Lou Blaney

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Ryan Blaney Foundation recognized as first quarter NMPA Spirit Award winner

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The Ryan Blaney Foundation has been named the winner of the First Quarter National Motorsports Press Association’s Pocono Spirit Award.

Blaney, who competes for Team Penske in the Cup Series, is being recognized for commissioning Gateway Bronco in Hamel, Illinois, to build a one-of-a-kind 1974 Ford Bronco that will be sold at Barrett-Jackson’s 2020 Scottsdale Auction to support the Alzheimer’s Association.

The NMPA Pocono Spirit Award is designed to recognize character and achievement in the face of adversity, sportsmanship and contributions to motorsports.

“June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, and I’ll be joining the Alzheimer’s Association in honoring my grandfather, Lou Blaney, who I lost to the disease,” Blaney said in a media release. “We want to encourage NASCAR fans to raise awareness for the disease by sharing their stories and who they are honoring during the month on social media using the hashtag #ENDALZ and tagging the Alzheimer’s Association.”

Other nominees receiving votes for the first quarter award were:

Chase Elliott‘s DESI9N TO DRIVE Auction where drivers wore special shoes in Cup series competition at Atlanta Motor Speedway designed by patients of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

— The Menard Family Foundation, which seek to enhance lives through medicine and medical research, education, music and the arts and also directs service to the poor and underserved.

For Ryan Blaney, it’s honor thy (grand) father

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Ryan Blaney would prefer to be at Sharon Speedway on Saturday night, honoring his grandfather. Instead, Blaney will race in the Monster Energy Cup race at Kentucky Speedway.

Even though he will be competing, Blaney will honor his grandfather, as he does every day.

Blaney has two tattoos that pay tribute to Lou Blaney, who won more than 600 races, primarily in sprint cars and modifieds. Blaney has his grandfather’s No. 10 on his chest and an image of his grandfather’s 1970 sprint car around his ribs.

“He’s the one who really started the whole racing deal in the Blaney family,’’ Blaney said of his grandfather. “He got my dad (Dave) and uncle (Dale) in it and ultimately got me into racing. 

“I feel like tattoos are something to have meaning, close meaning, and family to me is, I think, the biggest meaning in life.’’

While Blaney races in Kentucky, the Lou Blaney Memorial will be held at Sharon Speedway, a 3/8-mile dirt track in Hartford, Ohio. Tony Stewart won the inaugural event in 2009, just a few months after Lou Blaney died at age 69.

“It’s unfortunate I can’t make it out there,’’ Blaney said. “It’s always a pretty cool night. They have a bunch of drivers out, and it’s always nice to kind of meet everybody from that area where they talk about my dad when he was racing up there just getting started, or my grandpa when he was racing back in the ’70s or really all the way up to the early 2000s. I always like to go to that night.’’

Many are talking about Blaney and what he’s done in NASCAR. He scored his first career Cup win last month at Pocono and talk has centered on if he’ll be brought into the Team Penske fold after this season. Blaney is a Team Penske driver who has been loaned to Wood Brothers Racing since 2015.

“There’s been talks about it for years, really ever since I got with the Penske group, and things just haven’t really come together,’’ Blaney said. “I love the Wood Brothers, and driving for them has been really special for me and my family. I couldn’t ask for a greater group of people.

“But the things I’m mostly concentrated on now is trying to win race 100 for the Wood Brothers.  That’s something I would really like to achieve, and I think we can do it. I believe we can really do that.’’

If he scored that win at Kentucky, on the same night as Lou Blaney is being honored at his home track, it would be even more meaningful for the driver who carries his grandfather with him in every race.

 

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Long: A celebration worth savoring for Ryan Blaney, Wood Brothers

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Ryan Blaney wasn’t supposed to be here.

Neither were the Wood Brothers.

Yet, there they were celebrating Sunday at Pocono Raceway after a momentous win for a storied organization and a storied family.

