THIS DRIVER IS WITH YOU IN THE CAR AND GYM. HE’S NOW HELPING NASCAR STAY INNOVATIVE

A steady drum beat and baseline begins while a single guitar chord sustains across about five seconds. As the chord fades into nothing, Ryan Blaney is there to greet you.

“Welcome,” he says, and even that is enough to make the NASCAR driver sort of laugh, “to our first ever Glass Case of Emotion podcast.”

The idea seemed a little absurd to Blaney at first. Why would NASCAR want him to represent the brand with its first ever company-sanctioned podcast? Would anyone really care about the daily life and observations of a driver, who, at the time, had yet to win on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series?

But two wins, 71 episodes and almost 1,300 five-star iTunes reviews later, Blaney has ridden his unique platform to become a true fan favorite on the NASCAR Cup Series. No longer is fans’ knowledge of the driver confined to whatever he might fit into a post-race interview. Blaney is in your ears at the gym, in your car or while you’re cooking dinner to profess his love for Star Wars, video games and prank calling other drivers.

On Wednesday, Blaney gave a sneak peek at a likely topic for his next episode. The driver spent the early afternoon at the Casino at Dania Beach, learning to play jai alai as part of a tour through South Florida ahead of the Ford EcoBoost 400 next month in Homestead. Blaney’s experience will definitely come up.

“I think it opens up personalities,” Blaney said Wednesday. “I want to do that for all the drivers, that’s why we do it, just kind of introduce them. Let people know that they’re people and let them know their personalities. It has been cool, the growth it’s gotten.”

Blaney — and NASCAR — have one of their most famous drivers to thank. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the true pioneer in the medium for NASCAR. Earnhardt won NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver Award for 15 straight years from 2003 until he retired in 2017. For those final two years, Earnhardt hopped behind the microphone for his own podcast, albeit not one sanctioned by NASCAR. The Dale Jr. Download has now run for more than 200 episodes.

Blaney and Earnhardt are good friends, and in Mooresville, North Carolina. Earnhardt first suggested Blaney think about a podcast when night when they were hanging out and started to regularly pester his friend from there. He figured Blaney had a personality which would work for radio.

On about the third time, Blaney relented. He brought the idea to NASCAR before the 2017 season and, less than a month into the season, the first episode debuted.

“I didn’t know how it was going to work or how fans were going to react to it, to be honest,” Blaney said. “We wanted to do a podcast where drivers or other athletes can come on and just talk, don’t make it feel like a racing interview, just talk about what you want to talk about.”

He has a pair of experienced co-hosts with NASCAR producer Chuck Bush and experienced reporter Kim Coon. Together, they interview other drivers and athletes, and rarely focus on racing. The dedicated following — fans of the show refer to themselves as “Glassholes” — make Blaney’s interactions with fans a bit more interesting. When he’s in the pits signing autographs, Glassholes actually feel like they know Blaney from spending dozens of hours with him.

“That part is really nice,” Blaney said, “not to talk less about racing, but just more about who you are as a person.”

Even after almost two years, Blaney’s podcast still stands alone at NASCAR. The organization’s podcast page on the website just takes users to a list of Glass Case of Emotion episodes.

At some point down the line, NASCAR plans to follow Blaney’s format and create a slew of other driver-hosted podcasts. Blaney knows firsthand how important a role it can play in keeping the sport moving forward.

“It might help it, just kind of opening up the doors to more people, showing our personalities,” Blaney said. “I think it’d be good if more drivers gave it a shot.”

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