NILES - Most 18-year-old NASCAR fans would go to an autograph session to get the signature of the driver.
Ryan Blaney was sitting on the other side of the table Monday at Ollie's Bargain Outlet next to the Eastwood Mall. As one of the new young guns on the Nationwide Series, Blaney, 18, was signing autographs along with his father and fellow NASCAR driver Dave.
A few years ago Ryan was racing go-karts on tracks in the North Carolina area. He's now a star in the making.
Tribune Chronicle / Michael Taylor
Hartford native and NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Dave Blaney signs autographs for Gabe Simmons, 5, left, and Abbey Simmons, 7, right, during an autograph session Monday at Ollie’s Bargain Outlet in Niles.
"I wouldn't go that far," Ryan said.
Ryan and Dave are in the area for tonight's fourth annual Lou Blaney Memorial, which will feature Dave and NASCAR veterans Tony Stewart and Kasey Khane racing in the 410 sprint feature at Sharon Speedway. Also slated to race in the Ollie's-sponsored event is Dave's younger brother Dale, who's tied with Tim Shaffer for the points lead on the All Star Circuit of Champions.
Ryan is coming off a finish of 15th at the Nationwide race in Kentucky, his third race on the series. He finished seventh at Richmond in his first race and 43rd at Darlington Speedway in May. In three starts on NASCAR's K&N Series Ryan has placed second twice and 22nd the third time.
The learning curve is still in place for Ryan, but early performances indicate that he's a quick learner. He'll certainly learn more in his next Nationwide start July 28 at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
"Last week at Kentucky was a big learning curve in my first mile and a half," Ryan said. "A lot of stuff came into play there. I'm learning how to race around people in air. Air plays a lot bigger factor than I thought it did on bigger tracks. Our K&N stuff is running really well, so it's all going good right now."
Ryan has an advantage that doesn't come into play for all NASCAR rookies. Having grown up watching Dave run on NASCAR's top two series, Ryan has literally lived at tracks for much of his childhood.
If Ryan ever had to deal with an awe factor of rubbing paint with occasional Nationwide drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Stewart, it certainly hasn't bother him.
"It definitely makes a big difference being around the race track my whole life," Ryan said. "You just know racing. A lot of guys that work at Tommy Baldwin (Racing) now used to work at Bill Davis (Racing) when I was a kid. I kind of know those guys already. It makes it easier when you work with guys you know."
The respect factor comes into play for all rookies. It's something that is earned on the track by a racer's driving style and off the track as well.
"We're still building on that," Ryan said. "After the race at Richmond I think we gained a lot of that. I think we're going to keep building on it and having good runs and racing really clean, and eventually that will come."
Dave, who's competed on the NASCAR level since 1998, can't say he sees a lot of himself in Ryan's driving.
"It's hard to look in the mirror and see yourself," Dave said. "You can ask other people that question and they might say yes or no. I don't try to drive a car a certain way. It just comes out that way. I'm sure Ryan will tell you the same thing.
"He's watched me more than anyone else, but he's watched a bunch of guys. It takes so much to race at the level the way the top Cup guys do. Race-car speed is just a little of it. It takes a lot of smarts, and so far he's on the right track."
Ryan's plate is full compared to most teenagers. He occasionally allows himself time to be an 18-year-old, but those moments are few and far between as he hones in on what he hopes will be a long career.
"There's time to be a kid still," Ryan said. "A the end of the day my heart is into racing. You're either at the track or the shop. There are some weekends I have off and I'll go and relax a little bit and hang out with my friends, but most weekends I'm focused on racing."