BUCKHANNON – Dirt track driving is so much more than hitting the gas pedal and turning left. Upshur County is the home to a number of dirt track drivers who find themselves at Elkins Raceway week after week.
The story of Buckhannon native and dirt track driver Blake Runyon derives from humble beginnings. Join My Buckhannon by reflecting on the past, present and future of the CR Motorsports racing team.
At the conclusion of the 2023 racing season at Elkins Raceway, Blake is now a driver with 10 years behind the wheel. He has has grown up through the car classes offered at Elkins Raceway beginning in the mini wedge division in 2015.
Growing up, Blake would join his father, Patrick Carpenter, and grandfather, Alan Carpenter, to collect cans to take to the local recycling center in exchange for money. Both Patrick and Alan pulled their money together, in addition to Blake’s recycling money, to purchase the first CR Motorsports mini wedge car in 2015.
Runyon first strapped into that same car at only eight years old. His nerves were visible, in anticipation for the drop of the green flag, but his car soon brought him back to the pit area because the engine would not start. Thanks to the quick and efficient efforts of his pit crew, Runyon started in last place, but soon found himself leading the pack before he finished the first lap. Thus, allowing Blake to win his first-ever race.
“My parents and I were shocked,” Runyon said. “It was one of those things that you couldn’t imagine just happened.”
Blake and his family have since worked tirelessly in his grandfather’s racing shop preparing for each and every race. Now, a third-year FASTRAK Crate Late Model driver, Blake has found his groove and growing comfort in such a big and powerful vehicle.
Runyon offers a plethora of helpful advice for those drivers looking to join the racing family.
“Don’t be frustrated whenever you’re not reaching your goals because the first time I strapped into my crate car, I said ‘I’m going to be just like this guy and win everything. I’m going to go full throttle the whole time. I’m going to look like a professional, like I’ve done this for years,’” Runyon said. “This is my third year [driving the crate] and I’m just now able to finish in the top 10. Don’t get frustrated. Stay patient. It’ll come to you. The more you race the car, the more you’ll get the hang of it. Stay in it. Don’t give up. Don’t quit. If you truly love it, [the driving skills will] come. Even small things like finishing the race, that was a big thing my first year [racing] to go out there, not care about how good you do or how fast you go, just finish the race.”
Blake’s father, Patrick Carpenter, reflects on his time watching his son grow up on the dirt track.
“It’s been fun watching him grow up at the track,” Carpenter said. “When we started, I never thought it would lead to us owning a big car, but as he approached aging out of the Miniwedge class, it became clear we weren’t going to be done with racing anytime soon. It’s like a disease. Once you’re in, you can’t let it go.”
Runyon confessed he became discouraged with his participation in the mini wedge division as he grew up, with his eyes on bigger plans in the future – a FASTRAK Crate Late Model.
“Toward the end of my mini wedge career, it was rough because I was getting older and the mini wedges were getting a little boring and I wasn’t winning. I started to get frustrated, just like I’m telling [the My Buckhannon readers] not to do. I almost quit,” Runyon said. “I think what I would change [over my 10 years of racing] is my attitude towards being able to race a mini wedge at all. I see a bunch of kids over there on the hill now that it’s their biggest dream, to get in one of those little [cars] and go around the track. Even if we’re running last, that might not be the person they’re watching, but if they were in that car, they’d be having the time of their life. I’m really appreciative that I have the opportunity to race my car.”
With that passionate attitude toward life at the track and a humble understanding that many people may look up to him as a role model, Blake takes pride in his work in and out of the racing shop.
“It’s just passion,” Runyon said. “You can be an adrenaline-rush kind of person and just want to go out there and do it. But, I love working on the car. I remember we had some things break so I was under the car working from dark until daylight some nights, just trying to figure stuff out. Coming back [to the track week after week], it’s like a reward for all the hard work you’ve done. Now, you get to go have fun.”
Blake continued by saying he feels racing is similar to other sports he participates in as a student-athlete at Buckhannon-Upshur High School where athletes, like himself, are regularly asked to ‘practice, practice, practice‘. Hours spent learning new skills, organizing equipment and learning from one’s mistakes are all taken into consideration when preparing for a big game. There, athletes can finally have a chance to play and show the fans what they can do. Similarly, dirt track drivers are asked to do the same.
“I’m always proud of Blake, and he has really stepped up since we got that [crate] late model,” Carpenter said. “He’s taken on more of the work on the car from week to week, spending his own money and also researching and asking questions of fellow drivers on setups and things for him to be better. He’s always coming to me about something he’s learned or something someone told him to try.”
Jumping from a 14 horsepower mini wedge motor to a 400 horsepower FASTRAK Crate Late Model motor, Runyon quickly learned an abundance about fierce competition, maintaining patience and control of a vehicle.
“For my first year, it was putt-putt around the bottom [of the track], just getting used to the car, how much power it has, steering it, how big it is and knowing where my car is at,” Runyon said. “The second year was a little bit more, ‘okay, I’m going to pick up the speed a little bit’, while also, still trying to how to hold my line [in the lineup]…Holding your line and learning how to drive your car before you race the car is [important].”
Other important factors about dirt track life would be the people in your pit crew, the fans as well as fellow competitors.
“It’s like a big family at the racetrack. Even in the pits, drivers help other drivers. I just bought some tires off of a competitor of mine this weekend so I could race at Tyler County Speedway [for the Hillbilly 100],” Runyon said. “Also, knowing that all the fans are out there – whether they’re rooting for me or the guy beating me – it’s nice to see all the people with their families and keeping the sport alive.”
In order to keep the sport alive by looking ahead to the future of CR Motorsports, Runyon expressed great interest in focusing his efforts on his performance in his current racing class.
“Right now, I just want to get to the point where I’m up in the pack, in the top 10, running competitively,” Runyon said. “I want to stay regional [where I could be] competitive in different places. Once that happens, maybe we could move out to some higher competition levels. As of right now, crates are where I’m going to stick around.”
Whether the CR Motorsports racing team find themselves in Victory Lane or not quite yet, Carpenter is proud of the endless, hard work of his son.
“I’m proud of [Blake] and the young man he has become,” Carpenter said about his son. “Time sure flies by, but I’m thankful for the memories we have made at the track.”
Follow CR Motorsports on Facebook to follow Blake’s racing journey alongside his brother, Declan Carpenter.
Blake would like to take a moment to give a special thank you to his sponsors for their support and making the future of CR Motorsports possible: Civil & Environmental Consultants Inc. (CEC), A.L.L. Construction, A+ Equipment Rental, TKS Contracting, SEVA West Virginia Selfless Service, Fazalare Engineering, Todd Lemasters, his father Patrick Carpenter, and his grandfather Alan Carpenter.