Drag racing is a sport that encompasses all five senses of the human body. While watching an event live you can hear the roar of the engines, you can smell the methanol and burnt rubber (and taste it too), you can feel the heat from the exhaust and you see the cars accelerate from 0 to 260 mph in around 5.5 seconds.
It’s hard not to be intrigued by a sport that can offer all of that. In fact, for one man, only two of the five senses where necessary to want to get involved in drag racing.
Jay Blake is the president and crew chief for the Permatex/Follow A Dream drag racing team. Jay Blake and his Follow A Dream team have been consistently ranked in the top 10 nationally over the past 10 years, winning the championship in 2012.
What’s even more remarkable, if you don’t know much about Jay Blake, is that Jay is blind and has been since May 22, 1997. Jay was working at a trucking company at the time as a head mechanic. A forklift wheel and tire assembly exploded in his face that day leaving the then 31-year-old blind and without the ability to smell or taste.
Jay needed to find a new path in life and he found drag racing. Speedville recently had the chance to ask Jay about how he got into the sport and about the rigorous demands that running a nationally successful drag racing team requires.
Q. I know you worked in at a trucking company when you lost your eyesight, but what was your mechanical background/interest before that?
A. My mechanical interest started as a very young child. I loved working on and tinkering with things. My toolbox has been bigger than me most of my life.
Q. Who was your favorite drag racer growing up? And who was your biggest inspiration for starting the team?
A. I’m not sure I had a particular favorite growing up. I just enjoyed the sport. I would have to say John Force and Don Garlitz are the two biggest influences for me. They both really started from nothing and both have created their own history.
Q. How long did it take you to learn how to get around on your own after the accident?
A. I had training at my house the summer after my accident. Then I went to the Carroll Center for the Blind in Newton, MA in September and was there for five months. That is when and where I learned the basics. For me, I’m always learning new things when I travel.
Q. What motivated you to start this team? Were there a lot of people telling you to do something else? At what point did you think it was actually going to happen and that the team was going to work?
A. I was at a crossroads in my life after the accident and trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. I went to race in Pennsylvania in September 1998 and that’s where I decided to start my own team. There were lots of people who told me I shouldn’t start a team, that it made no sense. I obviously didn’t listen. My older brother, Jim Blake, was one of the people who thought I should go in a different direction. He ended up driving my first car, a Super Comp Dragster I purchased in 1999.
Q. How have you grown the team since it started? Have you ever been interested in running a multi-car operation?
A. The team started with my brother and I. Today, Terri, who runs the office, is full time and the crew consists of 12 people who are all volunteers. I don’t think about running a multi-car operation as much as I do about getting this car to run well and expanding the current program.
Q. What are you daily responsibilities with the team? Do you work on the car during race weekends or at the shop or hardly at all anymore?
A. I oversee the whole operation, both the racing end and the administrative end. I could not do any of this without the terrific crew I have supporting the operation. What I love most is to work on the car, and I work on it both at the shop and racetrack. I also work on the transporters.
Q. What would you add to the car if you had an unlimited budget?
A. The first thing I would do with an unlimited budget would be to hire a full-time crew guy who would be able to work on the car and drive the transporter as well as help around the shop. We’d be able to test more often with an unlimited budget because parts wouldn’t be an issue.
Q. How much maintenance is involved between rounds and how much do you teardown between races?
A. Between round maintenance includes replacing 18 quarts of oil, five gallons of methanol, the clutch, three clutch discs, two floaters, the Clevite connecting rod bearings, adjusting the valves, leak testing the motor and replacing all eight NGK spark plugs. We replace connecting rods around every 10 runs. We’ll go through the heads between races, check the transmission and rear end, and give the car a good check over.
Q. How long is your season – how much time does your team spend on the road?
A. We spend more time on the road than we like to admit. Our season begins in March and ends at the World Finals in November.
Q. What is the biggest key to making the car quick? How much difference does the “tune” make each run?
A. The tune makes all the difference with each run. Track temperature, air temp and humidity all play a big part in how the car runs.
Q. When they say “tune” the car for the run, what does that entail usually?
A. Adjusting your clutch, setting fuel delivery and setting timing before the run.
Q. How many engines do you go through per year?
A. Hopefully we go through none, but I think we’ve probably hurt 3-4 in one year between breaking a connecting rod or torching cylinder heads.
Q. How much horsepower do your engines produce and are you competitive with other Top Fuel teams like John Force Racing and their huge budgets?
A. Our engines produce about 3,500 hp. We are competitive within our class and are currently ranked in the top 10 nationally and top 3 in the region. We race a top alcohol funny car, which is the class below nitro funny car, which is the class John Force runs. Yes, we’d like to have half his budget!
Q. How much technical help does your sponsor Permatex provide? What products do you use of theirs and how does it perform?
A. Permatex supplies us with any technical info we need. We use many Permatex products including Fast Orange Hand Soap, Fast Orange Wipes, Spray Nine Cleaners, Brake and Parts Washer, Ultra Slick Assembly Lube, and Ultra Slick Multi-Purpose Lubricant. We also use the threadlockers, both medium and high strength, the Right Stuff Gasket Maker and Permatex Anti-Seize. These are the primary products we use and we have other Permatex brand products on hand for any situation that arises.
Q. How much time do you put into the business side of the team per week?
A. Depending on the time of year, what needs to get done and who’s available to help, I can be at the shop 50-60 hours a week. During the racing season I spend more time on the road, and in the winter I work in the office more.
Q. What would you tell other people who are just starting out in racing and want to make a living doing it?
A. Don’t do it, just as suggested to me! Making a living in this industry is very difficult. It depends on what you’d like to do in the industry – driving, owning a team, tuner, etc. They’re all very different areas of the industry and would be approached differently. Starting out as a crew guy is probably the easiest way to get started in professional drag racing.
Q. How is the new Camaro performing and how long have you been running it?
A. We debuted the new Camaro in May at Maple Grove Raceway. The car has shown signs of brilliance, but it’s taking some time to get our combination figured out.
Q. Are there other areas besides the body/aerodynamics involved with running the Camaro package?
A. The Camaro body is mounted on a McKinney chassis and it works a little differently than our former Pro Start chassis.
Q. How long do you think you want to keep running a team?
A. No end in sight. I love what I do!
Q. Would you ever consider running any other type of racing or a different class?
A. Yes, I’d run a nitro team if we had funding, but I don’t foresee another type of racing.