Call Shelby Blackstock a “mama’s boy” and you’ll likely get a different response than you might get from many country boys. He’s proud of the connection to his country music mom, Reba McEntire. In fact, he’s as proud to be the offspring of her and manager/husband Narvel Blackstock as they are of their race-car-driving son.
Yep, for those unaware, Shelby drives cars—fast. The 23-year-old could have easily fallen into the music business right behind his celebrity mother and executive father. In fact, he started out that way. “I was out working on the road when I was 8 doing odds and ends, and I really started working when I was 10,” says Shelby. “It wasn’t forced on me. I just wanted to go work on the road anyways. I was a full-on roadie. I’d go out on tour for two, three weeks at a time. . . . It was awesome as a kid.” But the touring life wasn’t his passion. When he broke the news to Reba, she was a little surprised. “Well, first of all, I was shocked,” Reba says, laughing. “And he said, ‘Well, Mom, you know I’ve loved cars all my life.’ And then he said, ‘I don’t want to be in the music business.’ I totally understood that. Totally got it. Too much pressure.”
She shouldn’t have been too surprised at Shelby’s need for speed, because the apple never falls far from the tree. Reba was a bit of a daredevil herself as a rodeo barrel racer, choosing to go fast on four legs instead of four wheels. That experience gave her some insight into Shelby’s dream. “I think because I had seen [sister] Alice, Daddy, [brother] Pake and my ex-husband compete, and I knew the competition and the thrill of it, and the danger—that makes it even better—I knew what [Shelby] was wanting,” Reba says. “He’s a third-generation competitive brat.”
Competitive, but also fair and kind. And that, too, comes from a long line of McEntires. “The race business has got great people in it. It’s competitive! Like in the rodeo business, my grandpap one time gave a fellow competitor one of his ropes and another guy said, ‘Why did you give him one of your ropes? He might beat you.’ And he said, ‘Well, I had two, he didn’t have any,’” Reba relates. “That’s the kind of people I came from.”
After the initial shock wore off, Reba, Narvel and Shelby threw themselves into learning all they could about the high-speed and often dangerous sport of racing. Fortunately, they had help in the way of Reba’s record-label president. “Scott Borchetta is in the racing business, so I just started making calls and asking questions.” She laughs, recalling the questions she had for the Big Machine Label Group head. “Everything we did was wrong. I could write a book about it now, but it was so hard for me because I’m a ranch and rodeo kid that barrel-raced. And this was the furthest thing from my mind and my knowledge.”
But since Shelby began racing, mother and son have found striking similarities between rodeo, the track and music. “It’s like rodeo: It’s got great people in it,” says Reba.
“It’s a very fast-paced lifestyle,” adds Shelby. “Everybody knows everybody, similar to the country music business, but it’s very fast-paced.”
His ascent in the race world has been fast as well, thanks to a bit of natural talent and a work ethic for which he credits both of his parents. “With my mom and dad, it was never a thing of, ‘Hey, I want to go do this,’ and they’d be like, ‘Oh, here you go. Here, we’ll pay for that,’ which I really, really liked because it helped me in the long-term for this career,” he says. “I started working at a young age and learned nothing was ever fully given, you have to earn it. That’s how my mom was raised and that’s how my dad was raised, so they just kind of passed that on to me.” Reba confirms, saying, “I grew up in a very hardworking family where you did what you said you were going to do. Your handshake was better than a contract and your word was worth something.”
If it sounds like Reba was hard on her youngest and only child by birth, she may have been by some standards. She recalls advice that her own mother gave her: “Mama taught me your kids are your job. And you’re not supposed to be their buddy. You’ve got a job to do and it’s your job to show them the boundaries. They can’t go over here and they can’t go this way. They’ve got to stay in the middle and you have to keep them down the road heading in the right direction.”
There was no celebrity treatment, no favors or entitlement for Shelby, but he’s grateful for the somewhat normal childhood he had. “People were like, ‘She’s Reba McEntire. A superstar.’ Yeah, well, she’s pretty much the exact same as your mother,” Shelby says. “She’s just a normal person. She came from a big family in Oklahoma. She can definitely be stern, you could say that, but she was loving, caring and there to help you out, tell you when you’re wrong and how to fix it, and how to do better at that. Similar to how every other mother should be.”
She may have had her moments of being strict with her son, but she’s also his biggest fan. In fact, Reba almost fainted the first time she saw him race. “I had my little Flip camera up and I watched them go by and all I could see was this little baby face of Shelby in that helmet,” she recalls. “And my tour manager, Carolyn Snell, was with me. And when the green flag dropped, it was 83 cars, and I knew they had to funnel down to this one left-hand turn. When he flew by at 100 miles an hour, I just had to go sit down.”
Reba and Narvel do have three other children from Narvel’s first marriage—Shawna, Chassidy and Brandon, who is engaged to Kelly Clarkson—and five grandchildren, but the birth connection is strong between Reba and Shelby. “As much as I love Brandon, Shawna and Chass and my five grandchildren, having that one kid from when you see them on the sonogram screen, it was me and him,” she admits. “In my fifth month of pregnancy, I was in the hospital twice and had to be put on bed rest with a magnesium drip in my stomach. And they said, ‘Was it worth it?’ And I said, ‘I would have hung by my toenails for this kid.’”
Unfortunately, Reba hasn’t been able to see her son behind the wheel as much this race season. “These danged booking jobs. I get concerts booked on the weekends,” she says, maybe only half joking. “I threw me a fit. I said, ‘Why do y’all do that?’ And they said, ‘That’s your job!’”
Reba laughs, then ends with some more praise for her checkered-flag-chasing son. “He’s doing so well,” she raves. “I’m just so proud of him.”
- Story by Tammy Ragusa from the July 1, 2013 issue of COUNTRY WEEKLY