NASCAR’s Blaney makes local pit stop

EMPIRE – After two-plus decades on the circuit, NASCAR Sprint Cup Driver and Ohio native Dave Blaney says he has no regrets – about racing, that is.

“Human nature always makes sure you have them, regrets,” the Hilliard-born Blaney said during an appearance at the grand opening of the new Jefferson County headquarters of his sponsor, Heavy Duty Industrials, in Empire. “A lot of drivers will say they remember the races they lost, not the races they won, but it’s not that way for me.

“I have more regrets about how much time I’ve had to give up with my kids. ‘Regret’ might not be the right word, either. I guess I wish I could do it all. But I have a good wife, she likes racing, and she’s done a good job with the kids.”

Blaney grew up watching his father, Lou, race on the local circuit. His father, now deceased, loved racing, but had a business to attend to outside the sport so it was more of a hobby for him.

Blaney said he’s been fortunate to have taken it to the next level.

“I’m 50 years old, and I’ve been racing since I was 18,” he said. “It doesn’t feel like a job at all. I guess you feel that way when you love what you do.”

He started racing professionally in the early 1980s in sprint cars, like the one he brought to Wednesday’s grand opening, earning Rookie of the Year honors in 1983 in the All-Star Circuit of Champions tour and a USAC Silver Crown title the following year. Then came the World of Outlaws, where he scored more than 70 victories as well as 76 top-five finishes in 85 races in 1989. He scored series champion honors in 1995, which earned him Sprint Car Driver of the Year, and was runner-up the next two years. He made his Nationwide Series debut in 1998.

“I climbed the ladder and ended up getting opportunities,” he said, adding that he’s “proud of the fact that I did get a chance to race NASCAR, that I made it to that level. Obviously there are a lot of big races and some championships you never forget.”

Blaney’s younger brother, Dale, has done really well with the sprint series, he said, and his now 19-year-old son, Ryan, is making a name for himself in the NASCAR Camping World truck series.

He and his wife, Lisa, also have two daughters, Emma, 22, and Erin, 16, and own Sharon Speedway in Hartford.

“It’s a hard sport to learn,” he said. “You don’t necessarily have to be really athletic. It can be learned. People who grew up in it get a head start. It helps you to be better. The more you’re around it, the better your chances.”

And that’s his advice to aspiring drivers: live it, “be around it any way you can, all you can.”

“Obviously there’s a dangerous side to it that you have to be able to accept,” he added. “But for most drivers, I don’t think it’s the speed that excites them, it’s the competition more than anything else.”

He credits Heavy Duty Industrial owner Rick Glass for his support not just of him, but of racing in general.

“He’s been a big supporter,” Blaney said. “Not only of my racing, but my dad’s years ago and local racing throughout northeastern Ohio.”

Heavy Duty opened its doors in Jefferson County a little over a year ago in a building on Kragel Road. The business has grown rapidly, however, and company officials said they needed additional space to grow the company even more. Since moving to Empire, Heavy Duty has hired 40 people and is looking to hire at least that many more. That puts employment now at right around 100, with the potential to grow to 140 or 150 if the upward trend continues.