Q: Tell us about yourself. What’s your dream?
JB: My name is Jay Blake and I’ve dreamed of working on a professional race team since elementary school. I’ve always loved cars and I’ve wanted to work on them for as long as I can remember. In fact, in my office there’s a picture of me at 3 or 4 years old with a pedal tractor tipped over and a toolbox next to me. I always loved working on things. In school, I never cared for English or History, my passion was cars. For me, everything always came back to cars. I even found a way to make a high school History project about cars by doing a report on the history of presidential limousines. When I got a little older, my brother got me into drag racing, which only added to my passion.
Q: What kinds of challenges stood in your way and how did you overcome them?
JB: After high school, I wanted to go to trade school but that didn’t work out and I began my first job at Ford, as an auto mechanic. After that, I got married, had two kids and before I knew it, I was struggling to pay the bills and I sort of lost track of my dream. Everybody knows how stressful life can be when you have a family to provide for and you have bills piling up. All it takes is one unexpected outlay and all of a sudden you can’t afford to pay the rent that month. If it wasn’t for rent assistance, your family could be out on the street. I guess my dream got lost in the stressors of daily life. Then one day, years later, I was working as a head mechanic at a trucking company when there was an industrial accident, an explosion that blew my face off. I was airlifted to the hospital where doctors worked for over ten hours to rebuild my face. They tried to salvage my right eye but the accident left me completely blind. I’m lucky to be alive, however, when I lost my sight, I felt that I had also lost any hope of accomplishing my dream.
After the accident, I felt like I had lost a huge piece of my independence. I attended The Carroll Center for the Blind, where I learned how to live without sight. It was there that my teachers tried to encourage me that I could do anything despite my new disability, but I doubted them. My whole life was about cars and trucks and now I was blind. I had a hard time believing that I could still follow my dream. Then, after I graduated from The Carroll Center, a friend invited me to a National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) drag race in Reading, PA. At first, I didn’t want to go. I figured, why bother? I wouldn’t be able to see anything anyway. But my friend convinced me to go and when I got there I felt so alive. By the end of the day I had decided that I was going to go for it. I wasn’t going to be a victim, I was going to go after my dream.
I got busy taking some business classes at the local college, networking, and fundraising. Eventually, I was able to buy a race car – an alcohol funny car, which has a carbon fiber shell and looks like a Chevy Impala. It runs on methanol and the rear of the car is tilted up. Now, not only do I work on a race team, I own a race team. I started my organization, Follow a Dream, and by 1999 it became a legal non-profit. When I stop and look back at all I’ve accomplished, it’s amazing. I still have fears but that’s part of chasing a dream. I’ve learned first-hand that life can be over too quickly and I’ve vowed to go after the things I want. Now, when people ask about my experience, I respond with a line from The Blues Brothers, “I’m on a mission from God.”
Q: Now that you’re living your dream, what’s next?
JB: In order to completely fulfill my dream, there are two things I still want to do. I want to go out to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, where racers compete to break the land speed records. My goal is to be the first blind man to race a dragster, unassisted, at over 200 mph. Right now, the only thing standing in my way is $250,000. And so the fundraising begins. I also want to secure a major sponsor so I can build a Top Fuel team. Right now, I own an Alcohol Funny Car, which in the drag racing world is a semi-professional class, it’s like the minor leagues. Top Fuel is the major leagues and that’s what I hope to accomplish next.
Q: What advice do you have for people struggling to pursue their dreams?
JB: I find that there are five tools you need to have in your life’s toolbox:
- A positive attitude: I could’ve sat at home and felt sorry for myself and everyone would’ve understood, but I didn’t. And neither should you.
- Education: Even though I didn’t like school, I can’t stress the value and importance of a good education enough.
- Passion: Go after what you love. Life is too short to spend it caught up in the rat race.
- Determination: Don’t give up. Never give up.
- Teamwork: Ask for help. Nobody can do it alone. Even Bill Gates didn’t build Microsoft by himself, so why should you?
Jay Blake has spoken at schools, organizations and even appeared on CNN, NBC and The Today Show to spread his encouraging message.
Are you actively pursuing or living a dream? If so, I’d love to hear from you! Please e-mail me at: Erika (dot) Liodice (at sign) hotmail (dot) com.