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Published July 01, 2012, 11:30 PM

Driver with disability finds success at ND dirt tracks

BOTTINEAU, N.D. – Erik Blada was 12 years old when he scrapped the conventional wheelchair in favor of a skateboard.

By: Daniel Allar, Minot (N.D.) Daily News, INFORUM

BOTTINEAU, N.D. – Erik Blada was 12 years old when he scrapped the conventional wheelchair in favor of a skateboard.

Since then, he’s scrapped the conventional wisdom that someone with one fully formed limb can’t succeed in competitive sports.

Blada, 29, was born with no legs and a disfigured right arm and hand. Yet he won the Sport Stock championship last season at Thunder Mountain Speedway in Bottineau and continues to have success there and at dirt tracks in Rugby and Devils Lake.

Blada won a feature race recently at the Geographical Center Speedway in Rugby.

“Being disabled like I am, it’s a disability in other people’s eyes,” Blada said. “In my eyes, I’m just another Joe Blow out there trying to get the checkered flag.”

Blada travels on a skateboard, leaning over his left side to push off the ground and gain momentum. He traverses stairs and climbs onto chairs with powerful thrusts from his muscular left arm.

His race car is modified with a throttle at the top of the steering wheel and a long handle to his right, which he can cradle and depress with his weaker arm to activate the brake.

Blada began auto racing after an injured shoulder sidelined him from snowmobile racing, which he started competitively at age 17. Blada said it took several months in the shop to get his car the way he wanted it, but he felt comfortable as soon as he got behind the wheel – a feeling he attributes to operating farm machinery from an early age.

Brad Blada, Erik’s father, said Erik was using a sophisticated harvesting combine at eight years old and proved helpful around the family farm in Kramer. Today, Erik sells winches for farm machinery for Scott’s Manufacturing in Landa.

“He’s independent; there’s nothing he cannot do,” Brad Blada said. “That’s been his mindset since he was little.”

Erik Blada heard the muttering when he decided to begin competing at regional dirt tracks. Some drivers wondered why he wanted to get involved.

“The first time he raced, I was a little nervous about it,” said Landa’s Steve Beckedahl, who races with Blada in Bottineau and Rugby and also works with Brad Blada. “I went over and asked him how it was, and he was so overjoyed and happy about it. From then on I didn’t worry about him at all. I knew he was comfortable in the car.”

Said Erik Blada: “It wasn’t very many nights (before) I was just another guy on the track to beat.”

Blada grew up watching races at Nodak Speedway and enjoys the family element of going to the track. His parents – along with his girlfriend, Bethany Oakland, and her parents – attend each of his races.

“Racing is my passion,” Blada said. “There isn’t a day that I’m not thinking of something that I can change on the car or how can I improve the car to get it to perform better.”

Blada said the racing community has embraced him – until it’s time to fight for the checkered flag.

“I’m friends with everybody,” he said. “There are a couple of guys that we butt heads, but that’s part of the game – nobody likes to lose.

“Boys will be boys.”