The Wood Brothers trace their history to NASCAR’s early days when the only Petty racing was Lee (Richard’s dad) and the fastest siblings were the Flocks. The Woods later dominated with David Pearson driving the No. 21 Ford.

“Our dad and uncles back in the ’60s and ’70s, they were almost unbeatable and built those wins up,’’ co-owner Len Wood said.

The Woods’ success faded. There were special moments, such as Dale Jarrett’s first Cup win in 1991, Morgan Shepherd’s last win in 1993 and Elliott Sadler’s first Cup victory in 2001, but there were struggles between those special days.

The family’s darkest period was from 2008-10. The team failed to qualify for the 2008 Daytona 500, marking the first time since 1962 the “Great American Race” was held without the Woods.

They missed four of the first five races in 2008. The family business teetered.

It seemed as if Wood Brothers Racing would follow the fate of so many mom-and-pop businesses that were gobbled up by bigger competitors. Just these competitors weren’t Wal-Mart but Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing.

After Petty Enterprises closed its shop at the end of 2008, the question became if the Wood Brothers would do the same.

With Ford’s support, the team survived, running select races. It wasn’t even half a season but it kept the family business alive.

“You just take it one day at a time and one situation at a time and one crisis at a time,’’ co-owner Eddie Wood said of the struggles. “There’s always something going on or changing in racing, and you just have to adapt and figure out a way to make it work. 

“You have a day like today, you don’t even remember the tough times.’’

The team provided a feel-good moment in 2011 when Trevor Bayne won the Daytona 500 but the Woods hadn’t won since. It seemed only a matter of time, though, with the team’s affiliation with Team Penske and 23-year-old driver Ryan Blaney.

While some might recall Blaney as the son of driver Dave Blaney, Ryan Blaney is actually a third-generation racer. His late grandfather, Lou, raced as early as 1958 and amassed more than 600 wins, driving sprint cars and modifieds.

Dave Blaney was inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 2014, joining Lou, who was inducted in 2013. Dave Blaney didn’t enjoy the success in NASCAR he did in sprint cars, winning one Xfintiy race, but the family’s racing gene was passed on to Ryan.

It was on a trip to watch his dad race in NASCAR when Ryan’s career began. He raced a quarter midget at age 8, making his debut at a dirt track not far from Pocono Raceway.

As Ryan Blaney’s success grew, he moved through the ranks and began gaining attention of Cup drivers.

In a 2012 marketing video, Tony Stewart said of Blaney: “I won’t try to sell him to anybody because I want him eventually. I want him in our organization. I think the world of him. I think he’s going to be the next great star.’’

Also providing a testimonial was Kevin Harvick, the driver Blaney held off in the final laps to win Sunday.

In that 5-year-old video, Harvick said: “Ryan just understands how this sport works. He understands how he’s supposed to be off the race track. In the race car, he’s just a great competitor and understands what he’s supposed to do. It’s very rare that you see somebody that far ahead of their time.’’

The youngster held off the 2014 Cup champion Sunday by not making any mistakes. Harvick never got to the rear bumper of Blaney’s car to make a move.

With that, Blaney became the 18th different driver to win for the Wood Brothers.

Blaney joined the family in 2015 and their time together was expected to be short.

“It was actually kind of understood that he was going to be moving on probably the next year, and then it didn’t happen,’’ Eddie Wood said.

Instead, Blaney is with the Wood Brothers, merging future with past.

In a serendipitous nod to when the Wood Brothers were among the dominant teams, Blaney’s radio malfunctioned and his crew couldn’t hear him. They had to resort to the hand signals used back when David Pearson drove the No. 21 for them. Hand to the roof meant the car was loose, hand on the door meant the car was tight.

Still, if only the radio had worked. Blaney wanted to go back in time in a special way.

“I wanted to pick Eddie and Len up,’’ Blaney said. “I wanted to find them and pick them up.’’

And drive them to Victory Lane. Just as they used to do back when the Wood Brothers won so often.

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