One of NASCAR’s hottest young drivers was in York on Saturday night for the 32nd annual York County Racing Club Hall of Fame banquet.
Third generation driver Ryan Blaney was the guest speaker for the annual affair. His dad, Dave, is a former World of Outlaws sprint car champion, and his uncle, Dale, is a former All Star Circuit of Champions sprint car champion.
Blaney, who recently turned 20, has been making his mark on the asphalt and not dirt like his grandfather (Lou), father and uncle did.
At age 19, Blaney was the youngest winner of the Rookie-of-the-Year award in the NASCAR truck series. He had one win, two poles, eight top fives and 13 top 10′s. He led 154 laps. He plans a full schedule with the series once again in 2014 as the driver of the No. 29 Cooper Standard Ford F-150 for 2012 Cup series champion Brad Keselowski.
His first truck series win came in 2011 at Iowa Speedway in Newton. Not even 19 at the time, he became the youngest winner in series history.
Blaney also had success in the Nationwide Series last year, scoring his first career win at Kentucky Speedway in only his fifth start with the series while driving for Roger Penske. He hopes to run between 12 and 15 Nationwide races this season.
“It has been awesome,” said Blaney about racing for Penske. “He’s a great guy. It’s amazing how much he knows. You look back at what he’s done, it’s unbelievable. It’s an honor.”
Before getting in NASCAR full-time, Blaney had a few ARCA starts and ran the K&N East series in a car fielded by his dad. He ran an asphalt late model as well.
He has tested his dad’s sprint car from time to time and ran a dirt modified, but other than that, didn’t race on dirt.
“I was born in Ohio, but when I was three or four my dad was getting into NASCAR stuff and we moved to North Carolina,” Blaney told members of the press prior to the banquet. “By the time I got old enough to get in a car it was all asphalt stuff in North Carolina and you don’t see a lot of dirt stuff and it’s not a big sprint car place down there.”
Blaney won’t be doing any dirt racing any time soon.
“I wish I would have had more opportunities to do it,” said Blaney. “A bunch of really good NASCAR drivers were great sprint car racers. The level of car control they have from running dirt has really helped them out in asphalt. I wish we would have done more, but we were so busy with my pavement late model, we didn’t get a chance.”
His NASCAR career has come a long way in a very short time.
“I was really fortunate to get noticed by Brad and Mr. Penske,” said Blaney. “It wouldn’t have been possible without my dad supporting me along the way and pushing me through the late model ranks. Our initial support from Seal-Wrap to get our first Nationwide start.”
His first Nationwide start was at Richmond (Va.) Speedway in April, 2012, for (his dad’s former Cup owner) Tommy Baldwin and things went from there.
“I raced with Brad a lot in that race,” he said. “We had a really good run in that one for a really small team. We went out and finished seventh. After that, I would talk to him around the racetrack. It was fortunate timing for me because Parker Kligerman was on his way out. I was lucky to get with Brad and he liked what he saw and gave me the opportunity to drive his truck. He’s been a great guy to drive for and everyone in that organization has been good to me. I find it cool to be able to drive for a racer and have him for a boss. He gets the sport and gets what’s going on. It has been a big benefit to me. He’s taught me a whole bunch on and off the racetrack.”
He’s hoping to improve on his 2013 stats.
“We were in position to win four or five races and it didn’t play out the way we wanted it to,” said Blaney. “We had parts breaking or contact with Kyle Busch in a couple of races. Going from Dodge to Ford kind of put us behind early in the year. By the end of the year, I thought we were really strong and could go out and win almost every race. I think we can make a really good run at a championship this year. That’s what our goal is.”
He’s had plenty of help along the way from his dad.
“He’s the first one in the window net telling me what he sees,” said Blaney. “He’s one of the few dads that understands it because he’s been there and done it all. He knows what’s going on most of the time. It’s good team work between me and him.”
He comes from a long line of racers and drives for high-profile teams now and that could be a lot of pressure for a young driver, but not for Blaney.
“I’ve never seen it as pressure, but more as an opportunity to prove yourself – either prove everyone right if they believe in you or prove everyone wrong if they don’t,” said Blaney. “You’ve got to make the most of the situation and that’s something my dad has taught me.”
Being so young when he got started with Penske, it took him some time to get his confidence built up.
“I was really nervous in the racecar and that’s something you can’t have,” said Blaney. “I ran a bunch of Nationwide races at the end of 2012 for Penske when Brad was going for the title. We had a few good runs. I didn’t want to make a mistake and ruin a good opportunity. You can’t have that fear as a driver. You have to go out there and think you’re top dog and that’s what you have to act like if you’re going to be successful. I think I’ve applied that more this year because I’m not the new guy anymore and I’ve established myself in the series. I can go out and race harder and not worry about wrecking the truck or car. I think that has helped. It took a bit to get that confidence up.”
As far as his dad’s 2014 plans, he’s building a second sprint car and plans to do a lot more sprint car racing starting in Florida next month. He’ll do some Cup racing as well for a new team. Dave Blaney won two sprint car races in the region last year including Port Royal Speedway’s season opener and PA Sprint Speedweek at Hagerstown Speedway in Maryland.