HEDGER: Less Racing Sometimes Equals More Fun

Ron Hedger

BALLSTON SPA, N.Y. — Anyone who races has to enjoy it.

Otherwise the never-ending work and time spent going down the highway wouldn’t be worth it. Two drivers who especially appreciate racing with the Ollie’s Bargain Outlet All Star Circuit of Champions are Dale Blaney and Paul McMahan.

“I hurt my thumb at work in the fab shop last year and was out for three months,” Blaney explained  “I couldn’t race so I lost my ride and only showed 10 or 11 races for the whole season. I’d usually run 70 or more, so it was a big change. I’m not sure we’ll get to 70 this year with all the rainouts, but we’re trying.”

Last year was the first season in memory that Blaney hadn’t run a complete schedule.

“I guess I probably needed the time off,” Blaney said. “My longtime owner, mechanic and friend, George Fisher, passed away at the end of the 2016 season and it was tough going to races without him. 2017 was not much fun because it just wasn’t the same. It was probably a blessing to sit out last year after I got hurt. I ended up helping my brother, Dave, a little bit and got my desire to race back.

“It was like losing your wife. Friends of mine have had their wife die and it took them two or three years to recover. I felt like them.”

Blaney is driving for Sam McGhee Motorsports this season and had three victories through July 24.

“ It’s only their second year of racing,” Blaney explained. “Ryan Smith ran it last year and they learned from him. They’re still learning but they’re getting to be pretty good at it, and I see the potential for them to get a lot better.

“It took a couple of months for me to get back in the groove, plus we had to figure each other out between rainouts. Now we’ve found a routine and it’s a lot easier. When you don’t race much, you have to put yourself in racing situations and hone your skills again. A good driver never forgets how to race but it takes a little while to be sharp again.”

Now that he’s comfortable, competitive and winning races again, it seems like Blaney may be back for the long haul.

“I hope so,” said the 55-year-old Blaney. “My eyes are still good and my reaction time hasn’t changed.  Someday they’ll start going the other way but as long as I’m still competitive, still winning, I’m going to keep going. I’m like my brother, Dave. He’s still a really good driver but now he gets his enjoyment from building his own cars and trying new things. When he hits on something, he’s as fast as ever. I guess both of us just appreciate having the chance to keep racing at the upper levels of the sport.”

McMahan, 48, is another advocate of the ASCoC schedule, which lets top drivers compete without having to follow the far-flung World of Outlaws trail.

“I really enjoy this deal,” said McMahan. “I love being home in Hendersonville, Tenn., with my wife, sleeping in my own bed and having a real job. I work for QuickCar Racing Products as a production assistant and life is good.

“I was out there with the World of Outlaws so long that it wasn’t fun anymore,” he added. “There’s politics in racing everywhere, but there you had to deal with it every day. I’ve raced for a living since 1997 and spent 20 years with the Outlaws. I was fortunate to be able to do it that long.

“The All Star schedule is just enough to keep my ambition going. We don’t go if we don’t want to and sometimes we take a weekend off. After all these years, it’s great to do nothing, absolutely nothing. My wife and I go to the lake, we hang out, we have a nice dinner, all the things you miss when you’re on the road all the time.”

McMahan’s days as an outlaw have come and gone.

“No way. I wouldn’t go back,” he said. “I have no desire to run with the Outlaws again except for the Florida shows. I still love to race but I’m not doing it full time anymore. Owners want to buy a car off the shelf and go out and beat Schatz. That’s not going to happen. Nobody has more time together than Donny’s team.

“That’s why Brad Sweet is so good now,” McMahan added. “He’s been with Kasey Kahne a long time and has a good crew to go with some good cars. You reap the benefits seven or eight years later but most owners won’t wait that long. My owner now, Tom Buch, is pretty easy going, so life is good.”