barker to lead its ARCA program and work with driver Riley Herbst, who finished fifth in the standings last year as a rookie.

“This is an incredible opportunity for me and I am incredibly grateful to join the team here at Joe Gibbs Racing,” Barker said in a statement from the team. “I am just getting to know Riley and from what I can tell, he is a great kid with an unlimited amount of potential. We obviously want to win the championship this year, but we have a goal of improving each and every day.”

Barker had been with Germain Racing from the second half of the 2009 season to last year. Among the drivers he worked with were Casey Mears and Ty Dillon. Barker first was a Cup crew chief in 2003 with Dave Blaney.

“I am super excited to have “Bootie” Barker come on board with the No. 18 team this year,” Herbst said in a statement from the team. “He is going to bring a tremendous amount of experience that this team can use to assist our program. It is amazing to see what he has accomplished over his career and I am thrilled to work alongside of him. Heading into my second year, I believe that we will be competing for the ARCA Series title in 2018.”

Joe Gibbs Racing stated that Shannon Rursch, who had been Herbst’s crew chief last year, will transition to a new role as its ARCA/Development Program Advisor. He will work alongside Herbst and Barker on the ARCA program and also work with JGR development driver Ty Gibbs.

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Catching up with Dave Blaney: Champion, Hall of Famer, but most importantly, Ryan’s father

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When it comes to Ryan Blaney, he definitely has followed in his father Dave’s footsteps as a race car driver.

Like father, like son. In fact, you might call Ryan a chip off the old block – engine block, that is.

While Ryan spent his youth growing up watching his father racing first in sprint cars and then in NASCAR, their roles are now reversed. Now it’s Dave who spends much of his time watching his son develop into one of NASCAR Cup’s rising young stars.

“I’m really proud of him, the type of person he is, his attitude and work ethic that has led to success in NASCAR,” Dave Blaney says of his son. “I think that would have led to success in whatever he tried to do in life.

“He’s a good kid, I’m loving it that he got a great chance in NASCAR early, at a young age, and took advantage of the opportunities he’s gotten. He has a chance to have a really good career. You’ve got to keep going and keep pushing and I think he’s up for it.”

While Ryan’s career has been ramping up the last several years, including the last 2 1/2 seasons with Wood Brothers Racing before shifting to Team Penske in 2018, Dave’s own career has shifted to part-time status the last couple of years.

Much of the reason has been by choice, to follow and watch Ryan’s own career develop, such as last season’s first career Cup win at Pocono.

“I’d go to a bunch of Ryan’s races and then race sprint car part-time,” Dave Blaney said.

But Ryan’s success has also served to whet Dave’s own appetite to get back to racing on a more frequent basis in the new year.

So instead of like father, like son, 2018 for Dave Blaney will be like son, like father.

While Ryan turned 24 yesterday (December 31), Dave Blaney is now 55. It’s almost like a role reversal: Ryan spent his youth watching Dave, dreaming of becoming a racer himself, while watching Ryan has prompted Dave to get back on short tracks from Connecticut to California in the new year.

“We’ll go to wherever it kind of fits,” Dave Blaney said. “We’ll go to a World of Outlaws race, All-Star race, an Open race, kind of jump around. But I’m hoping to do a lot more racing this coming summer. You get to the point where to get a little better, you have to do it full-time, just like anything.”

It may even be Dave’s last hurrah, but he’s going to wrap up an illustrious, Sprint Car Hall of Fame career on his terms.

“I don’t have much of a window looking forward. My window is only about a month at a time,” Dave said with a laugh. “I still love it. We ran a little bit last year and near the end of the year we got really competitive.

“I think we can do it (win more races), it’s just a matter of running more. I’ve got a good couple guys here to go work on them and go with me. We just take it a year at a time, but this summer, if we can get it put together, I’d like to go race more and see what happens.

“I’m 55 now, so a 55-year-old driver isn’t ideal but it’s pretty cool that he can still do okay.”

But Dave Blaney is also aware that even with his pedigree and decades of success behind the wheel, if he doesn’t get enough sponsorship for his own effort in 2018, he actually may go from a reinvigoration of his career to retirement in less time than it takes to do a frontstretch burnout.

“It could end up this year that I don’t race any, but I think I’ve got enough help put together to race quite a bit,” Dave said. “If I don’t race any, then I don’t.

“I’m kind of okay with if I need to stop or the circumstances get me stopped, then it’s okay. I’ve raced a long time, have had a lot of fun and made a living at it for a long time, so that’s more than I ever thought might happen. It’s all good.”

