NASCAR’s Ryan Blaney is raising Alzheimer’s awareness for the grandfather who started the family’s racing dynasty

Ryan Blaney is making a name for himself as NASCAR driverbut carries his grandfather’s legacy with him.

The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series race winner was inspired to race because it’s in his blood. Blaney is the son of a NASCAR veteran and sprint racer David Blaney and the grandson of the modified dirt track legend and Lou Blaneywho was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2001 and passed away in 2009.

In 2018, a few years into his NASCAR Cup career, the now 29-year-old established the Ryan Blaney Family Foundation to help families like his. He is now part of a campaign with the Alzheimer’s Association and the Ad Council urging people to be aware of signs of the disease in loved ones. Blaney was a young teenager when he lost his grandfather and knows firsthand the pain of growing up with a family member whose memory is fading.

“I started to understand what was going on when he died,” he told USA TODAY Sports. “Yeah gosh, I wish I could remember more of our conversations, you know, and being around him and things like that before he got sick.”

Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that causes memory loss and impairs cognitive function. About 6.7 million Americans have the disease, which is about one in nine people aged 65 and older. according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Despite decades of research, there is still no cure.

Although Blaney has not been able to hear stories of Lou’s racing days directly from him due to the effects of the illness, he is grateful to have been able to learn about his grandfather’s accomplishments and character from fans. In addition to winning more than 200 Supersprint races over a 19-year span and 600 overall career wins, Lou was known for his kindness and respect.

“As a grown man, you’ve learned to appreciate your grandparents and your parents more, haven’t you?” said the Team Penske driver. “…For someone I didn’t know very well just because I was so young, it’s really, really great to hear stories about those things from when he was racing and how he was and how he acted. It makes me laugh and smile.”

Driver Ryan Blaney at the Circuit of the Americas on March 24, 2023 before last weekend’s NASCAR Cup Series race.

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Blaney, whose grandfather, father and uncle are all Dale Blaney Members of the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame, said he’s been told he’s “too nice,” just as his father says Lou was. Although some people may think he lacks competitive age, he takes seriously that as a professional racer he is a role model for children.

“He taught me that second-hand from a lot of people,” Blaney said of his grandfather. “So I’ve been trying to fit in and I’m trying my best to do that and try to be like him.”

This weekend, Blaney will wear gloves in purple, the official color of the Alzheimer’s Association, for the 2023 Toyota Owners 400 race at Richmond Raceway. They will be auctioned off by the organization once Blaney has crossed the checkered flag. At least that’s the plan.

“It’s one of the few special things that we can do and tweak on a week-to-week basis,” Blaney said. “… Hopefully we can win with them too. That would be good. If we win with them, maybe I’ll be selfish and keep them. I don’t know that they could bring luck, I could wear them every week.” “

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NASCAR’s Ryan Blaney Raise Alzheimer’s Awareness for Grandpa

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