Legacy, family stands out for Ryan Blaney with the Wood Brothers

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Perhaps it’s fitting Ryan Blaney turned 21 on Dec. 31, as he will make his first real voyage into the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series aboard the Wood Brothers’ iconic No. 21.

Yes, Blaney has a handful of Cup starts, but an increased 18-race schedule with the Wood Brothers will mark his first time running so many races in NASCAR’s top series.

Blaney has been around cars since birth, thanks to his father Dave and uncle Dale’s racing careers. The Woods, from Glen and Leonard Wood and on down the line, are celebrating their 65-year anniversary this year.

This pretty much makes the two racing families a perfect match.

“You’re not a fan or a racer of NASCAR and don’t know the Wood Brothers,” Blaney said during the NASCAR media tour. “I didn’t need to research. I know them. Names like Cale Yarborough, David Pearson, Bill Elliott, Tiny Lund… they’re all really iconic in NASCAR. Most guys have driven for the Woods.

“When you drive for an iconic team, it’s amazing. For the family lineage in racing, it meshes. Their family is a long line of racers. It’s neat how that twists together. It gives us a great relationship. They’re a great group of guys, and we want to be successful for them.”

Success will be a hard term to define for Blaney and the Wood Brothers this year, although he’ll come with crew chief Jeremy Bullins, who has spearheaded some of Team Penske’s recent success in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

With Blaney only running an 18-race schedule, there’s no points to worry about, which should allow for both driver and crew chief to be more aggressive more often than not.

But as Blaney admitted, he’s a Cup rookie, even though he won’t be running for rookie-of-the-year honors. He’ll need to earn that respect at the Cup level.

“There’s actually a fine line there,” he explained. “So OK, the benefit of a partial schedule is you don’t have to worry about points so you can be more aggressive on pit calls or driving style. But you’re new, and have to earn respect.

“I’d compare it to being a high school senior then going to college and being a freshman. You’re new, and you’re moving from being a big bad senior to nothing! That’s kinda me right now. I was good in the Truck Series… now you’re nothing in Cup. It’s a balancing act between being on the aggressive side since you have to learn, but you have to give a lot to gain respect.”

Bullins, who’s come a long way over 15 years since starting as a car chief and engineer with the Wood Brothers in 1999, said the increased Cup schedule will help serve both of them better in the long run.

“Adding to the schedule is better; it gets us in a better rhythm as a team,” Bullins said. “Now it’s about how fast we get there. The goal for him is to be a full-time Cup driver, and my goal is to be a full-time Cup crew chief.”

Blaney was effusive in his praise of Bullins, who has worked with several drivers at Penske and helped steer the No. 22 team to the last two owner’s championships.

“I think we had four different drivers in ’13 and ’14,” Blaney said. “That speaks to his character and commitment to racing. Not all drivers drive the same. For him to adjust and know what they like, and be successful at it, is amazing. He adjusts so well, and we’re fortunate we got him for this Cup program.

“We’ve created a good bond. We’re both building our careers at the same time. Drivers talk about a personal language you have with your crew chief; we have that, and it’s beneficial.”

With the Wood Brothers at 98 career Cup wins, two more will take them to 100. The goal for the Daytona 500 – assuming the team qualifies for the race – is to emulate Trevor Bayne’s 2011 upset victory, the team’s most recent win.

“We’re gonna try to make that happen!” Blaney said. “We’re expecting we’ll have a very fast car for the 500 and this year overall. They’ve worked really hard on our speedway car for the 500.

“Hopefully we can do it… this car, that race, the history… hopefully we can pull a ‘Trevor Bayne moment.'”

Sports imitates art with Tyler Bereman’s Red Bull Imagination course

Red Bull Imagination Bereman
Chris Tedesco / Red Bull Content Pool
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This past weekend riders took on the Red Bull Imagination, a one-of-a-kind event conceived by Tyler Bereman – an event that blended art, imagination, and sports.

In its third year, Red Bull Imagination opened to the public for the first-time, inviting fans to experience a more personal and creative side of the riders up close and personal.

As the event elevates its stature, the course gets tougher. The jumps get higher and the competition stouter. This year’s course took inspiration from a skatepark, honoring other adrenaline-laced pastimes and competitions.

“There’s a ton of inspiration from other action sports,” Bereman said told Red Bull writer Eric Shirk as he geared up for the event.

MORE: Trystan Hart wins Red Bull Tennessee Knockout 

Bereman was the leading force in the creation of this event and the winner of its inaugural running. In 2022, Bereman had to settle for second with Axell Hodges claiming victory on the largest freeride course created uniquely for the Red Bull Imagination.

Unlike other courses, Bereman gave designer Jason Baker the liberty to create obstacles and jumps as he went. And this was one of the components that helped the course imitate art.

Baker’s background in track design comes from Supercross. In that sport, he had to follow strict guidelines and build the course to a specific length and distance. From the building of the course through the final event, Bereman’s philosophy was to give every person involved, from creators to riders, fans and beyond, the chance to express themselves.

He wanted the sport to bridge the valley between racing and art.

Tyler Bereman uses one of Red Bull Imagination’s unique jumps. Garth Milan / Red Bull Content Pool

Hodges scored a 98 on the course and edged Bereman by two points. Both riders used the vast variety of jumps to spend a maximum amount of time airborne. Hodges’s first run included nearly every available obstacle including a 180-foot jump before backflipping over the main road.

The riders were able to secure high point totals on their first runs. Then, the wind picked up ahead of Round 2. Christian Dresser and Guillem Navas were able to improve their scores on the second run by creating new lines on the course and displaying tricks that did not need the amount of hangtime as earlier runs. They were the only riders to improve from run one to run two.

With first and second secured with their early runs, Hodge and Bereman teamed up to use their time jointly to race parallel lines and create tandem hits. The two competitors met at the center of the course atop the Fasthouse feature and revved their engines in an embrace.

Julien Vanstippen rounded out the podium with a final score of 92; his run included a landing of a 130-foot super flip.