FOUR WHEELS: A FAMILY TRADITION

Ryan followed in the family business of being race car drivers. His grandfather, Lou, raced sprint cars in the Midwest and was part-owner of Sharon Speedway in Hartford, Ohio.

Dave followed his father with his own career as one of the best on dirt before moving to the NASCAR world, where he made nearly 475 Cup starts in 17 years. While he never won a Cup race, he had four top-fives and 28 top-10s.

Dave also competed in 121 Xfinity races, earning one win, along with 12 top-fives and 31 top-10s, as well as three Truck Series races.

It’s probably because Ryan grew up watching his father drive stock cars more than sprint cars that Ryan skipped the sprint car world and went straight to stock car racing.

“I think that was all geographic,” Dave said. “If I was still racing dirt cars in Ohio, I’m sure that’s the direction he would have went.

“But I was in North Carolina, running NASCAR, and for a youngster growing up, there was some dirt racing, plenty of go-kart stuff, and we started running quarter-midgets only because a track was put in really close to where we live and we kind of went from there.

“In another step, it was all pavement and we just kept going down that path.”

Father and son have raced against each other a handful of times over the years. Which brings about a couple of great stories from father Blaney, who recalled them with a laugh.

“We did a couple little exhibition things, I remember,” Dave said. “We ran some dirt modifieds one night in New York and I remember him beating me, where he won and I ran second.

“There were probably 8 or 10 NASCAR drivers there. If you want the truth, Ryan started at the front and I started at the back and I still almost beat him. But he’ll tell you he whipped me.”

And then there was the one regular NASCAR race where father and son butted fenders, the inaugural 2013 Mudsummer Classic Truck Series race at Eldora Speedway (owned by former 3-time NASCAR Cup champ Tony Stewart).

Dave started sixth and finished ninth, while Ryan started 23rd and finished 15th.

“We were teammates in the Brad Keselowski trucks,” Dave said. “I’ll always have it over him that I whipped him that night. That was the last time. I quit while I was ahead right there and never did it again”

FATHER TURNS TEACHER, SON IS NO. 1 STUDENT

Dave Blaney took to sprint car and midget car racing like a duck to water. Of course, having his father serve as his defacto in-house tutor didn’t hurt.

Dave learned so much from Lou during his teen years, absorbing information like a sponge. And when Dave decided to give sprint cars a whirl full-time, he proved he learned his father’s lessons well.

He was the 1983 All-Star Sprint Circuit Rookie of the Year at 21 years old. In 1984, he won the USAC Silver Crown Series national touring series championship.

He went on to win a number of the biggest sprint car races there are, including winning a World of Outlaws event at Eldora Speedway in 1987.

There also was his win in the 1993 Chili Bowl Midget Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

He returned to Eldora to win one of the biggest sprint car races there is, the King’s Royal in 1995, taking home a then-princely sum of $50,000.

But the greatest moment of Blaney’s sprint car career came in 1997, when he not only won the sport’s Gold Cup, he also captured the sport’s biggest race of all, the Knoxville Nationals, in central Iowa.

It was shortly after that when Dave Blaney moved on to his own career in NASCAR.

“Just to go out and race and make a living at it, I thought was just the coolest thing ever,” Dave Blaney said. “It got to where I got to run pretty good, had a chance to win with these guys and that turned into winning some good races. Just getting a chance at doing it was almost as big to me as having success.”

When it came to raising Ryan, Dave followed his father Lou’s example. He didn’t push or force his son into racing.

But at the same time, if son showed any interest, father would do his best to teach him the right way. He didn’t sugarcoat things, but rather showed him the good, bad and ugly of racing.

And if son still wanted to go forward, father would do all he could to help him. It worked that way for Dave from Lou, and then worked that way for Ryan from Dave.

“It seems like pushing them at a young age most times doesn’t work out,” Dave Blaney said. “Ryan was pretty timid, honestly, but the more success he started having, even at nine, 10 or 11, then he would improve a little more with a little more success and get a little more confidence and it kept building.

“I’d say that by the time he was 14 and we stuck him in a Super Late Model on pavement and he ran incredibly good right off the bat. His confidence was real high and even I could see it. I was like, ‘Wow, he’s got a chance to do whatever here.’ By that point, I think he was pretty focused on keeping rolling with it. But it took a little while. It wasn’t from Day 1.

“Ryan grew up learning the basics and fundamentals at a young age and that gave him a head start. Me having a background in racing just helped speed up his learning curve is all that happened.

Ryan Blaney after winning his first career Cup race, last June at Pocono Raceway.

“He still has to have the talent to make this car go fast. He has to have the desire and the drive to want to keep learning and want to work at it, so that’s all on him. The one thing I always regretted when he was young, it got a little rough sometimes because teaching isn’t always the most pleasant thing.

