EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article, another in the “Remember When?” series, first saw the light of day on July 2017.
BUSTI — As Max Blair tooled around McKean County Raceway one evening in June, his in-car camera was compromised when a clump of mud fastened itself to the lens during the World of Outlaws Late Model Series feature.
The only ones who may have been inconvenienced by the obstructed view of Max’s first WOO feature win, however, were likely his YouTube fans. Because as the calendar is about to flip from July to August, it’s crystal clear that the young man from Centerville, Pennsylvania is having a season to remember.
“The whole deal has been pretty awesome,” Max said as he sat in his trailer at Stateline Speedway prior to Saturday night’s racing card. “We started out pretty rough, but, boy, it’s turned around to be a pretty good one so far.”
How good is “pretty good?”
Check out these numbers, which include Crate and Late Model feature victories Sunday night at Eriez Speedway in Hammett, Pennsylvania: 54 races, 26 wins, 48 top 5s and 52 top 10s.
“He wins at an unprecedented rate,” local dirt-track historian Randy Anderson said. “There’s nobody who wins Super Late Model features at that percentage. That’s off the charts.”
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Max’s earliest racing memories date to the late 1990s when he visited tracks every weekend with his dad, Rob, who has been one of best drivers in the area for years.
“It used to be you had to be 14 to get into the pits anywhere back then,” Max said. “When we would go to Conneaut (Ohio, home of Raceway 7), I would ride in the hauler with dad. He would drop me off at the main gate and I would go in and sit with my aunt and uncle in the stands. … When the races were over, I’d wait at the gate and I’d watch for him to come out and I’d get back (in the hauler).”
It was just the beginning of what has turned into an amazing ride for the 27-year-old, who operates Team Blair Racing with his father.
“I still believe that dad is the best who has ever come out of this area,” Max said. “There have been some good ones, but he’s never had the opportunity to go do some of the stuff those other guys did.
“For the last couple years, he’s really scaled back his stuff a ton so that I could race more, and this year we junked (one of the cars) early and the car I’m running is actually his car.”
That teamwork has paid dividends.
“It’s all we do,” Max said. “It’s not a weekend hobby. It’s what we do every day. …He’s the main part of it, no doubt. Having him in my corner is a pretty big advantage.”
On Saturday night at Stateline, Max won the Crate SLM feature and finished third in the SLM feature, continuing what has been a spectacular 2017 racing season.
“I think it’s his determination,” Rob said. “Sometimes it looks like we don’t even have a chance to win … but he just moves around and finds something that works that nobody else probably could make work. Somehow, for some reason, he finds something.”
Max’s talents have not gone unnoticed by his racing peers.
“He’s the best I’ve seen come along in, gosh, I don’t know how long,” said SLM driver Rich Gardner, who has been racing for 40 years. “He’s good enough to be on the World of Outlaws or Lucas circuits, if he just had a chance. … He’s that good.”
Noted Dick Barton, Stateline’s all-time leader in both career wins (80) and track championships (10): “I’ve enjoyed some tremendous years, I mean awesome years, and I’m very proud of what we put together, but it’s by no means anywhere near what this young man is putting up.”
Gardner, who earned the checkered flag at Stateline in the SLM feature, ahead of John Lobb and Max, on Saturday night, said that the Blairs are a potent combination.
“Rob’s one of the best to ever run around this area,” Gardner said. “When you’ve got that going for you, and you always have a good car, good equipment, good setup for whatever track you go to, and you have your dad, who has actually been there and done that in that seat, that helps.”
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With all the success, Max is apparently not the universal favorite among area racing fans.
“People boo him,” Gardner said. “I remember back in the day when they booed Barton and Bobby Schnars, but (Max) is a winner. He wins. I know people get tired of seeing him, but he’s just that good.
“It makes everybody step up their game and be better.”
Max said he doesn’t “want to say I do anything better than anybody else,” but admits that racing is all he’s ever known, dating back to when he was a boy playing with die-cast cars in a sandbox while his father raced.
“Literally, when we woke up Christmas morning, we opened our presents and as soon as we were done, dad would get up and go to the garage,” he admitted. “That’s what my entire life has been. To me, that’s just normal.”
What Max has accomplished, though, is anything but normal.
“It doesn’t happen by accident,” said Barton, who retired after the 2014 season. “There’s no magic pill that you take. He has got a very good feel for the race car. You can see he’s aggressive when he needs to be and I’ve seen him when he’s in the lead when he’s saving his equipment. He’s doing all the right things. He’s setting the standard right now.”
Added Max: “I don’t want this to sound cocky, (but) I’m here because I want to win.”
Desire plus hard work equals success for No. 111.
The numbers don’t lie.