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Meaningful victory: Vienna’s Cale Conley wins Lou Blaney Memorial

HARTFORD, Ohio — Professional sprint car driver Cale Conley, a Vienna resident, has won plenty of races before.

However, his victory on Saturday night had a little more meaning to it, and not just because he pocketed the $7,500 top prize.

Conley won the Lou Blaney Memorial, which was part of Ohio Sprint Speedweek with the All-Star Circuit of Champions series owned by Tony Stewart.

It just so happens that Lou Blaney is the grandfather of Conley’s wife, Emma. The Blaneys also own and operate Sharon Speedway in Hartford, Ohio, where the race took place.

“Their family has been in racing a long time,” Conley said. “I actually met Emma at a race track. It was pretty cool to be standing in victory lane with the Blaney family at their hometown track.”

Emma’s father is Dave Blaney, a longtime NASCAR Cup Series driver. Dave won his father’s memorial race in 2018, while Dale Blaney, Emma’s uncle, won last year. This time, it was Conley’s turn.

“Her dad had a pretty extensive career in the NASCAR Cup Series,” Conley said. “Blaney is a popular name in the racing world. To be married in to the family and add my name to the list with those guys was pretty cool. It was definitely awesome. The family was happy. My wife was happy. It was special, too, because our little boy was there. His name is Louie.”

Conley’s win also put an exclamation mark on Speedweek, a series of nine races in 10 days all over Ohio.

“It’s a grind,” he said. “It’s really hard on the crews. You’re tired, exhausted, traveling all around the state with no breaks. To be that focused and capable of winning races in the middle of Speedweek like that is really cool. We had a great week all together — second in Speedweek points, several top fives and top 10s and one win.”

Another challenge in the middle of the tough week was tearing up a car the night before Saturday’s race. Conley and his crew spent most of the night in a WalMart parking lot so he’d have a car to bring to Sharon Speedway, which would be about a five-hour drive.

“It was challenging,” he said. “You’ve got to do all that work while you want to be resting, then got that super long haul the next day. And you want to be full bore when you get to the track.”

Conley ended up with a brand new car for the Lou Blaney Memorial, and things obviously worked out, but it was another addition to the list of things that made Saturday’s triumph so meaningful.

“I’m thankful to have the group of guys we do that are willing to do what it takes and make sure the racecar is ready to go,” Conley said. “It’d be so easy for them to be tired and make a mental mistake, but I have full trust in them.”

As far as the race itself, Conley led every single lap. There were some scary moments, including several cautions and red flags, but Conley was able to overcome it all and hang on to the lead.

“I started second on the outside front row,” he recalled. “We had a really good start and was able to get the lead right off the bat. There were several wrecks and we had to even stop for fuel once which is not normal. The race was stopped four times due to red flags — there were plenty of times to lose your rhythm and lose focus because of the amount of cautions and red flags. Plus, it was super hot. I was drenched by the end, my body was worn out. I was happy to finally see the checkered flag. It was a battle to get there, but that’s what we do it for. It was totally worth it.”

Though Speedweek is over, Conley is right back to the grind today for a two-day race.

“Then we’re back in the regular routine of weekend races until the middle of August,” he said. “That’s when we go to Iowa for what was going to be nationals, but it got canceled due to COVID-19. So now it will be a three-day big race paying some big money out there.”

Sprint car, like all sports, had its schedule greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“What I’ve seen is the amount of races are squeezed in so tightly,” Conley noted. “Everything is crammed on top of each other due to COVID. People want to get races in, so they kind of stacked them on top of each other. Usually it’s spread out all throughout the summer. So that part’s been a little different. It’s exhausting but it’s what we live for basically. The hard part for me is having a young family and being away from home. You do miss home and things you feel like you’re missing out on when you’re away. I’m fortunate they get to come to several races, though.”

Though Conley never got to meet Lou Blaney — he passed away before Conley and Emma started dating — he has great respect for his legacy in the racing world, calling Saturday’s race “one of my special wins.”

Conley also is excited about the growth of sprint car racing, both in terms of competition and the fanbase.

“The amount of talent in sprint car racing is some of the best I’ve seen,” he said. “It’s really nice to see, and it’s refreshing to see there’s so much interest in out sport.”

Jordan Holland can be reached at jholland@mariettatimes.com.

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