(Photo Courtesy of Ryan Blaney)
Over the years, Blaney has won races in the K&N West, Late Model, Legend, Bandolero, and Quarter Midget series, as well as being a pole winner in the ARCA series. This weekend, at Richmond International Raceway, he will not only race in the K&N East race on Thursday, but will also make his Nationwide debut on Friday, driving for Tommy Baldwin Racing.
I spoke with Blaney, after a day of testing his Richmond K&N East and Nationwide cars, about his past in racing, his life outside of racing, support from his family, his future in racing, and his thoughts on the upcoming Nationwide race.
Brianne Clemons (BC): Tell me a little bit about your background in racing. What made you decide to follow in your family’s footsteps?
Ryan Blaney (RB): "Well, really, when I was eight, my Dad was racing the Sprint Cup there (Pocono) and there was this Quarter Midget track behind Pocono, this little dirt track, so we got a Quarter Midget and thought it would be fun to go out there and mess around and we did. And I liked it. So, we just kept doing it for fun; something to do on the weekends. And it went on until I was about 14 and started doing Late Models. That’s really when I fell in love with it and decided I wanted to do it for a career and yeah, I’ve been driving real hard ever since and all that. I’m a Senior in high school this year, so I just spend most of my days going to school, going to the race shop, and racing on the weekends. So, that’s pretty much the major things I do."
BC: So, is racing your life now, then? Do you still try to get out and do normal activities a Senior in high school would do or are you completely focusing in already on your career?
RB: "I still see my friends from high school. On the off weekends, we’ll hang out and do something. Or we’ll all hang out sometimes during the week. You know, it’s really…I probably see them about 10% of my time. For the most part, I’m at the race shop or at the racetrack on weekends. I try to keep in touch with them as much as possible, but racing is my main priority right now here right now."
BC: I like how you keep mentioning your time spent in the race shop. It seems you want as much time and involvement in the sport as much as you can, beyond just driving the car.
RB: "I think it’s an advantage to a racer to know what does what on a racecar. You can suggest changes to your Crew Chief and know what it does and what it’s supposed to. Being at the race shop every day really helps me with knowing what I’ve got and what I’m driving. I’m really learning as much as I can to be as helpful to the Crew Chief as possible."
BC: I was looking over your career highlights on your website (www.ryanblaney.homestead.com) and I was really impressed by just the sheer number of races you have won over your career in different series so far. What one race win sticks out the most for you?
RB: "My one race that is probably the biggest one I’ve got is probably Phoenix last year with the K&N West series. Really, really fun place. I really liked it. They repaved it and I thought it was a great racetrack. There were really great guys there and it was a really great race for us. We made the long haul out there and it was just a real good win out there."
BC: I was at Bristol Motor Speedway in March and saw you race in the K&N East series debut there. You seemed fearless. It was great to watch you pick off one car after another at times. Are you really that fearless behind the wheel?
RB: "I try to be. As a racer, you’ve got to know when to be fearless and go all out and when to conserve and be as smart as you can. When we got back there at Bristol, we were fortunate to get in the right place and right time and we were open and I could look fearless and go where I wanted to go. We just had to be really smart all the time, too, though. We got caught with a couple of bad breaks, so it was definitely a thinking game, too."
BC: Do you think you will be just as fearless in the Nationwide race at Richmond, with it being your first start, or do you think you will be a little more conservative?
RB: "Uhm, you know…the first race in a series, you really want to make a good impression with other racers. You don’t want to go out there and be too reckless to where they have no respect for you in the next race. We’re probably going to be just a little more conservation here in the Nationwide car just because, like I said, first start and first time racing with a bunch of guys…trying to get as much respect as possible. But, on the other hand, I’m not going to roll over for someone to pass me. So, yeah, it will be a very big give and take game."
BC: You are going to be racing against drivers that maybe you’ve watched in the past. Which ones are you most excited about racing with/against?
