When Blake Evans felt inspired to combine his passion for cars with his heart for the ALS community, something unexpected happened. One rusty ‘57 Chevy and 48 states later, Blake and a small crew of family and friends created the Sweet Patina Challenge to embark what seemed like an impossible road trip to support the fight against ALS.
A Family Passion for Cars
Blake Evans, born and raised in Mississippi, grew up around cars from an early age. “I was born into it. My grandfather and my dad were old car guys,” he shared. “They restored old cars and always did the car show things.” The family passion for car restoration trickled down to Blake, and as he grew older, so did his own interest in cars.
“My main passion and hobby in life is tinkering with these old cars and taking them out on road trips, going out and finding the old junky ones that nobody thinks will ever run again and bringing them back to life.”
Today at 38-years-old, Blake lives in North Texas with his high school sweetheart wife of 14 years. They moved to Texas about 15 years ago when she came to be a cheerleader for the Dallas Cowboys. And now they have three beautiful children, one girl and two boys. They thought they’d be in Texas for just a couple of years. However, the Evans family fell in love with the Lone Star State and never left.
One thing didn’t change though—Blake’s love of cars. Years before coming to Texas, Blake also discovered another key passion that would later inspire him to join the fight to defeat ALS.
An Unexpected Interest in Healthcare
When it came time for Blake to graduate from high school, he knew he didn’t want to follow the traditional college route. “I actually wanted to be a firefighter when I graduated high school,” he shared. Unfortunately, Blake pinched a nerve while working for a fence company which put a pause on these plans.
“I went to a physical therapist and he started talking me through the education and all to become a Physical Therapists Assistant (PTA).” This chance encounter changed the trajectory of Blake’s life. Following much thought, Blake decided he wanted to pursue this career path—“I realized it was possible.”
Blake graduated from the PTA program in 2007 and immediately started working in sports rehab at an outpatient clinic. He also gained experience with nursing home and hospital work at this time. After moving to Texas with his wife, he found himself working in home health. That’s where Blake felt he shone as a PTA. “It just really clicked with my personality.”
Through this position, he met many people and supported them through numerous diseases such as Parkinson’s, MS, and ALS. “There’s such a wide variety of stuff you get with home health. It’s not just cookie cutter.”
A Budding Friendship
While Blake encountered many families along his career, he connected deeply with one of them. Several years ago, he met Mr. Bernard Rudler, who was living with ALS, and his wife. “There was something about Mr. Bernard that me and him kinda clicked. He had always been watching the old car restoration shows when I’d be there.”
Both Blake and Bernard enjoyed motorcycles and old cars. They connected more with each other more as Blake shared the adventures of fixing cars with his father. He would bring photos to share with Bernard of the cars during their appointments.
Through this friendship, Blake discovered the hardships those living with ALS and their caregivers face daily. “It’s heartbreaking,” he shared. “We’ve got these people battling this disease that there’s no cure for!” He decided that he wanted to do something about it.
Discovering the Patina World
While Blake worked as a Physical Therapists Assistant, he still found time to visit his dad to restore old cars. In fact, his father is known as one of the best automotive painters in Mississippi.
“Everybody is used to us having the really pretty shiny old cars,” Blake noted. He noticed a new trend growing in the car restoration space. Folks would restore the interior and hardware of an old rusty car but leave them rusty. This style of car generates a lot of attention. “You roll up in a rusty car and people wonder how you even got here,” Blake shared laughing. “It got us into the Patina World—which is the rusty car look.”
Blake and his father started doing road trips with their restored patina cars. These trips would soon inspire him to start his own challenge. He experienced some burnout with the traditional car shows, but he didn’t want to give up on his hobby. In 2018, an idea struck him.
“If we could take my career in healthcare, my passion for the old cars, and my love for helping other people and put them all together, this was kind of the recipe for it. The rest of it just started happening.”
Inspiration to Support the ALS Mission
Blake recalls the day he approached his dad about the idea. “We need to be doing something bigger, for a cause or something.” When his father asked what he had in mind, Blake responded, “I think I’m gonna try to drive this old car to 48 states.”
Blake’s father was shocked at the suggestion. “You think it can make it that far?” he asked. His father also brought up the considerations of having to balance family, home, work and an intense road trip. But Blake was persistent and knew he could do it. “The idea kept coming in my mind and I couldn’t shake it. I’m sure I bugged the heck out of my wife with it. She’s always supporting of my crazy ideas,” Blake shared.
