Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Michael Ray was the only rider not driving a Harley Davidson to make it to the winner’s circle last year in NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series competition. This year, with a new rules package in place for the two-wheel division, Ray has improved even more, winning twice and scoring two No. 1 qualifiers. Sitting third in points going into the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis this weekend, Ray believes a number of things have brought him and his Sovereign Star Racing team to this point.
“I think the biggest thing is preparation, and not to pound the rules and beat a dead horse,” said Ray in a recent NHRA teleconference. “The rules definitely allow for racing to be a lot more competitive, not just for our team but for all the rest of the teams involved in the class. But I really think preparation from the Sovereign Star Team, with George (Bryce, team owner) and the guys, we have now had two calendar years to really build an R & D program around not just the engine side of it, but the chassis side of it. So with the time that they've had to develop all the parts and pieces, we've now had a good six months of working with myself, building that continuity between myself, George, and the rest of the team. I think all those things kind of compound together. When you put them all on paper, you mentioned it earlier, we had two number 1 qualifiers, two wins, and we're in the middle of running for that first Mello Yello Championship.”
Last season, Ray raced for Matt Smith Racing, and Ray and Smith have had an intense rivalry this season, sometimes bordering on the physical side of things. Ray insists they are good friends with a mutual respect for each other, and that’s why the relationship is so intense.
“He and I have raced really hard together,” said Ray. ‘He and I didn't get into any big scuffle on the top end of Sonoma. But him and I have had a few choice words on the top end with each other. He's a past champion. He's my past crew chief. So there is nobody I want to personally beat any more than him when I put on my helmet. The Lucas team, they're really focused on themselves. I would say they're trying to stay under the radar, but I would say if Matt and I get down into this championship, it's going to be pretty good…He's a past champion. To be the man, you've got to beat the man, and I'm focused on taking him out.”
“I think that our friendship off the track allows us to be more fiery competitors to each other,” continued Ray. “I talk to him probably twice a week. But him and I, we get judged up when we race each other, even last year when we were teammates. We still kind of haze each other. I don't see us coming to blows. I definitely don't want to represent myself or any of my sponsors as being a physical, altercating kind of guy. But he's got sponsors and he's got to represent himself. He definitely plays it under the radar a little bit. But he knows that there's a little bit of bad blood kind of from the way things ended last year with him and I, that he definitely, when he beat me a couple times this year, whether it be in hole shots, and when he won up in Norwalk, it was a little bit of redemption for him whether he'd come out and admit it.”
Heading to Indy, the second-generation competitor remembers going to the track as a child and the impression it left on him.
“I remember going when I was a young kid when my father was racing Top Fuel and Pro Stock bike, and just seeing all the families, all the teams,” recalled Ray. “I mean the Sportsman pits they're as exciting and as happening as the pro pits. Indy is where legends are made. Indy is where you go and turn the corner to win a championship…I was there in 1996 as a young guy when we tragically lost Blaine Johnson and Elmer Trett. I mean, you have great memories and you have these horrible memories, but they also can all transform into what makes our sport amazing and what makes that race so prestigious.”
“It's every bit the history that got us to the point and present that we're at and everything moving forward,” he continued. “It's the biggest drag race in the world, and to see all the people that come out, the fans, the families, the racers, it's everything that any young racer, whether you're a fan or you're putting on a fire suit fixing to pull underneath the tower, the walkover there at Indy and blast down through there, it gives me chicken skin sitting here talking about it. I've got chill bumps talking about it. It's just an amazing facility.”
The Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals feature five qualifying sessions for the Mello Yello Series, the first one taking place Friday, August 30th at 5:30 p.m. ET. The second and third sessions take place Saturday, August 31st at 2:30 and 6 p.m. ET, with the final two qualifying sessions on Sunday, September 1st at 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. ET. Final eliminations take place Monday, September 2nd beginning at 11 a.m. ET. Keep up with all the action at www.nhra.com.
Check out Paula’s Examiner columns on motorsports:
Follow Paula on:
· Twitter - @paulat14
· Website – paulathompsonfreelance.com
· Flickr – Paula Thompson Freelance
Contact Paula at firstname.lastname@example.org