Jay Blake has never let a little thing like not being able to see slow him down. Blinded in an industrial accident in May 1997, he has gone on to accomplish things that he might never have if he was just another mechanic and drag racer, things like inspiring thousands and changing people’s lives.
About the only thing the eternal optimist from Cape Cod, Mass., can’t do is drive his race car, which is fine with him – he never wanted to anyway. “The dream was never about driving,” Blake says. “It was always about working on the car.” He does more than just work on a race car, though; he’s the crew chief and owner of the Permatex/Follow A Dream Top Alcohol Funny Car, and for him, drag racing isn’t a hobby. It’s who he is and what he does.
The dream was never about driving. It was always about working on the car.
“Speaking is just as rewarding as racing,” says Blake, who has been featured on CNN and the Today Show and in the New York Times and the Boston Globe. “In some ways, it’s more rewarding. I used to get nervous, and every once in a while I still do, but I enjoy it. I guess it’s like driving: It’s not something you just show up and do; you need to take time to get your head together and get psyched up. I like big groups the best. I’d rather speak to 500 people than 20 because I draw on the energy in the room. Sometimes, I can hear people’s reaction, and when there’s total silence, it speaks volumes.”
Blake’s story is a powerful one. He teetered on the brink of death following an industrial accident when he was 30 and woke up to find that he’d lost his vision and his sense of taste and smell. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, he made the difficult decision to not just go on but to lead a life that convinced others that their dreams were closer to their grasp than they realized.
“People limit themselves so much,” he says. “We don’t look hard enough at what the possibilities are. If I could see, I’d be just another guy with an Alcohol Funny Car. Doing this full time makes me different from other racers. Plus, let’s face it: my story is different than the next guy’s.” Practicing what he preached, Blake formed his own race teams, first in Super Comp, now in Alcohol Funny Car, and, in the future, with a nitro car on the NHRA Full Throttle tour.
“For as long as I can remember, I always wanted to work on a fuel team,” he says. “No one was ever going to hire me, so I figured the only way to do it was to start my own team. I was going to go get 3 million bucks and have my own car, which, obviously, wasn’t realistic, so I went with what I knew, Super Comp, which I could afford. Only there would be 120 cars at every race, I blended in with everybody else, and I realized that I was never going to get any real sponsorship.”
People limit themselves so much. We don’t look hard enough at what the possibilities are. If I could see, I’d be just another guy with an Alcohol Funny Car.
Blake bought Frank Manzo’s championship-winning Dodge Avenger before the 2003 season, and just two years later, driver Dave Ray wheeled it to the team’s first national event victory, over Bob Newberry at the 2005 Houston event. Ray won the 2006 Gatornationals, where tuner Tom Howell guided the car to the No. 1 qualifying spot (5.57) and low e.t. (5.56), and finished the year with a victory at the Finals in Pomona. Current driver Todd Veney has won three divisional events since 2010.
“That first win at Houston was incredible, and the Gatornationals and the World Finals are two of the biggest races in the world, but the most rewarding part of all this is when you realize that you’ve actually made a difference in people’s lives,” Blake says. “When you hear that you’ve changed someone’s life, changed the way they view things…nothing is ever going to take the place of that. I don’t look in the rear view mirror too much. You need to look back sometimes and be proud of what you’ve accomplished and realize that what you’re doing is working, but you always have to keep going. As I tell people sometimes at my speaking engagements, you don’t have to get hit in the head as hard as I did to wake up and follow your dreams.”