Kate Blaney couldn't help but think about her late husband as she sat at home on Sept. 15 and watched the NASCAR Camping World Series race at Iowa Speedway.
Lou Blaney died in January of 2009 from complications associated with Alzheimer's disease. At the time his grandson Ryan was 15 and carving a niche as an up-and-coming racer, much the same as Lou did on dirt tracks decades earlier and his son Dave did racing sprints in the 1980s and '90s.
Now 18 and a NASCAR rookie, Ryan shocked just about everyone but himself when he drove the Brad Keselowski Racing's Ram truck to a win at the American Ethanol 200. In the process he became the youngest winner ever in the truck series.
The Associated Press
Ryan Blaney smiles as he answers questions during a news conference after practice for a NASCAR Truck Series auto race at Kentucky Speedway Friday in Sparta, Ky.
"It was unbelievable," said Kate, Lou's widow. "I was sitting at home by myself. What I kept thinking about is I wonder what Lou would be thinking. I'm sure he knows."
Kate had quadruple heart bypass surgery six weeks ago. She's made a quick and successful recovery and is getting around without any problems. Needless to say, watching Ryan cross the finish line was the best tonic possible.
"Before the race the announcers on "Speed" were making their picks as to who they thought would win," Kate said. "Of course none of them would pick Ryan, even though he was starting near the front. I wonder if they'll pick him to win in his next race."
In addition to being Ryan's first NASCAR win, it was also the first win for the Keselowski racing team. Ryan finished 11th in the truck series Friday at the Kentucky Speedway, where he also raced the Penske 22 car in the Nationwide Series Saturday and finished ninth.
"It was definitely a good feeling," Ryan said. "Getting my first truck win with Brad was special after they had been trying a couple of years now. They've been close but hadn't been able to seal the deal.
"It was special to do that and being the youngest truck winner is very cool. Hopefully, we can get some more here with that team. They have a good program where we think we can win some more."
At age 18 years, eight months and five days Blaney easily broke the record held by Kyle Busch as the youngest truck series winner. Busch was 20 years and 18 days old when he set the old standard.
The win was the continuation of a promising career that developed roots with successes at several lower levels. Ryan sent a quick message of what might follow when he finished seventh in his first Nationwide race last April at Richmond.
Ryan isn't surprised at how quickly NASCAR success has come. He earned the respect of fellow drivers with his Richmond showing and has never been overwhelmed by the challenge.
"After the first two starts we knew it was something we could do," Ryan said. "We had a good truck all weekend. We were pretty happy with it rolling off the truck. We tweaked it a little bit during practice. It's hard to believe but I never doubted we could do it. It's experience and confidence and how good the truck is.
"We proved that we can win races. Hopefully we can get a Nationwide win. That would be spectacular. We have the team at Penske to do it."
Several members of Ryan's family were in attendance to watch the race. It was convenient that his mother Lisa is originally from Iowa and was able to have some of her relatives at the track.
Dave, who was in Chicago preparing for the Sprint Cup race the next day, flew to Iowa just in time to watch the race. His presence added to the thrill for Ryan.
"It was very cool for him," Ryan said. "He was very excited that we got that win. My mom was down there also. It was cool having all my family there."
Dave has nurtured Ryan's career from the time he began racing Bandoleros. Once he realized Ryan had the racing bug and could handle each advancing level, his guidance turned into confident support. He's known for a few years that Ryan has great natural talents.
"He said good job," Ryan said. "It's like anything else. You can't let your head get too big. You have to prove you can do it next week. It's sweet for a couple of days and then you focus on next week."
Ryan led the final 50 laps in holding off runner-up Ty Dillon. There were several restarts to make the finish more challenging, but Ryan never wavered in his belief that he could win.
"All the restarts were nerve-wracking," Ryan said. "We had trouble on all the restarts before that. We couldn't get anything going. It seemed like at the top of all the rpms we spinned the tires. There was nothing we could do to manage it. We tried a couple of things to control the tire speed at the top of each gear.
"I knew if we just didn't spin the tires we could at least be beside the guys into the first turn and then we would get them. We were very good the first two or three laps and we put distance between us and the second-place guy."
Ryan's primary concern was Dillon in the No. 3 car.
"He had stickers (new tires) on," Ryan said. "He came in with 20 to go and we didn't have stickers. We had 60 laps on our tires at that point. That was the only car that worried me because he had stickers and was coming. We held him off and got the win."
There's no doubting that grandpa would have been proud.