NASCAR driver Ryan Blaney raises $650,000 through custom car auction
NASCAR superstar Ryan Blaney dedicates a lot of time to going as fast as possible. But one of his favorite recollections of his grandfather, legendary sprint and stock car racer Lou Blaney, is of slowing down.
“My grandpa had this old leather La-Z-Boy recliner for decades,” Blaney says. “I remember sitting on it with him when I was a kid. It’s still in my grandma’s house now. I sit on it whenever I go over there.”
Blaney, 27, is a third-generation driver — his father, Dave, followed in Lou’s tire tracks. Growing up, Blaney would often accompany his parents on visits to Ohio to see his grandparents. But with each trip, Blaney noticed changes in Lou, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2001 and died from complications of the disease in 2009.
“We’d get up there five, six times a year. Every time we went back, it seemed like [my grandfather] would be a little bit worse,” Blaney says. “It was tough to see that deterioration and to talk to my grandma and the nurse they had helping them, to hear the stories about what they went through day to day. And it was tough on my dad, obviously, watching his father go down that road.”
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Lou’s battle inspired Blaney to start the Ryan Blaney Family Foundation in 2018, which partners with the Alzheimer’s Association to accelerate awareness of the disease in the racing world. The foundation’s first event — the auction of a custom Ford Bronco — was an enormous success, raising over half a million dollars for Alzheimer’s care, support and research.
Inspiring on and off the track
Watching his father’s and grandfather’s success — Lou won over 600 races during his career and was beloved by fans — it was a foregone conclusion Blaney would enter the family business. “[My grandfather] is really the reason why me and my dad started racing and continue to do so today,” Blaney says. “I’m just fortunate to carry the torch that he started.”
Blaney has already dominated on the racetrack, crossing the finish line with 15 victories and counting. Lou remains an inspiration — not only because of his skill in racing, but also because of his brave battle with Alzheimer’s.
"If my worst day is getting wrecked in a race, I think that’s terrible,” Blaney says. “Then you meet people who are going through [dementia], or you remember what my parents went through, what my grandma and grandpa went through, and you realize that my day’s not all that bad. We want to be part of the solution, and I feel like we have some plans to do that [through the foundation]."
Foundation holds record-setting car auction
The Ryan Blaney Family Foundation sped off the starting line with its first event. The foundation teamed up with Gateway Bronco of Hamel, Illinois, to restore, customize and auction off a 1974 Ford Bronco. Lou’s life and career served as inspiration for the car’s customization — for example, Lou owned and operated a lumber company throughout his racing career. The finished Bronco featured the Blaney & Sons Lumber Company name burned into the wood on the truck bed.
“I like old cars, and I have an old Bronco myself. I’ve always just had a thing for them,” Blaney says. “It was really neat for me to be able to pick out what I wanted it to look like. You never know how it’ll turn out, but I was extremely pleased with it.”
In January 2020, the one-of-a-kind vehicle sold for a record-breaking $650,000 to benefit the Alzheimer’s Association — the highest a Bronco has ever sold at auction. Blaney was blown away by the amount they were able to raise.
“I didn’t want to end up disappointed, but we were definitely hoping for a lot,” Blaney says. “It really exceeded what I was initially thinking. Knowing the cause the money was going toward was the cherry on top. It was an incredible feeling.”
The auction was just the inaugural lap for the foundation, which Blaney says will stay in the race until it reaches the finish line — the end of Alzheimer’s.
“It was a great first go at it for us to help the Alzheimer’s Association, and I’m really looking forward to the years to come,” he says. “That’s what the Ryan Blaney Family Foundation is all about — to get people talking about Alzheimer’s, to become educated and to raise money to help end this disease.”
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