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Cody Kluge Cody Kluge BVM Sports Journalist/Editor

Ryan Blaney ‘able to lean on’ dad, Dave Blaney, at Bristol

BRISTOL, Tenn. (BVM) – As a seven-time race winner in his eighth full-time NASCAR Cup Series season, Ryan Blaney has plenty of experience under his belt. However, one thing he hasn’t done much in his racing career is driving on a dirt track.

For most, that might be surprising, considering his father, longtime Cup Series driver Dave Blaney, was a frequent on dirt tracks throughout the early portion of his competitive racing career. Ryan’s grandfather, Lou Blaney, was also a legendary driver on dirt tracks who is a member of the Northeast Dirt Modified Hall of Fame.

With the Blaney family moving from Ohio to North Carolina as Dave began his NASCAR career, Ryan didn’t quite get the same dirt track experience his father and grandfather had. However, he will get another chance to add to his family’s legacy on dirt tracks this weekend as NASCAR heads to Bristol for its third annual dirt race at the track.

“I didn’t grow up doing any dirt, it’s just my last name,” Ryan said during an interview on BVM Sports’ Cup Connection. “But I have enjoyed it. I feel like the event has gotten some really good feedback from the fans. The drivers I think enjoy it.

“I’ve been fortunate to drive a lot of really cool vehicles. Not as much dirt experience as my family before me, but I have Dad to lean on for that.”

Throughout NASCAR’s history, there have been plenty of famous families who have boasted multiple generations of racers. The Blaneys are one of them, and Ryan has been able to lean on his father for success at the Bristol dirt race the past couple of years.

“He’s been to both races, he’ll be there this weekend at Bristol, and it’s always nice to have him there and kind of ask him some questions,” Ryan said. “A big part of the dirt race is how is the track changing? The track changes a lot more than an asphalt track. He’s really good at seeing those little tendencies of the dirt track … I’ve tried to apply what he’s taught me.”

In 2021, Ryan drove his No. 12 Ford Mustang to an eighth-place finish at the Bristol dirt race. Last year, he got even better, finishing fifth.

While it was tough to know exactly what to expect at the race in its first year in 2021 for many drivers, having a couple of these races under the belt has helped a lot, particularly for Ryan.

“The first race, there were guys really struggling,” Ryan said. “I was one of those guys. Then the second year, everyone had a better idea, and I think this year, the field is going to be even tighter because everyone is experienced in it, and we’re all going to be ready to go right away and know what to expect.”

Not only has Ryan seen success on the dirt at Bristol, but so too has his entire Team Penske squad, as Joey Logano won the inaugural race in 2021, while also finishing third last year.

“We’ve done a good job as a team,” Ryan said. “We have a good amount of dirt racers on the Penske side, so they’re always willing to give their knowledge … It’s something that we should definitely be proud of. Hopefully we have some cars that can go compete.”

However, despite added familiarity and past success, the race still isn’t easy. Typically, dirt races won’t feature a vehicle like the next gen car of the Cup Series, but that’s what makes the event all the more entertaining.

“It’s different, that’s for sure,” Ryan said. “Maybe my lack of dirt experience kind of helps me for this style because you’re not relying on other dirt cars you’ve driven … I feel like everything is just kind of amplified a bit with these cars that aren’t built for dirt racing. You really have to manipulate them a little more than your natural dirt car.”

For Ryan, the Bristol dirt race will be an opportunity to move his 2023 season in the right direction. The No. 12 team has not been bad thus far by any stretch, finishing eighth at the Daytona 500, second at Phoenix, and seventh the following week in Atlanta. However, a couple of finishes outside of the top 20 the past two weeks have the 29-year-old looking for better results.

“It’s been an OK year,” Ryan said. “We’ve been in contention, maybe a couple of races, where I felt like we’ve had decent speed and we haven’t been able to really execute like we should to really compete for the win. We’ve had a rough couple of weeks, the last two weeks at COTA and Richmond, just can’t really seem to get everything right. 

“But that’s racing. You’re gonna have ups and downs, and it’s how you rebound from the down end that I think is really important. Every week is a new week.”

While he continues to make his mark on the track, Ryan has also been busy off of it. Over 14 years ago, Ryan’s aforementioned grandfather, Lou, passed away as his health continued to decline while suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. 

Nearly a decade later in 2018, Ryan founded the Ryan Blaney Family Foundation to help support the Alzheimer’s Association, which hopes to eventually eliminate the disease through continued research.

“We wanted to support a cause that we had a personal connection with,” Ryan said. “My grandfather had Alzheimer’s. It was really rough to watch him go through that, and it is for everybody … It’s a tough disease, there’s not a lot of knowledge about it.

“You hope you’re making a difference, you hope you’re helping out the best you can.”

While Ryan continues to honor his grandfather through his foundation, he has also done so through his driving on the race track. Racing has always been a family affair for the Blaneys, and the family has plenty of memories together in the sport.

It has also only further strengthened an already tight bond between Dave and Ryan. Dave has been at the past two Bristol dirt races to help Ryan out, and he will be again on Sunday. However, his impact on Ryan’s career goes beyond just this race. 

“He’s someone I’ve always been able to lean on and talk to,” Ryan said. “He’s usually the first phone call I make Sunday after the race just to kind of vent about stuff, because that’s the way it’s always been between he and I. My dad, he’s never been a sugarcoat kind of guy. He’s always been straight forward, I’m gonna tell you what you’re doing wrong, I’m going to help you out.

“I’ve always enjoyed that, I appreciate it. If I’m doing something wrong, and you’re sugarcoating it or beating around the bush, how are you gonna learn? I’ve always liked that about my dad.”

It’s very likely there will be more advice given to Ryan from Dave this weekend. Perhaps this time around, it will lead to a victory, and another special moment, for the Blaney family.