Ryan Blaney, NASCAR superstar and Alzheimer’s Association celebrity champion, shares how his grandfather, the legendary Lou Blaney, paved the way for a family of passionate racers and continues to be the inspiration behind the Blaney family’s commitment to make a difference in the fight to end Alzheimer's.
Grandpa Lou was a legendary racer who raced sprint cars and modified stock cars. In 2009, my grandpa Lou passed away from complications of Alzheimer’s. He was diagnosed with the disease in 2001.
My grandpa paved the way for my career: I am a third generation racer, with Grandpa Lou and my dad Dave before me. My entire family is dedicated to the sport. We are used to getting our jeans dirty and being a part of the action.
The fondest memories I have of my grandpa are the one-on-one moments when he and I would talk about racing while sitting in his old leather recliner. It was HIS chair, and it’s still my favorite chair in the house; I am always the one who sits or sleeps on it. It’s comforting to have it there, a little memory of him and our talks.
While it has never been easy to talk about, I know that Alzheimer’s has taken a lot from my family. When we used to visit my grandpa and my grandma in Ohio, it was tough seeing how Alzheimer’s changed the lives of my grandparents forever. Living in North Carolina, my parents, sisters and I didn’t see the day-to-day, but every time we would visit, my grandpa’s condition had worsened. It was hard to see him deteriorate, and I saw how deeply this affected my family, particularly my dad.
I knew I wanted to make a difference for my family — and for future generations. As I got a bit older, I started thinking more about what I could do for grandpa and for the millions of people facing Alzheimer’s disease.
The Fan Connection
Whenever I visit Ohio — one of the places my grandpa most often raced outside of Pennsylvania — I meet a lot of people who tell me about watching him race in the 1960s and '70s and the joy it brought them. I have learned more than I ever expected to learn about him from the fans, and it’s very special that my grandfather lives on through the stories of those who adored him. I'm both fortunate and proud to carry the torch in my racing family.
Since announcing the Ryan Blaney Family Foundation, which is dedicated to partnering with the Alzheimer’s Association to bring Alzheimer’s awareness to the racetrack, people have been reaching out to me, sharing their own stories. I am more than happy to listen. I personally know how hard it is to open up about a problem you're having in your family, Alzheimer’s in particular.
I’m hoping that my involvement with the Association will make a difference for caregivers, like my grandma and my grandpa Lou’s nurse, who were so dedicated to his care. I hope to help break the stigma of Alzheimer’s and talk about the disease with my generation.
Creating A Car for the Cause
I’ve always thought that the Ford Bronco was a neat-looking car. Mine's an '85 and I've had it for a couple of years.
My love of Broncos made me all the more excited about my foundation’s latest effort. We’ve teamed up with Gateway Bronco to build a one-of-a-kind 1974 Bronco that will be sold this January at Barrett-Jackson’s auction in support of the Alzheimer’s Association. Getting to see the restoration of this car and getting to design it just how I want it to look has been an awesome experience.
Alzheimer’s disease gave me perspective, and the drive to help out as much as I can: for my family, for myself, for my young nephew Louie and for the millions of people facing this disease. The worst day of mine is getting pummeled in a race, and that’s about it. When I think about all my grandfather went through, what my grandmother went through, I realize how good my life is.
I encourage you to appreciate what you have and to help others who are seeking help. I've learned a lot on this journey, and I still have a lot I want to share and learn.
About Ryan: At age 25, Ryan Blaney is a key pillar of NASCAR’s youth movement, an important part of Team Penske’s championship-winning NASCAR program. 2019 marks Blaney’s eighth season with Team Penske and his second season racing full-time for the team in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Blaney returned to the No. 12 team this season, racing the Menards/PPG/DEX Imaging/BODYARMOR/REV Group/VF Wrangler/MoneyLion/Wabash National Ford Mustang. Follow Ryan on Twitter.
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