NASCAR Champ Ryan Blaney Boosts Important Cause (2024)

Reigning NASCAR Cup Series Champion Ryan Blaney is set to roll into Chicago for Sunday’s Grant Park 165.

After knocking on the door of NASCAR glory for the last few years, the Ohio-born driver of the No. 12 Ford Mustang Dark Horse for Team Penske edged out fellow young drivers Kyle Larson, William Byron, and Christopher Bell to win last season’s final race and the NASCAR Cup Series Drivers' Championship, last November.

The popular 30-year-old is also known as one of NASCAR’s nicest guys, so much so that even the sometimes ornery Kyle Busch once sang his praises. So, between Blaney’s achievements and overall rep, it’s unsurprising that he’s up for the ESPYs’ 2024 nomination for Best Driver in Motorsports. Blaney faces a contest in the mix between NHRA’s Matt Hagan, IndyCar’s Alex Palou, and Formula 1 dynamo Max Verstappen.

But alongside his weekly charge to Chicago’s finish line and the ongoing tussle between drivers inside and outside of NASCAR, Blaney has long been dedicated to another pursuit.

In 2018, he became one of the founders of the Ryan Blaney Family Foundation, an organization that raises money through sports-related events to benefit Alzheimer’s research.

“As a family, brain health, specifically Alzheimer’s disease and concussions, are causes that are near and dear to our hearts,” the organization said. “Our family has experienced first-hand the emotional, physical, and financial challenges that accompany these brain health issues.”

Baney said that once he was a couple of years into his career as a NASCAR driver, he wanted to use some of the momentum to help do good. He said that starting the Ryan Blaney Family Foundation came out of an ongoing conversation with family.

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“We wanted to do something that we had a personal connection with. My grandfather died of Alzheimer’s, passed away format at a fairly young age.” Blaney said his grandfather, Lou Blaney, “started showing signs of it in his early 60s.”

“Living through that—it’s a rough disease to see someone go through. So (we decided) let’s focus our efforts there. It’s also a frustrating disease because nobody really knows a whole lot about it. ”

Blaney said that his grandfather tragically died of Alzheimer’s at 69. In addition to that, Ryan’s father, Dave, once sustained a severe concussion in a driving accident that has considerably disrupted his daily life.

In the six years since it establishment, Blaney and his foundation have teamed up with the Alzheimer’s Association to support efforts to promote early detection through a series of ad campaigns. Together, the organizations have created programming for individuals and families navigating the complexities of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis or traumatic brain injury.

“The Alzheimer’s Association are great, they're fantastic people,” Blaney said during our recent Zoom interview. “But now, we’ve wanted to branch out and tackle other brain health and injury issues.”

In addition to that, the Ryan Blaney Family Foundation has played a crucial role in providing direct funding for research fellows to train at the world-renowned UPMC Concussion Clinic. This initiative further medical inquiry and study, with the hopeful outcome of finding an eventual cure. The foundation also provides bike helmets to underserved youth, to promote basic safety and prevent head and brain injury.

“Working with UPMC (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center), we’ve found that there are a lot of drivers who’ve experienced injuries. Concussions are a huge topic right now,” Blaney said. “All across the sports world, concussions are part of sports. And the topic is just now finally getting some legs. That’s good, but it’s been a long time coming.”

Besides the great need for further research, Blaney adds that one of the heaviest weights that Alzheimer’s places is on the families and others who care for patients with Alzheimer’s Disease.

To address that issue, Ryan and the foundation are planning to expand their reach to an often overlooked community impacted by brain health challenges: caregivers.

The Ryan Blaney Family Foundation provides grants to two organizations focused on this effort.

First is its partnership with LoveYourBrain, a nonprofit that provides free programming for people with brain injuries and their caregivers to find personal growth and healing through mindfulness, yoga, and peer support. Through this partnership, LoveYourBrain also offers transformative retreat experiences to caregivers of people impacted by brain injury and concussion.

Related story: McLaren’s Lando Norris “in the fight”

Then, Blaney’s partnership with Hilarity for Charity (HFC). They aim to give caregivers of people with Alzheimer's time to rest, recharge, and focus on their personal and professional lives through several in-home respite care grants for financially challenged families.

Hilarity for Charity, founded by the internationally known actor and comedian Seth Rogen, is not just about stand-up comedy events and showcases. It’s a charity that encourages everyone to get involved by staging and promoting their own events, making a difference in the lives of caregivers of people with Alzheimer's.

Hilarity For Charity’s mission states that: “Fundraisers don’t have to be lame $500-a-ticket evenings where you rent a tux and miss the Lakers game ... Whether it’s running a marathon, donating a wedding or bar mitzvah gift, or hosting a comedy night, HFC puts the ‘fun’ in fundraisers.”

Blaney describes the wider effort to battle and eventually defeat Alzheimer’s Disease as one that is encouraging and surrounded by community. “It’s great to meet and work with people who have the same goals as you do and want to help out, whether it is financially or (promoting) awareness.”

VIDEO: Ryan Blaney wins his first NASCAR Cup Series

Back to racing, Blaney and Team Penske head into Chicago for the Grant Park 165, in 8th place in the NASCAR Cup Series. In 2024, Blaney won one race and grabbed five top-five finishes.

Yet, despite his big victory last season, Blaney emphasizes that winning the NASCAR Cup Series—and defending that title—comes down to teamwork. He underscores that the Penske pit crew, management, and ownership are just as crucial to the win as a great driver, fostering a sense of unity and shared success.

“It’s nice to achieve what you strive for. But you’re doing your group, the people you battle with weekly, for 38 weeks a year. Sharing it with them, that was the neatest part.”

Read Frye’s recent interviews with Lando Norris and Michael Penix Jr.

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NASCAR Champ Ryan Blaney Boosts Important Cause (2024)
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