RB: "Racing against? Well, I haven’t seen the entry list for the race yet, but Stenhouse is going to be in it. And I think Logano is. And Elliott Sadler, who I’m a big fan of and I’m buddies with Austin Dillon, so it will be cool to be racing with him again. There’s just a whole bunch of really good, young stars in the Nationwide series. I have a good relationship with those guys. You know, Trent Owens is our Crew Chief in the K&N car and he’s the Crew Chief for the Nationwide car, so it’s going to be real fun to get out there and race with all those guys and see what we’ve got. I know it’s going to be a good race and real competitive, so I think we will be all right. We’ll have to find out!"
BC: What went through your mind when you first found out you would be running six Nationwide races with Tommy Baldwin racing this season? Was it pure excitement or were there a bit of nerves involved?
RB: "Really, it was a bunch of excitement! (laughs) I’m ready to get out there, see what we’ve got, and see where we stack up with the competition. I think we’ve got a good setup, a good car; I was pretty happy with it today in the laps we ran it. I felt really comfortable in it. I’m really just anxious to get out there in it and race around those guys. I’ve got a really good schedule this year in the Nationwide series this year. We’ve got a really wide range of tracks from Richmond to Darlington to Indianapolis. I’m excited to run at all different tracks and see what we’ve got!"
BC: If the opportunity comes available, do you think you are ready and prepared to move up to the Truck or Nationwide series full-time? Even further, what is your personal timeline for wanting to be in the Sprint Cup series full-time?
RB: "I don’t know. I need to be realistic here. Every kid here would want to jump into the Cup series right now, but realistically, I hope we can do good this year and hopefully next year we can run more, if not full-series in the Trucks or Nationwide. Hopefully down the road, if things play out right, hopefully a Cup ride will come along. I’m just really trying to do the best we can this year in the six K&N races and the six Nationwide races and hope something comes up for us next year."
BC: You have amazing support from your family. Your sister, Emma, seems to be your biggest cheerleader. What does that mean to you personally and how does that affect your driving and your drive to race well?
RB: "Yeah (laughs), she’s my biggest fan, for sure. It’s really great to have a family that is behind me 100%, that is for sure. I have a bunch of people that have known my Dad, Uncle (Dale Blaney), and Grandpa that are also behind me. I just have a real big fan base. It definitely motivates you and it’s great that they’ve been around racing forever and they know a lot. It’s great to have people around me to make me feel better when I need it and motivate me even more, so it’s good."
BC: Now, I want you to name a driver that cannot be a member of your family, who you look up to the most? Maybe you respect their driving styles or maybe you appreciate what they’ve done for you in the past. This driver can be from any series.
RB: "I’m a big fan and friend of Tony Stewart. You know, given his background and he came from dirt cars. He’s a real nice guy and he comes to my Dad’s speedway every year for my Grandpa’s Memorial race. Just what he’s done…winning championships in the old car and even now winning championships and is an owner. Given his driving style and motivation, I really look up to that and hopefully I can be what he is one day."
BC: That’s a very good role model! I have one last question for you. There are so many fans who will really hear your name and see you for the first time this weekend, whether in the K&N East race or the Nationwide race. You will finally been seen as Ryan Blaney and not just being mentioned as Dave Blaney’s son. What perception of you do you want the fans and viewers to walk away with?
RB: "Really just…I don’t know…knowing that I can do it. Knowing we were able to jump into our first race, run good, and hopefully they will think I’m a good driver. You know, that’s all a driver can really ask for is respect from him fans and fellow racers. That’s really what I’m looking to come out of Richmond with. I hope to have a bunch of respect from racers and fans."
Needless to say, this writer left the phone conversation with even more respect for Ryan Blaney, as a person and a racecar driver. Although he may “just be” an 18 year old Senior in high school, Blaney has his mindset where it needs to be and seems to know exactly what he needs to do to succeed in this sport. His determination and motivation lead me to believe that we are just beginning to see the start of a long career in NASCAR for Ryan Blaney. Perhaps someday, Dave Blaney will be known as "Ryan’s Dad." Only time will tell.
Best of luck at Richmond this weekend, Ryan, in both the K&N East Series race and the Nationwide race from all of us here at Skirts and Scuffs!