INDIANAPOLIS – Nobody figured on 21-year-old Dave Blaney being a contender for the 1984 USAC Silver Crown Series championship – not even Blaney himself.
But the Hartford, Ohio youngster astounded everyone with his smooth driving style, and ultimately wore the crown as a champion in his first attempt with the series.
The quiet, unassuming son of talented racer Lou Blaney, Dave had never seen a USAC Silver Crown car until March of 1983, when he traveled east to watch Gary Bettenhausen win a 100-mile race at the Nazareth National Motor Speedway in Pennsylvania.
Little did he know then that one year later he’d be battling wheel-to-wheel with Bettenhausen and others for the series title – and beating them!
Go-karts served to launch Dave’s racing career, but when he turned 18 in 1981, his dad let him try out the family sprint car.
That proved to be a good decision, because his success came quickly.
Competing with the All Star Circuit of Champions, Dave quickly caught the attention of numerous car owners, among them fellow Buckeyes Johnny Vance of Dayton and Ralph and Jim DePalma of Lima.
Vance selected Dave as his driver for a sprint race at Pennsboro, W.Va., in July of 1983. A fourth-place finish there brought a subsequent drive in the ABC Wide World of Sports USAC race at Eldora Speedway in early 1984.
Prior to Eldora, though, Jim DePalma got together with Dave during the wintertime sprint car series in Florida and made plans for Dave’s debut in the Silver Crown cars.
Terry Shappel, the chief mechanic on the Blaney family sprinter, also served on the DePalma team, hence the connection.
Originally, the plans called for Dave to debut on the short tracks, while Dave’s father Lou had purchased a Silver Crown license with the intention of driving in the races on the longer ovals.
Dave’s only mile track experience prior to 1984 had been in a couple of winged sprint events at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse, and the hope was that his performance on the short tracks in 1984 would be enough to give him a shot at Rookie of the Year honors.
After all, the DePalma team had already fielded two previous USAC Silver Crown Rookies of the Year – Jack Hewitt in 1981 and Keith Kauffman in 1982.
Lou’s many years of racing experience enabled him to see the talent his son possessed, and he elected to step aside and give Dave an opportunity to run the entire 1984 series.
The elder Blaney’s decision is one he’ll always be proud of.
In April, Dave made his non-wing racing debut in Vance’s Aristocrat Products Chevy at Eldora and was the third-fastest qualifier in a field of 55 cars. He took the green flag before a national television audience, but was unable to finish the race.
In May of 1984, the DePalma Silver Crown team came to the Indiana State Fairgrounds with Blaney as their driver.
The initial outing for the Stenger Ford-sponsored machine was not totally successful, as another driver spun in front of Dave during a qualifying race and he was eliminated from the Hulman Hundred.
Undaunted, Dave bounced back with an 11th-place finish among some top competition at Oklahoma City, Okla., in July, but the best was yet to come.
Dave surprised many when he brought the Stenger Ford Chevy home second behind Chuck Gurney in the Tony Bettenhausen 100 in August at the Illinois State Fairgrounds.
Then came the true test of a champion. Dave had never driven in a race on pavement, so it was with some apprehension that he buckled up for the 200-lap race at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds in St. Paul.
Flawlessly, he picked his way through traffic, and when the checkered flag fell, he was again in second place.
Now the crowd was beginning to pick up on this newcomer, as Blaney had emerged from the St. Paul race with the series point lead.
Of course, the big point races at DuQuoin and the Indiana State Fairgrounds were next, and Gurney and Bettenhausen were breathing down his neck.
At DuQuoin on Labor Day, Dave finished fourth and extended his lead. The next race was the Hoosier Hundred, and it appeared a top finish could clinch the championship.
Blaney worked his way up to sixth at the finish of the 100-miler in Indianapolis, and when the dust cleared, he was proclaimed Rookie of the Race, but also that his point total was enough to wrap up the championship.
Bettenhausen and Gurney were not able to make up the difference in the last scheduled race of the year, the ultimately rained out 4-Crown Nationals at Eldora Speedway.
Dave was quick to point out that much of his success belonged to the other members of the team. Jim and Ralph DePalma echoed the feelings that the support of sponsor Tom Stenger made the championship possible.
Dick Johnson of Raymond, Ohio served as crew chief for the team, with the assistance of brother Bruce Johnson and sons Randy and Rick. Tom Sawyer was the team’s tire man that year.
But it will always be remembered for a 21-year-old kid named Dave Blaney, who showed the world what he could do en route to a truly surprising Silver Crown championship.