“You can’t always just pat him on the back and say ‘you’re doing great.’ He had to learn, and by learning it, you’re pointing out the things he’s doing wrong or you’re pointing out his bad habits. There’s part of tearing him down and building him back up sort of. It was tough a little bit some times, but he never wavered through any of it, he was really good.

“Ryan ran good in the Trucks and got a good shot, now he’s in the Cup cars and is running good, but he quickly realized, ‘I’m in a really good Cup car here,’ but you can’t just go beat Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch and all these top guys. It takes experience and he found out that he has to keep learning quickly to keep up with these guys.”

A PROUD PAPA DESTINED TO GET EVEN PROUDER

For a moment, forget about Dave the racer. Instead, think about Dave the father – and the fatherly pride he has that his son has raced for two of the most legendary organizations in motorsports: Wood Brothers Racing and Team Penske.

“It blows me away, believe me,” he said. “I was sitting here for the whole thing, the whole last 10 years and I still don’t know how it happened. He just got some chances and jumped on them. It’s the coolest thing ever.

“I remember the day, I think he was 18, when he signed a contract with Roger Penske. I was just blown away. I was scared to death that it was too much, too much pressure, too much everything.

“But he’s like he didn’t care at all, he was like, ‘Let’s go.’ They don’t know, they’re just ready to go. I was scared it was too much, too soon, but he did a good job.”

Dave and Ryan have always been very close, and even though Ryan is on to building his own career, Dave is always close by or a phone call away.

But Father Dave admits he does like to jokingly rub things in at times to his son, calling him, ‘Hey, big-time Cup driver.’”

What does father Dave Blaney call his son Ryan these days? ‘Hey, big-time Cup driver.’

In a sense, Dave Blaney is like a father who gives his teenager keys to the family car for the first time and trusts the youngster will do the right thing.

In other words, even with his own racing background and success, Dave is not a typical racing father. He leaves Ryan to his own devices and will offer advice when asked, but doesn’t want to interfere with his son’s development and rising star.

“I was probably at more than half his Cup races this year,” Dave said. “I’m just around. I’ve never spotted for him, actually.

“A lot of times, like for practice, he might tell me to go to Turn 1 and watch. Then I might text him what I see, but it’s mainly about what other guys are doing compared to him.

“Or he might tell me to watch from a certain corner for whatever reason. If I see something that sticks out, I might say, ‘Hey, you might think about this.’ But those teaching days are way gone. It’s just supporting and being there if he needs anything.”

But even with all the resources he’s had over the last few years, first at Wood Brothers Racing and now with Team Penske, Ryan still gives his father a thrill when he asks him for advice.

“It’s very cool, actually, that he’ll still ask my opinion, and there’s 100 percent no doubt in his mind I’m going to tell him exactly whether he’s doing it way better than everybody else in that corner, or way worse,” Dave Blaney said. “I’m going to tell him and give him the right information and he can take it from there.”

Where the younger Blaney goes from here with Team Penske is anyone’s guess, but it’s pretty clear the direction will definitely be further upward.

If Ryan was to win the Daytona 500 or the NASCAR Cup championship, it would be the realization of a joint dream held and shared by both father and son. But it also will be verification and vindication that Ryan learned his lessons well and Dave was an excellent teacher.

“It would just be cool to see his reaction, to see how happy he is, for all the work he’s put in it and it pays off,” Dave Blaney said. “That’s the cool part.”

Ryan Blaney has idea for unique Christmas trip: have map, blindfold and dart, will travel

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Ryan Blaney and his family have developed a pretty neat Christmas tradition over the last few years.

Here’s how Ryan explained it in a recent phone call with NASCAR Talk:

“One of the traditions we’ve started in my immediate family the past handful of years that I really like is we won’t really do the presents thing, we’ll do a family trip instead.

“I appreciate trips more than material things. I feel like that’s a different experience, going to see a different part of the world and things like that.

“And then to be able to do that with your family as well, that’s even better. So that’s something we’ve done, whether it’s done on Christmas or save it for after. That’s something I’ve really enjoyed.”

Where will this year’s trip take the Blaney family? It’s still to be determined.

But, Ryan has a pretty cool idea if he has anything to say about this year’s trip:

“Take a huge map and just blindfold yourself, stand 10 yards away and throw a dart at it. And if it lands anywhere in the ocean, then you get a re-do.

“I think that would be pretty neat, not know where you’re going, but wherever you land, you have to tough it out – even if it’s the worst place ever, you’ve still got to go there. As long as it’s not Siberia – it has to be somewhere reasonable.”