He knew he wanted this road trip to act as a fundraiser for ALS, so he approached Mr. Bernard about the idea. Like many others, Bernard’s first question was, ‘You think that car’s gonna make it that far?’ And when Blake revealed he wanted the trip to benefit ALS, he remembered how Mr. Bernard selflessly responded. ‘Don’t do anything to raise money for me. Raise it for the Association [of Texas].’ Blake connected with ALS Texas to get everything set up.
The Sweet Patina Challenge
Pretty soon, they departed in a 57’ Chevy and the Sweet Patina Challenge was born. “You go drive a new car to 48-states, you’re like ‘that’s cool.’ But if you can take an old car and do it, everybody’s paying attention to that,” Blake shared.
Their main goal was to travel to the lower-48 states and participate in car shows along the way. The funds raised from these shows and the help of community sponsors supported their travels and most importantly create greater contributions to the ALS Association chapters.
Upon establishing his goals for the trip, Blake then turned to the community that he loved dearly. “I knew how generous the car community was,” Blake shared. He worked to build a team of partners and who could help with the cross-country road trip. “We were very mission driven.”.
The team split up Sweet Patina Challenge into four different legs. They partnered with shops across the country to store the car between the segments of the trip. This allowed Blake and the team to spend precious time with family and maintain their local obligations.
Blakes dedicated team of his father and friends were with him every mile of the trip. “We were extremely blessed. We had two different friends of ours who were mechanically inclined…They kept the car exactly how we needed it.”
Memorable People and Places Along the Way
Along the way, they not only stopped at car shows, but also notable tourist attractions. “We tried to hit most of the big landmarks because that’s where the crowds would be,” Blake shared. He listed off many places like Niagara Falls, Mount Rushmore, Pike’s Peak, Devil’s Tower, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Sequoia National Park. He laughed as he remembered the day the team drove across Death Valley in California. They even fried an egg on the hood of the Chevy to demonstrate the intense temperatures.
“The highlights of the trip would definitely be getting to actually stop and meet the people that are battling it [ALS].” Through those families, he saw not only how the disease affects each patient differently, but also the hardship it places on the caregivers. “It’s really tough to see the caregivers struggling.” These encounters only lit more fire in Blake to help in the pursuit of a cure and better resources for ALS caregivers.
Inspiring Nationwide Local Support for the ALS Mission
Not only did they support the ALS Association Texas Chapter, but they also created fundraisers for all 42 chapters in the US. Whenever possible, Blake’s crew met with other local ALS Association chapters along the way. The more attention the car generated, the more they could share the ALS mission with the entire country.
“You go drive a new car to 48-states, you’re like ‘that’s cool.’ But If you can take an old car and do it, everybody’s paying attention to that.”
They would direct folks to donate to their local chapters when they asked about the road trip. “Now we have donations in 21 of the chapters across the country,” Blake enthusiastically shared. Just in the beginning of November, the team hit the $32,000 mark of total donations nationwide. Texas leads that effort with about $25,000 in donations! “It was an incredible trip. It’s kind of emotional thinking back on it,” Blake reminisced.
Honoring the Man Who Inspired the Challenge
Mr. Bernard Rudler passed from ALS earlier in 2020. While Blake couldn’t finish the trip before his passing, he knew Mr. Bernard wanted him to continue the fight against ALS. The fond memories of Mr. Bernard carried his team forward.
Blake, his father, and friends, Neal and Jacobe, kept on pushing and finished the final west-coast leg of the trip this summer. He remembered how the four men would celebrate with high-fives and hugs at each stop, feeling prouder as they came closer to finishing the goal.
“We took what passion we had for doing and we stuck to it…No excuses. We finished our 48-state drive.” – Blake Evans.
Turning Your Passion into Action
When asked how he’d encourage others to join the fight to defeat ALS, Blake emphasized the importance of passion. “If you can find something that you’re passionate about, you can make it successful. It’s gonna take persistence. Its gonna take time and sacrifice…. Know that it’s going to a good cause.”
For Blake his love of cars and passion for the ALS community turned into something amazing that will impact not only Texans with ALS but also those living ALS across the entire country. “I’m just proud that we did it,” he joyfully shared.
Blake like many others hopes to one day find a cure for ALS. He also hopes for better support for caregivers across the country and treatments to slow the progression. Every one of us has a role to play in the fight to for a world without ALS. “We all just gotta keep doing what we can to help find a cure,” he shared. Blake alluded to wanting to do another road trip down the road, but we’ll have to wait to see what the future holds.
Blake extends his sincere thanks to the friends, family, community partners and sponsors who helped make his trip possible. View them here.