Blind Manager Of Drag-Racing Team A Hit At Hartford School Event
May 9, 2007
By ERIC GERSHON, Courant Staff Writer
There was a time when Jay Blake could see and smell and taste, but those days are 10 years gone.
"I see absolutely zero," he said Tuesday. "No light, no nothing."
But blindness hasn't kept him down.
Now 41, Blake manages a drag-racing team sponsored by Permatex Inc., a Hartford-based producer of adhesives, sealants and lubricants for the automotive industry. He and his car - a drag racer with a 3,000-horsepower engine that can reach 259 mph - came to the Alfred E. Burr School on Wethersfield Avenue in Hartford Tuesday because Permatex has lately made a habit of it.
Based nearby on Columbus Boulevard, Permatex is one of 15 companies in the Hartford area and about 70 statewide that participate in Junior Achievement, an 88-year-old program that brings businesspeople into schools to teach students about work, entrepreneurship and finances.
Louis J. Golden, president of Junior Achievement of Southwest New England, said the volunteers "give [children] an idea that there is a real world they're going to be part of someday."
Travelers, MetLife and The Hartford all send employees into Hartford's public schools. Permatex, which has 40 employees in Hartford, joined the group this year.
"We've sort of adopted Burr Elementary," said Michael R. Zimmerman, the company's general manager.
Before Blake arrived, Zimmerman and four colleagues led students through games that taught geography, the way it can influence business and the basics of calculating profit and loss. Or, as Jose Flores, 10, put it later, "We were learning about natural resources, human resources, capital resources and our region."
Blake and his race car, parked on the lawn behind the school, were the stars of the day, as everybody knew they would be. Dressed in black pants, a bright orange-and-yellow short-sleeve shirt and a white cap, Blake stood beside the dragster autographing photographs of it. Wedged in his back pocket was a folding cane.
"Is this the top of the card?" he would ask each time. "Is this the top?"
A longtime mechanic, Blake had always loved cars, he later told a group of about 80 third- and fourth-graders assembled in the Burr gymnasium. But it was only after a 1997 workplace accident cost him his sight - a tire blew up in his face - that he grew serious about drag racing. He went to a school for the blind, set up a nonprofit group that encourages positive thinking and self-determination, founded a team and recruited sponsors.
"My passion was still there," he said.
Although he can't drive, Blake serves as crew chief for his racing team and still works beneath the hood, he said. In 2005, the Permatex team, which competes around the country, won its first major National Hot Rod Association event.
Burr told students the story of his accident and the road to his new career, and then he enumerated "Jay Blake's Five Essential Tools for Your Life's Tool Box": a positive attitude, skills and education, passion, self-determination and teamwork.
"Life is not always fair," he said. "But it's the best thing there is."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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