Racing to help friends

Young race car driver helping support friends with cancer
Posted on May 19, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on May 19, 2013 at 6:40 p.m.

MIDDLEBURY — Bradley Blackburn Jr. would love to one day throw his modified race car into the turns on the dirt track at Eldora (Ohio) Speedway and win a big race.

Or perhaps drive a NASCAR Sprint Cup car at Daytona against Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne.

But right now, at age 14, Bradley would really love to find a way to help doctors find a cure for cancer and he’s using his racing talent to try and raise some money.

The Northridge Middle School eighth-grader is racing at the M-40 Speedway in Jones, Mich., and at the Mottville (Mich.) Motor Speedway this year in the Sportsman class — just one division down from the top class of late model stocks.

And yes, he’s 14.

And a three-year racing veteran.

And in 2012 he was a track champion at Mottville.

But all that takes a backseat to what Bradley is doing off the track to help support two close friends battling cancer, while also helping raise money for the American Cancer Society.

Bradley grew up with Sam Grewe and has known Will Mishler for several years. Both teens are currently fighting cancer. Bradley also has two grandparents battling the disease, while the tragic death of a first-grader at Jefferson Elementary due to cancer also hit him hard

Then one day an idea came to him while in math class.

“I decided to dedicate my car to beating cancer,” Bradley said. “I thought it would be a good way for people donate money to the American Cancer Society, while also having their name on a race car.”

So Bradley’s mom, Chris — a racing junkie and former trophy girl at several local tracks — went to work. She found a designer to work and he came up with a great-looking car that also has a strong message.

Bradley’s No. 47 car is filled with cancer ribbons, two of which carry the names of Sam and Will. For a donation of $5, which will go to the American Cancer Society, anyone can have a name written on one of the ribbons to recognize a friend or family member that is battling or has battled the disease.

So far, the response has been overwhelming.

The Blackburn family has had the car on display a few times this spring, while word of the teen’s selfless act has been spreading like wildfire through Facebook.

“I think it’s just awesome how many people are talking about the car and what we’re trying to do,” Bradley said. “I’m just trying to find a way to take a real negative and turn it into something positive.”

Back on the track, Bradley’s career has also been pretty amazing.

Chris Blackburn grew up around the local small-track racing scene, spending entire weekends watching races at tracks in Mottville, New Paris and Plymouth. So it seemed very natural that her son would pick up the love of racing quite easily.

“Almost from the moment he could talk, he could tell you the names of every NASCAR driver,” Chris Blackburn said. “His favorite driver was Dale Jarrett, so when he was about two, we cut out a cardboard box, painted it UPS brown and put an 88 on the side (Jarrett’s sponsor and number at the time) and that became Bradley’s first race car. He even had a UPS uniform on and when we sent it to Jarrett, he autographed it and sent it back, which we sure weren’t expecting.”

When Bradley was 11, his parent were going to put him in a mini-cup car to try his hand at racing, but the deal fell through. Fortunately, the owner of the M-40 Speedway had a Sportsman car and offered Bradley the opportunity to test it.

About 50 laps later — after he figured out how to drive a stick-shift — Bradley looked like a natural. He drove several races at the end of the season at M-40 at the age of 12 and although he didn’t win, he also didn’t get lapped, as he was able to keep up with most of the top veteran drivers.

Then last year as a grizzled veteran of 13, Bradley won the Sportsman Division at Mottville by more than 1,000 points, while also taking home Rookie of the Year honors at M40.

Back in a Sportsman car this year, Bradley has plenty of time to consider his racing future. Right now, his No. 1 goal is to race the powerful modified cars on dirt, eventually reaching the legendary Eldora Speedway in Ohio, which is owned by NASCAR star Tony Stewart.

If he reaches that level of racing or perhaps gets behind the wheel of a Sprint Cup car, Bradley will be cheered by thousands every weekend.

But what he’s doing to raise funds to fight cancer as a 14-year-old, deserves the respect and cheers of all of us.

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