Even if you have watched a handful of NASCAR races, there's a chance you've never heard of Dave Blaney. The 49-year-old journeyman runs as part of an underfunded racing team and has appeared in 397 races without a single Sprint Cup Series win. At the tumultuous 2012 Daytona 500 on Monday, Blaney briefly flirted with Lady Victory (courtesy of Dame Fireball) before once again going home with Countess Also-Ran. Behold his sad, sad, story after the jump.
**The following is a reenactment. All details of Dave Blaney's personal life are merely suppositions. Only the hard facts of the events during the running of the Daytona 500 are accurate.**
Blaney showed up on Sunday morning all ready to race. He had his best racing jumpsuit on, his hair was combed and he'd had a fine plate of bacon and eggs that morning. (Nothing too heavy, just two eggs -- over easy -- and three lean strips of thick-cut applewood-smoked bacon. Don't want to overdo 'er, he said with a knowing, if slightly weary smile.) He made his way to Daytona International Speedway with that old familiar song in his heart ... the one that was hopeful, but not too prideful.
We've got the perfect slot, he thought. No. 24 in the grid. Not too high, not too low. Right in the middle. Equal shot to be a hero or a goat. Don't get too big a head on you, his conscience answered back. He nodded to himself. Just do the best you can.
The storm clouds gathered over Daytona International Speedway and the rains commenced. My, but don't that look nasty, said his conscience. Hush up, you, thought Blaney. It'll pass on by any minute now.
The rains didn't stop, of course. The start time was pushed back and pushed back yet again. The drivers readied themselves to race under the lights. Blaney shot the bull with his pit crew and his teammates. Daytona is always on a Sunday, they agreed. This year'll just be a bit later than the rest.
But the day just kept on filling up with rain. Blaney's sensible breakfast became a sensible lunch (ham and tomato on wheat, with apple slices) which in turn became a sensible dinner (grilled chicken breast and asparagus), until finally the drivers were told there would be no races until Monday lunchtime. Blaney nodded, said a good night to his friends and colleagues and headed in for some shut-eye.
Monday arrived and it looked like more of the same on a flat, gray day. Blaney felt a twinge of deep sadness in his guts when he found himself imagining there might be no Daytona 500 at all, but shook it off at once. Quit that foolishness, he said to himself. We'll be firing 'em up soon enough.
Sure enough, a 7 p.m. start was announced and that's when the drivers lined 'em all up. Blaney looked toward the lights and smiled. Sky is just as clear as can be when the lights are on, he thought. The motors all thundered to life just as loud as you please and Blaney was right back in there, doing the only thing he knew how to do, running in the pack just like he'd done 396 times previous.
On just the second lap, Jimmie Johnson slammed into the wall. Watch it now! he cried over the radio. He made it through the big one unscathed and out came that old yellow flag. It's going to be one of those, ain't it, he wondered aloud. Sure enough, the race kept on like that. The drivers would gear on up and run just as smooth for a while before there'd be sparks and smoke and tires squealing as they slid this way and that, pinballing off of one another. Here'd come the yellow, here'd come the green, one after the other, over and over.
Blaney kept on driving through it all, avoiding the spinouts and the pileups and the bumping and swerving. Finally here came another caution with about 40 laps to go. His pit crew gave him the word over his headset, Go'on Dave, stay out there, keep it runnin. He did, and just a few moments later Juan Pablo Montoya had something break in his car and he slammed into a jet dryer that was hitched to a service truck. The jet fuel in the dryer caught and the whole thing went sky-high. All the cars came to a stop and the red flag got waved. Blaney had never seen anything like it.
Blaney hopped out of his car and looked toward the blaze. He gave a low whistle and marveled for a while. It was a minute or two before he was alerted to the fact that when the red flag came out, he happened to be in first place. The jet fuel burned a deep trench across the track. There's no way they can fix that, he thought at once. His heart leapt in his chest.
The pit crew was all smiles, but Blaney struggled to contain his own. Nothing's over just yet fellas, he kept saying, as the Daytona crew doused the fire and assessed the damage and brought out all manner of cleaning tools and products and cleared the wreckage and started scraping and patching the track. For two hours, Blaney stayed in first place in the Daytona 500 as he took a walk with his fellow drivers. Finally, the word came down. The race was back on. Blaney gave a knowing smile to his pit crew but he saw their sadness. He knew the sadness they could see in his own eyes.
They hopped in and fired 'em back up once again. A few laps into the restarted race, Blaney had already dropped to 21st. There were more crashes and more caution flags and he kept coasting through all of them. But still he stayed behind, still he couldn't quite get to the front of the pack. He smiled and nodded to himself as the end of the race drew close. But still there were more crashes ... two more in the last 12 laps, in fact. Still, his car stayed whole.
Blaney finished in 15th place. He shook hands with his crew and told them how well they all did. A hell of a race. Just a hell of a thing, they all agreed. He congratulated the winners and they congratulated him right back, but he demurred, polite as always. He was asked for interviews ... more than he could ever remember after any other race. He took some phone calls from home, everyone so proud of him. He thanked them and told them he loved them. His daughter made sure he knew how good he did. He blushed and told her to get some sleep.
He headed on back to his hotel finally, caught flush in the wee hours of the morning. He kicked off his shoes and lay down. The only thing he could think about was how he'd never been so happy in all his life to be in bed. Before sleep overtook him, a small, genuine smile played around the corners of his lips. I did okay today, he thought. Hell, I think I did pretty good.