By JOHN BASSETTI
Remember the kid who, out of high school, followed in his father’s footsteps and went to work in the steel mills?
With a NASCAR twist, that’s Ryan Blaney, who will be racing in tonight’s Nationwide VFW Sport Clips Help a Hero 200 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.
The 18-year-old son of NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Dave Blaney will be attempting to qualify and run in his second Nationwide-level race since a seventh-place finish in his debut at Richmond on April 27.
“It’s going to be great getting on a track that has that much history,” Ryan said. “It’s a real tricky track, so it’ll be good to see how well we can adapt to that race track and see how well we run.”
One difference from Richmond will be the speed.
“The speeds are going to be faster, so it’s a vast change,” Ryan said of Darlington.
“I think we can adjust real good. It’s definitely a bigger race track, so you might feel like you’re not going very fast, but I’ve watched a lot of tape and I talked to my dad, so, hopefully, I’ll be ready for it and see how well the car runs.”
While driving the Tommy Baldwin-owned No. 36 Chevy Impala, Ryan Blaney will be decked out in his Seal Wrap garb.
“It’s definitely a bright fire suit,” Ryan said of his sponsor’s black and yellow driving suit that has a Pittsburgh Steelers-like touch.
As of May 5, Ryan was 37th in the NASCAR Nationwide points standings with 37 points behind No. 1 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (325), No. 2 Elliott Sadler (320), No. 3 Austin Dillon (290), No. 4 Sam Hornish Jr. (265) and No. 5 Cole Whitt (248).
He wasn’t scheduled for the Talladega race on May 5.
Dave Blaney, who will attempt to qualify for Saturday’s Southern 500, is 33rd in driver’s points and 34th in owner’s points.
Ryan Blaney’s final weeks of high school are virtual classes online, which he wraps up at noon each day. He goes to the team shop until about 7 or 8 p.m, then goes home.
“There’s no homework,” he said. “All the classes are reading and then quizzes online.”
When he’s not in a virtual classroom or watching TV, playing X-Box or playing I-Race, the teen’s world revolves around his sport.
“I had fun running with all the Nationwide regulars and some of the Cup drivers,” Ryan Blaney said of the Richmond race.
“A lot of respect was shown [to me], which really made me feel good, but it also kind of surprised me a little bit because it was my first race. It shows how easy those guys are to race with. I really enjoyed the amount of respect they gave me.”
Did he think he was being treated with kid gloves because he’s the son of a Sprint Cup racer?
“A little bit, but that’s just smart racing they were doing, really.”
Blaney has made the leap from late models to the K & N Pro Series to Nationwide and he says the difference is significant.
“All three of those cars are a lot different, driving-wise and a lot different, depending on the tire, motor, body style and all that. I haven’t had a problem adapting to any of the cars. I like driving the Nationwide cars because you can really race people and that’s what it’s all about.”
The K & N cars are the old Busch Series cars with smaller engines than the present-day Nationwide cars.
Ryan compared his style to his father’s.
“I’ve always been known for babying into the corners real easy and then letting it roll really fast and get on the gas early [out of the corners], while he likes to drive it into the corner really hard and slam on the brakes. That might just be a sprint car thing where you take the corners really fast. That’s definitely a big difference but, my mentality while driving is pretty much the same as his because he’s taught me everything I know.”
Of his Nationwide race at the once-wild and woolly Darlington, Ryan Blaney was asked if he might see metal touching at some point.
“I hope not, but there’s bound to be some.”