MICHAEL RAY ENOYING WORKING WITH MATT SMITH RACING
Pro Stock Motorcycle pilot Michael Ray has no misconceptions about what he’s trying to accomplish when he competes at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals June 21-23, in Norwalk, Ohio.
“It’s like 100 percent R&D test mode for Matt (Smith) and MSR (Matt Smith Racing),” Ray said. “I’m entered for the next seven or eight events. If someone goes out there and they may a mistake and I drive good enough and things happen, I’m sure Matt isn’t going to turn down the chance of having four bikes go rounds on Sunday.”
Matt Smith, the reigning Pro Stock Motorcycle world champion, is riding an Erik Buell Racing motorcycle, Matt’s wife, Angie also is on an EBR motorcycle, and Scotty Pollacheck is driving the third EBR motorcycle and Ray is aboard the Victory Magnum motorcycle that Matt Smith used to ride.
“Matt and I have been friends/competitors for almost 10 years now,” Ray said. “I checked in on him over the winter and he voiced that he needed some help with the third bike with Scotty Pollacheck coming back onboard fulltime. I really didn’t have anything fulltime and my business here at home (Sludge Net Solids & Fluids, trucking company in San Antonio) is doing pretty well. I sent him and email back and said I’m interested in the position, here’s what I need as an employee and if it works for you as the employer, I would like the job. He called me back and said, ‘If you’re serious, I would love to have you.’ I said yes. I’m 100 percent dedicated to it.”
Ray’s full responsibilities at Matt Smith Racing are taking care of Pollacheck’s motorcycle – all the maintenance during the race.
“I’m the crew guy per se on his bike at the races,” Ray said. “We started in Orlando (Fla.) two weeks before Gainesville and it has been my job for him all season. I love working with Matt. I have always had huge respect for the guys taking care of the motorcycles going up and down the race track. I feel that’s the most important job on the team. I’m all about learning new things and having new challenges. Once I started checking goals off my list, I started creating new goals. I talked to my team here at my work and my work gave me the blessing and so did my wife, so I jumped back in and it is almost to me more fun than riding. For a crew guy, that 6 seconds is almost more anxiety than the two hours in between rounds putting everything back together and making sure it is done right.”
On the driving side, Ray made his season debut at the Route 66 NHRA Nationals in Chicago May 30-June 2.
“I competed in Chicago and made the two qualifying runs,” Ray said. “There were only 15 bikes there, so I kind of lucked into the field. I really didn’t make any solid runs. I’m still getting up to speed and we are still learning a lot of the new parts and pieces on the bike. This weekend will be my second event entered and trying to make the quick 16 for Sunday.”
Ray said there’s a clear purpose for him riding the fourth MSR motorcycle.
“NHRA made available through rules a new fuel-injection software system,” Ray said. “Matt is one of the first ones to have it and ultimately this is going to be the fuel injection of the future for the class. It is really taken over in other motorcycle drag racing sanctions so to be the first team in NHRA, I believe we are, to have it out there is a big thing. Matt is just using it as an inexpensive way to go testing. NHRA approved it in Charlotte (N.C., in April) and after Charlotte we started getting all the parts and pieces together to get it built and we wired it in Richmond (Va.) in the pits and we did a burnout on it Monday morning before Chicago. Matt said if I call you before noon you’re entered if I don’t call you don’t worry because it means it didn’t work. My phone was velcroed to my hand and as soon as I saw his name pop up, I was tickled to death.”
Ray took a moment to describe what it was like to ride the new-look bike in Chicago.
“It had fuel-injection on it before, so it wasn’t like we were going completely in the dark, but it was all new,” Ray said. “My best comparison is like going from an original iPhone to getting an iPhone X. It is essentially the same theory, but the features are so much more advanced with the new stuff. To say that we learned a lot is an understatement. We made three attempts down the track and gained a lot of data in three attempts. It is going to show a lot of promise and I’m really humbled that Matt invited me to do this for him. He is a h*ll of a driver and a great team owner.”
Ray competed in NHRA’s Pro Stock Motorcycle class – part-time and full-time – from 2011 to 2016. He was full time in the class from 2012-14. He has three career national event wins – Dallas (2012) and Englishtown, N.J., and Chicago both in 2013 – and finished a career-best second in the points standings in 2013 to world champion Matt Smith, his boss now. Ray also was sixth in points in 2012 and 10th in 2014.