Ryan Blaney, driver of the famous Wood Brothers’ No.21 Ford, grew up in the sport, and although his family concentrated on dirt racing, he ended up in the top racing series on asphalt. A lot of that was because his father was driving in NASCAR races and he grew up in North Carolina, and not Ohio.
“I grew up in North Carolina in High Point about an hour up the road and there is no dirt period around here,” Blaney said. “There are only a handful of tracks and it’s really asphalt late model stuff. The pass tour and ASA stuff back then was still around, so it was just location and how we got started. Bobby Labonte built a fantastic facility in Salisbury, North Carolina – a quarter-midget track – and that sort of started my asphalt career and we just went from there with Legend cars at Charlotte Motor Speedway to late models and then up the ladder. It’s just location. If I would have grown up in Ohio, I’m sure I would have done the dirt route and who knows where we would be, but growing up in North Carolina changed that.”
The Wood Brothers, who have a technical alliance with Team Penske, are using Blaney although he is contracted to Team Penske. That said, attending Team Penske events is a requirement, but one day he goes to a team breakfast late.
“The one thing you don’t want to be is late to a Penske breakfast. You’ve got everybody there. Mr. Penske is there and all the brass and I walk in late. I don’t know what happened. I don’t think I overslept. I might have overslept, but I got there and there was a standing ovation. That was like in 2012 or 2013, right when I got there, and you talk about wanting to walk out of the room. I started sweating bullets and was just as nervous as can be, and then you’ve got to go up and give a speech right after that. That was a rough day for sure, so I make sure I’m one of the earliest to the Penske breakfast.”
Blaney had some impressive performances in the Wood Brothers car, but he admits he has a lot to learn but is confident that they will run well.
“I think you learn the most about trying to improve your car over the whole race, and the amount of preparation and setup time it takes to get these cars to where you need to be,” Blaney said. “Most of the time, if you’re not fast on Friday or Saturday it really makes for a tough weekend. The preparation before you even get to the track is key, to try to be as close as you can be.
“As drivers, we can only do so much about that, but trying to give the best information that you can throughout the whole weekend – Friday, Saturday and during the race on Sunday is so key. That was probably one of the biggest things I tried to work on and get better at. I spent a lot of time in the off-season trying to do just that, and then the communication side between myself and my engineers and crew chief. That’s been something I’ve been trying to improve a lot and trying to understand these cars more. I feel like some of those changes are the biggest ones that we’ve made in the off-season and hopefully for the better.”