March 30, 2014 — Audio and story by Managing Editor Jacob Seelman for Speed77 Radio and Race Chaser Online — photo courtesy Shelby Blackstock — NASHVILLE, TN and MOORESVILLE, NC — Ask Shelby Blackstock about his parents.
He’ll tell you all about them. In fact, he’s as proud of them as they are of him.
Blackstock, the son of country music superstar Reba McEntire and her husband and manager Narvel Blackstock, has never shied away from talking about his family, but has worked hard over the years to find his own individual niche and follow his own path, one that led away from the entertainment business, where he spent his time as a young child, and into a different form of entertainment — auto racing.
“I worked on the road (with mom and dad) when I was eight years old, just doing odds and ends but still doing things for them, but they really got me working by the time I was 10,” Shelby says, recalling his days before racing. “It was never something that was forced on me. I wanted to have a chance to go work on the road anyways. I was a roadie for a while, I just never ended up living it,” Blackstock laughs.
“I’d go out on tour for two, three weeks at a time and it was awesome as a kid, but as I got older, I realized it wasn’t for me.”
After graduating high school, Shelby was enrolled at the University of Arizona, but quickly began having second thoughts about earning his degree. During Thanksgiving of his freshman year, Shelby called his mother and struck a deal with her that if he finished the school year, she would agree to send him out to the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Racing.
“I got to U of A, and I started asking around about potential majors,” Blackstock explained. “I said, ‘do you have anything with cars or car design?’ and they said, ‘well no, you have to be an art major and that’s two more years at a different college’, so that was out. Aerodynamics was three more years and being a space major, so I’m like, ‘yeah, no’ but while I was there I met Jim Click (with the Jim Click Racing Team) in Tucson and that kicked off the motorsports dream.
When Blackstock arrived at the Bondurant School and got behind the wheel, there was no doubt about his natural talent for driving race cars. He outpaced all of the “refresher course” drivers on the ground and showed so much skill that the Bondurant School suggested he take a turn at the Skip Barber School of Racing.
On advice, Blackstock did indeed head to Skip Barber to perfect his craft after returning to the Bondurant School one more time following the conclusion of his school year, and from there, the road was built.
But even despite Blackstock’s long journey to get to professional motorsports, from a very early age it seemed he was destined to belong there.
“My parents bought us (Shelby and his niece) go-karts one Christmas and told us we could ride them at the house. Now, these aren’t the race karts that everybody’s used to seeing the kids learn in today; these were from Wal-Mart with lawn mower engines, full-on ‘redneck-mobiles’ and it was probably crazy what we were doing with them,” the Tennessee native laughed.
“So, my parents buy us these karts, and their rule was that we couldn’t drive in the grass, not in any circumstances. We could only drive on the driveway and in the field. The problem was at the end of the driveway we had to 180 it to keep out of the grass, and a lot of times we’d hook the wheels and roll the karts. Finally, we figured out how to drop the right rear wheel down on the dirt just enough to lose traction, and then we’d yank the wheel left and slam on the brakes. Problem solved!”
Blackstock began his competitive racing career on August 28, 2010, racing in the Mustang Challenge Miller Cup series, but it wasn’t until January of 2011 that Blackstock made his sports car debut in the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge at Daytona running as high as first before turning the car over to his co-driver Roly Falgueras. The duo ultimately finished 18th that day but the track time would set the stage for Blackstock’s future success.
Blackstock’s season got off on the right foot from race one, as he took the victory along with co-driver Ashley Freiberg at the BMW Performance 200, the season-opening event for the IMSA Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge at Daytona International Speedway.
Looking at that moment now, Blackstock calls it “career-changing”.
“To have started out our season the way we did with Fall Line Motorsports in the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge was amazing. Every single session we went out we were insanely fast and in the end it just all came together. Even despite some problems in qualifying we started fifteenth and were able to pull out a win.”
“To go to victory lane at Daytona; every driver in the world dreams of having a chance to win there. Now we can say we’ve done it.”
Blackstock has also raced in the Skip Barber National Series and the Mazda MX-5 Cup Championship. Currently, he races in the Pro Mazda Championship with Andretti Autosport and the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge driving the Grand Sport (GS) #48 BMW M3 GS for Fall Line Motorsports.
Looking to continue the roll of momentum, Blackstock embarked on his first Pro Mazda journey of the season with Andretti Autosport this weekend and drew up a mixed bag of results, finishing tenth and a strong fourth in the season-opening doubleheader in St. Petersburg. While the results may not have been exactly what he had hoped for, Blackstock is still confident in both his team and his teammates that things will just get better and better along the way.
“I’m still very excited about what 2014 has in store for myself and for this Andretti Autosport team. Working with them and with my teammate Garett (Grist) has been great so far; Garett’s a great kid and a lot of fun to work with. He’s still maturing but he’s coming along great and we should both ahve some good finishes in store.”
“The tire compound changing for this year has hampered us just a bit I would say, I feel like we were one of the teams that got bumped back just a bit when we changed compounds going into this year, but we’ll keep working at it and look forward to the whole season to come.”
As he goes down the racing path, Blackstock knows that he has his parents’ support behind him every step of the way. In fact, Blackstock says, they’ve found their own place alongside him in the racing world.
“You’d think they’d be out of place in racing, but the truth is, they’re all in now. They’re as much a race fan as the next guy you’d see at the track. It’s funny because now, I’ll get texts from them saying ‘Hey, are you watching this race on such-and-such network?’ so, they’re just super into it like I am. They love it, and they love being there to support me whenever they can.”
“I have to admit, the first time they ever watched me I was at Daytona and ended up five-wide going into Turn 1 at 185 miles an hour. I probably could have chosen a little bit nicer, calmer venue for them to see me race professionally at for the first time. Apparently my mom almost fainted, my dad was just like, ‘Well, screw this,’ but now it’s been a complete 180 and they love every minute of it.”
So as 2014 rolls on with two vastly different paths for Shelby Blackstock, don’t look for the young man whose nickname, Shelbilly, gives a nod to his Tennessee roots, to drive down the motorsports road in any way other than his own.
After all, he’s been paving the way his entire life.
Listen in to our complete interview with IMSA and Pro Mazda driver Shelby Blackstock as he talks life, racing and his journey from green flag to now as he looks ahead to 2014 with Andretti Autosport: