Blaney returns to open-wheel roots
When not competing in NASCAR’s top division this year, Dave Blaney is turning back the clock.
Blaney, who grew up in northeastern Ohio, is racing open-wheel sprint cars as he did before switching to stock cars in 1998 and then ultimately moving to High Point to drive for now-defunct Bill Davis Racing.
His love for the sprint cars never went away after he came South to race in the big time. But, he put his sidelight racing on hold while trying to get the career of his son, Ryan, off the ground. That changed this year as Ryan races for Brad Keselowski in the NASCAR Truck Series.
“I’ve always wanted to keep running the sprint cars whenever I could,” Blaney said by telephone early Thursday afternoon while getting ready for a race on a half-mile track at Fonda, N.Y. “This is the first time in a while that we’ve not had a car for Ryan in my shop or been helping pay for Ryan to race. So, I have the time this year and I had some guys help me put a car together.”
Blaney said he has made 10 or so starts with mixed results. He won a race two weeks ago on a half-mile track near Hagerstown, Md,, and another back in the spring at Port Royal, Pa., posted a sixth and 11th on other occasions but has not run well at other times.
“We’ve run well some times and struggled in others,” Blaney said. “We’re trying to see if we are gaining on what the other guys are doing and I don’t know if we are or not.”
With NASCAR idle this weekend, Blaney is going all out on the dirt tracks, running a barnstorming schedule of five races in five nights. He started at Lernerville, Pa, where a flat tire kept him out of the World of Outlaws main event on Tuesday. He traveled 350 miles to race at Fulton, N.Y., on Wednesday and then made the relatively short drive to Fonda for Thursday night’s race. His itinerary for the rest of the week calls for a 350-mile trip to Williams Grove Speedway in southern Pennsylvania for World of Outlaws races today and Saturday.
“It’s a lot of work and travel and long days for sure,” Blaney said.
He will park the sprint car but stay on the dirt next week for what he hopes is the highlight of his year and possibly of his career.
He will be a teammate to his son Wednesday when the truck series makes its first visit to Eldora Speedway in Ohio, a track on which Blaney competed regularly in his sprint car days. It will be the first dirt-track race for one of NASCAR’s national divisions since the premier series raced at the State Fairgrounds in Raleigh in 1970.
“The closer it gets, the more excited I’m getting about it with it being the first big NASCAR dirt track race in 40-some years,” Dave Blaney said.
“I’m from Ohio so it is a home-state race for me, And getting to race as a teammate to my kid makes it more exciting.
”It’s one of those things that we will be able to sit down in the future and look at the photos and smile about,” Blaney said. “Hopefully, it turns out well for both of us.”
Blaney doesn’t know if he will have an advantage even though he has posted some big sprint car wins at Eldora that include two wins in an event that pays $50,000 to win and one in an event that paid $100,000 to win.
The trucks are heavier than sprint cars and aren’t expected to be as fast.
“The trucks are really going to be slow compared to the sprint cars,” Blaney said “They aren’t really built for dirt-track racing. They are lower to the ground, the tires are a lot smaller and they are not going to have the traction of the sprint cars.”
He won’t be the only one with dirt-track experience in the field. Tour regular Ty Dillon cut his teeth in dirt late models. Cup driver Ryan Newman has a ride and several teams are expected to use drivers with dirt-track experience. Nationwide rookie Kyle Larson, who has won in three different types of open wheel cars at Eldora, is also entered.
“I don’t know if I have an advantage or not,” Blaney said “I am familiar with the track. We went and tested at a track at Virginia but it was wet so I don’t know how much good we got out of it. It’s all going to be tricky getting your truck to get traction and handle. If you figure that out, you’ll be in good shape.”
As for the sprint cars, Blaney looks to race them when his Cup career comes to an end. At age 50, he still races them even though he was reminded of perils of racing the open-cockpit machines by the death of Jason Leffler in a sprint car race earlier this year.
“No, it didn’t change my view about racing sprint cars,” Blaney said. “What happened to Jason was terrible and I’ve seen other wrecks like that over the years. Accidents happen all the time throughout life. I don’t like to say they are a part of our sport. But every time there is an accident, whether it is serious or not, I look to see if I can make the safety of the cars better.”
Blaney did make one change to his car after Leffler hit a wall and died from blunt force trauma to his neck.
“It’s something I should have done before because we’ve seen impacts like Jason’s before,” Blaney said. “I put a bar on the left side of the car to prevent something coming into the cockpit if you have a tire blow or have an impact like Jason had. But you know the dangers going in.”