Back on Track
Jay Blake survived a bad accident and discovered a new purpose
By Tim Ghianni
“It was a bad day at the office,” he says of May 22, 1997, when the accident occurred.
He had reason to be bitter and defeated after the disfiguring explosion cost him his senses of smell, taste and sight. But even in the darkness, he realized he had a second chance at life and was determined not to waste it.
During a yearlong rehab to relearn everything he could do before the accident, friends took Blake to a National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) race in Pennsylvania. The sounds, vibrations and adrenaline set him on the path to his dream of starting his own race team.
Going for it
Sure, he’d rather the near-fatal explosion hadn’t happened. But it did, and while steering clear of pits of despair, Blake chased his race car dreams. He’s now crew chief and owner of championship-caliber Follow A Dream/Permatex alcohol-fueled Funny Car.
When that car’s not traveling a quarter-mile in 5.5 seconds (“That’s 260 mph. Not bad,” he says.) it is his calling card for his other career as a motivational speaker, inspiring all to pursue their dreams by demonstrating that his accident, while a violent setback, was not a roadblock.
“I always liked to work with tools, to see how things worked and fix them,” he says. Evidence of that love is illustrated in a photo hanging in his office that shows him as a child working on a pedal-powered tractor.
He can’t see that picture with the brown plastic eyes that were part of the recreation of his face. Neither can he see the tools he uses when working on the Funny Car, which is among the top 10 in the country. But that doesn’t matter.
“I know how the tools feel and what they are for,” he explains. Some tools have been modified, but most are the same as a sighted person would use.
A will to win
“When we’re at the race track, we’re there to win the race. It really sucks when you lose.”
His upbeat attitude is evident in frequent, robust laughter.
“I enjoy life. I’ve been very lucky to be doing what I’m doing,” he says, talking not just of the racing but of his motivational presentations.
Blake regularly appears at TA and Petro locations, supporters of his charitable mission to spread goodwill and harvest dreams. He also brings the Follow A Dream car and message to hospitals, schools and corporate gatherings.
That same type of thinking has him pushing ahead instead of dwelling on the accident.
“I don’t remember anything until I woke up in the hospital. I actually had a near-death experience,” he says. “I was inside a white cloud. It was extremely white. It was the most peaceful, serene feeling you could imagine. Here I was in total peace. I heard a male voice say to me: ‘Do you want to stay or do you want to go?’ It was God asking me if I wanted to live or die.”
He answered that he wanted to live for his family. Three and a half weeks later, he walked out of the hospital.
He overcame personal as well as physical setbacks on the road to recovery. “My first marriage blew up in my face too,” says the happily remarried father of five children and stepchildren. All of his speaking engagements matter, but there’s special fire in his Cape Cod-flavored voice when he talks about his appearances at schools.
“I tell them the only one who can stop them is themselves,” he says. “Follow A Dream, the race car, is a tool that I use to show people that what I’m saying about dreams is very real.”