So we posed Ryan’s dream Christmas vacation to his father, sprint car racing legend Dave Blaney – who normally plans the family trips.

“No, Ryan has never told me anything like that, but hey, he’s a big-time Cup driver now, he can do that,” Dave Blaney said with a laugh.

The elder Blaney then added, with the laugh increasing more: “He can pay for it, so we’ll go. Let’s go! He does like to travel maybe more than I do. He really enjoys it.”

But, Dave Blaney is ready to test out Ryan’s toss dart, go pack theory:

“I’m throwing that dart right at Alaska and see what he does!” Dave said. “It’s so cold there, he will die. I’ll be ready for it now.”

Wood Brothers’ lifeline started with a phone call: ‘I’m going to fix that’

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DOVER, Delaware — Shortly after the Coca-Cola 600 ran without the Wood Brothers for the only time in the event’s history, co-owner Eddie Wood’s cell phone rang.

On the other end was Edsel Ford II, great-grandson of Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motor Company, a longtime supporter of the Wood Brothers.

Edsel Ford called for other reasons, but the conversation turned to the team’s struggles. Although it was late May, the 2008 season already had been difficult for the team.

The Wood Brothers failed to qualify for the Daytona 500, marking the first time since 1962 the family didn’t have a car in NASCAR’s most prestigious race.

The team failed to make the races at Las Vegas, Atlanta and Bristol in consecutive weekends. The Woods had the most wins among any team in NASCAR history at Atlanta at that time. They also didn’t qualify at Richmond before failing to make the 43-car field at Charlotte.

All that hung over Wood when he answered his phone in the Pocono Raceway garage during a test two days after the 600.

“Why haven’t we talked lately?’’ Edsel Ford asked Wood.

“Mr. Ford, we’ve run so bad and I’m so ashamed,’’ Wood said. “I’m ashamed to call you.’’

“So you’re telling me my 21 is broke?’’

“Yes sir. It’s broken. Really bad.’’

“I’m going to fix that.’’

SURVIVORS

When Ryan Blaney held off 2014 series champion Kevin Harvick to win at Pocono in June, he gave the Wood Brothers their 99th career Cup victory and qualified them for the playoffs for the first time.

For as storied as Wood Brothers history is — nine NASCAR Hall of Famers have run at least one race for the team — the organization has only one championship. The team won the 1963 car owner’s title less than three weeks before President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

Ryan Blaney. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Blaney enters Sunday’s race at Dover International Speedway in position to advance to the next round. That the Wood Brothers are competing for a championship is remarkable considering what they overcame to remain in a sport that left many contemporaries behind.

More than 30 teams that competed in the Daytona 500 at one time or another between 2006-16 have faded away. They ranged from powerhouses to low-budget endeavors put together on a hope and a prayer.

Those teams relegated to history include Dale Earnhardt Inc., Petty Enterprises, Yates Racing, Evernham Motorsports, Bill Davis Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing and Red Bull Racing. They combined for 10 Cup titles and 16 Daytona 500 victories.

While they are gone, the Wood Brothers remain.

LOYALTY

Edsel Ford II calls the No. 21 Wood Brothers car Ford’s “company car.’’

He’s not exaggerating. The Wood Brothers always have run Fords, starting with Glen Wood. He and a friend paid $50 for a 1938 Ford Coupe to race in 1950.

In Glen Wood’s first race, contact in his heat bent the rear-end housing. It didn’t seem major until afterward when they towed the car back to Stuart, Virginia. The axle broke. Gas spilled and ignited from the sparks as the car’s rear end scraped the ground. Flames shot from the back of the car and spread.

The fire eventually burned out and the damage was minimal to the engine. So a few weeks later, Glen Wood again was racing that car, beginning a legacy with Ford.

Leonard Wood and Glen Wood pose with their car at the NASCAR Hall of Fame on January 22, 2012. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images for NASCAR)

For as much loyalty as the Wood Brothers have shown Ford Motor Company, Edsel Ford II felt the same way with the team.

“We were dedicated to them, and they were dedicated to us,’’ Ford told NBC Sports.

Loyalty, though, doesn’t pay the bills and can’t always prop a team back up when it has fallen.

The Wood Brothers’ falloff was gradual, more like water dripping from a faucet instead of flowing.

Elliott Sadler led them to a 20th-place finish in the points in 2001, but the team’s performance yo-yoed through Sadler and Ricky Rudd before declining with a series of other drivers.

The organization expanded, adding a Truck team, but that didn’t prove effective. Decisions didn’t work out as hoped, and soon the Wood Brothers fell further behind the leading teams.

While they attempted to run every race in 2007, the Wood Brothers failed to qualify for two races. At Talladega, they were among nine teams that didn’t make the field. That included Red Bull Racing (AJ Allmendinger and Brian Vickers), Bill Davis Racing (Dave Blaney) and Michael Waltrip Racing (Michael Waltrip).

Then came the woes of 2008. The team failed to qualify for eight of 36 races.

“As far as racing goes, that’s about as bad a spot as you can be in, going to a race track and not being fast enough to qualify and race,’’ Eddie Wood said.

He and brother Len stayed at the track for the Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600 and Brickyard 400 (they also would miss that race that year) without a car competing.

“That’s the hardest part,’’ Len said. “You have no hauler, nowhere to go, no car to show anybody, nowhere to sit down.’’

Said Eddie: “You have nowhere to be.’’

FAMILY

The day after Edsel Ford’s call to Eddie Wood, another call came. Eddie and Len were told to fly to Detroit that day to meet with a Ford executive. Four hours later, they were in the air, but there was a problem. Neither had proper clothes for an executive meeting since they had been at a race. So after landing, they went to a Dillard’s department store for proper clothes.

Their meeting was postponed a day, but when it was held, it began a process for the Wood Brothers to become more competitive.

Eddie and Len Wood at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 23, 2016. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

“They’re such an important part of our family, they’re an important part of our sport, Ford Motorsports,’’ Edsel Ford II said. “To lose them would have been inconceivable to me.’’

More engineering help was added. Later, another idea emerged from Edsel Ford II.

Maybe the team should not run a full season beginning in 2009.

“Eddie and Len knew that the future was going to be there, now it was just a question of hanging on and how do we get there,’’ Ford said. “I think the three of us spent a lot of time strategizing, what does the long-term look like, so we’ll have to make some short-term sacrifices in order to get to the long-term. We all knew that some of these half-seasons were not what they wanted, certainly not what we wanted, but it was going to get us there.’’

But what races to skip? Len Wood examined the costs incurred at each track from hotel bills to tire bills and more. Eventually, the team decided it would be best to run the Daytona 500 and focus on tracks from 1.5 to 2.5 miles. That way they didn’t have to prepare cars for short tracks or road courses, saving costs there.

After having attempted to run every race from 1985-2008, the team ran 13 races in 2009 and 2010.

VICTORY

They met at a Steak ‘n Shake for lunch.

There sat the heirs to one of the most famous teams in NASCAR history and one of the sport’s most popular drivers. Eddie and Len Wood sat with Bill Elliott.

The Wood Brothers were aligned with Roush Fenway Racing. Through it, they acquired a couple of cars and a new crew chief when they parted ways with their crew chief late in the 2010 season. Soon after, Roush requested that Trevor Bayne drive for the Wood Brothers in the fall Texas race to be eligible for the 2011 Daytona 500. It was at that lunch the Woods told Elliott, their current driver, about the change of plans. Elliott said he’d help Bayne any way he could.

After the season, there was more talk about Bayne running for the team in 2011. He ended up in the No. 21 car for the Wood Brothers at Daytona.

Trevor Bayne celebrates after winning the 2011 Daytona 500. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Bayne’s Speedweeks did not go smoothly. A rookie, few would run with him in the tandem style of that period. Then his car was damaged in an accident on the last lap of his qualifying race. With help from Roush Fenway Racing, the team repaired the car instead of going to a backup.

The repairs were perfect. The race went beyond the scheduled 200 laps, and Bayne took the lead for the first time on Lap 203. He led the final six laps to win in just his second series start. Bayne’s victory provided one of the more memorable scenes that season when Richard Petty escorted Glen Wood to victory lane.

The feel-good moment didn’t turn into much more money. The team added a few more races in hopes of enticing sponsors to come on so it could run a full season. It didn’t happen. While the team ran 17 of 36 races that season, it would be five more seasons until there was the sponsorship and support to run a full season.

NIRVANA

Eddie and Len Wood won’t think about the possibility that in less than two months, the Wood Brothers could be champions. When you spend your life in the sport, it is dangerous to look too far ahead. Instead, focus on the what needs to be done and worry about what’s down the road when you come upon it.

Edsel Ford II can’t contain himself. For as much as he doesn’t want to look too far ahead, he smiles and his eyes widen at the thought of the Wood Brothers and Ryan Blaney winning the championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“What does nirvana look like?’’ Ford asks.

Then he answers the question.

“I think to go to Las Vegas and be with them,’’ he said of where NASCAR celebrates its champion, “it would be pretty close to nirvana for me.’’

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