Hi peeps! I hope that everyone has been surviving this crazy winter that we all have been experiencing. I know living in Texas for nearly nine years now I have seen more snow/ice here since we left Pomona than I've seen in years past, the sad thing about us is we rely on a lot of the rain during the winter to live during the summer and we really didn't get much. Hopefully we will get some good rain this spring since we really need to get out of this horrible drought we've been in as well these rivers need water so we can go toobing and playing on the rivers this summer, Lord knows it's going to be hot again.
I guess that all being said about rain and snow I sure got a good dose of it and then some about two weeks ago when I had to make a trip up to Fall River Massachusetts, that's where Vanson Leathers is based out of. They have been making some of the best leather driving suits that we have to wear since I was a little kid and that's all i've ever worn since I started drag racing and had never had the opportunity to check out their facility is so I cashed in some miles and peeled out that way. Little did I know and to the lack of knowledge with meteorologists predicting weather I got snowed in! It just so happened that a good old buddy of mine, Mr. U.S. Nationals winner himself John Hall lives about an hour from Vanson so instead of living in a hotel room for three days snowed in I headed to his house to hang with him and his family.
I've known John and his family since 2003 when we all started out racing 600SS together in AMA/Prostar and started our trek up the drag racing ladder to NHRA. I spent a couple’s night up there with them and actually enjoyed a nice Valentines French Toast breakfast that Ivette (John's wife) made for the family. It was funny the first night I stayed there before the snow really came in, John and I went out for a few cocktails then it was like someone turned on a switch with the snow. I woke up the ned the morning to Ivette laughing at me telling me "no one ever stays here one night Michael Ray". Now for a guy that has never seen snow other than at a ski resort I was BLOWN away! Once the snow really came down and people had to get out, start shoveling, and then get going with their day I completely understood why people hate snow. John and I spent the entire day riding around plowing out his family and friends houses for them since he has a good little plow truck. The really weird thing about the snow thing to me is how the world just STOPS for it. I mean it's just frozen water, we have the technology to send a human being to space, but we can't figure out how to survive this!
So the real fun started when I was supposed to get on a plane Friday to fly home from Providence Road Island but my flights were cancelled. I started getting texts from US. Airways on Thursday telling me to call them and they will get me on another flight, but when I would call I would literally sit on hold for 45-60 minutes at a time. Then the automated person would say "sorry we're experiencing high call volumes, please call later." to my disgust I would wait about two or three hours than call again. Finally I found a flight leaving Philly Saturday morning at 7a.m. instead of the scheduled Sunday flight were going to put me on and I peeled out south. I made it out safe, got my new suit fitted, and saw my good buddy so I guess the trip was a success. Hopefully I will have my new suit for the Gators and I can show them off, they should look pretty dang fancy…
Now that the season is right around the corner it seems that the world of money has just fallen out of the sky. I mean MSR lost their deal with Viper and we out of the blue lose Sovereign with big daddy Jeno. It really sucks that he is gone and we are really stuck in between a rock and award place with finding the funding it takes to run this operation, but we will move on. I honestly have to stop and say thanks to him for his interest in our sport as well as his participation in NHRA.
I remember the first time I met him back in 2011, I had put a three-race deal together with Star to run the first three races so we were all in Valdosta before the season. So we pull up to the track at about 9:30am and for anyone that knows Rugger that is early enough for a morning beer, we get out of the car to see these three european dudes, one of them being Jeno and what does he have? A morning beer! It was like we were all destined to race together and little did we know that just a few years later that we would all team up for what was a dream year for me. That all being said, I have to say thank you Jeno for all you did to help me with last year. But like everything in life, it wasn't forever and we will all move on.
I know that everyone at Star and everyone in my camp are really working hard to come up with some great marketing partners to ensure us racing all year so we will see what happens. I know that we really haven't let all of this crimp our plans on getting to Gainesville and running up front. The guys are heading down to SGMP this week to put some final touches on the bikes before we head back down for the Gators. I unfortunately can't make it down to help but I know that this week’s test session will be great for Chaz because he will get to make quite a few laps before we start the season. We are supposed to test on Monday and Tuesday before the Gators at SGMP so that will actually be the first time I will see the bike before Q1 in Gainesville. So I hope I know which side the clutch and brake are on….
You know as we get ready for the first race of the season getting everything prepared can be as stressful as actually being there trying to qualify. It really seems that getting 6 people to go take a passport photo can be one of the most challenging. Now I know I am a professional procrastinator and I can't really complain, but why would you give me something and tell me that it's not due for 6-8 weeks and expect me to get it to any time before the last second. When I went on the passport photo hunt in January I had honest intentions to have them submitted by February 1, I sent them off last Friday… I wasn't late right? They had to be in Monday and they made it!!!! Thank you very much to Jennifer Gregg-Lowe or as her email says "Jlowe" for always bailing my slack @!! out of trouble. Needless to say we got everything submitted, entered, and ready to go enter our Buell in a few weeks to see how it runs in the pack.
So on a side note, it's so cool to think of the list of drivers in PSB that came from an all-motor class like 600SS where John and I came from. Here is the list I can think of (I’m sorry if I forgot you) maybe "Stat Guy" Lewis Bloom can help but here we go; Ryan Schnitz, Chip Hunter, Chip Ellis, John Hall, Michael Phillips, Eddie Murphy, Eddie Kraweic, Rickey Gadson, Keith Dennis and Marty Ladwig. Marty had a really great career in the import series for cars. That class really has really bred some of the greatest racers/riders to ever come out of drag racing in my personal opinion… We didn't grow up with sliders, nitrous, turbos, or fuel injection. We had to truly make an all motor(pump gas), foot-shift w/ a stock clutch, 54-inch wheelbase street bike GET IT, and you had to leave on people. There wasn't any rev it up and chunk the clutch or let off a button to make these bikes go fast. Now please don't let my words create drama, it's like a dirt track guy telling a road racing guy that that can't drive… I just feel that class or style of racing a no-bar bike has been the breeding ground of Pro Stock Motorcycle riders/drivers since motorcycle classes were brought to drag racing. I know that there are a few of us out there that have joked about grudge racing with no-bar and I really think that NHRA should consider doing a race like that. It would be really entertaining for fans, a lot of us grew up riding no-bar fast bikes and like I said quite a few of us would love to take it old school and get after it. I'm off my kicker now….
I'm going to wrap this up by saying congrats to Alexis for winning her first nitro Funny Car race. I have watched her for quite a while and seen her really put a ton of pressure on herself to win. There were times she struggled on the tree or didn't drive well but she stuck with it and her team stuck with her. There isn't much cooler than seeing a great team win, her team as well as all the Kalitta Racing teams celebrate and I wish them many more. I will see you crazy NHRA fans really soon and I can't wait. You know that if you have a question or just want to say hi please catch me on Twitter at @michaelstingray or on Facebook as well, my name Michael Ray. I love you guys for reading this; it's so cool to hear you all talk about when we see each other at the races. I really can't thank you enough.
Well first off let me start by saying Happy New Year to everyone! I hope that you all had the chance to see family, friends, and loved ones over the holiday season. I know this year was especially cool for Jennifer and I being able to have our families come and celebrate with us in our new home. I remember Jennifer's father Roland telling me on Thanksgiving, your house, your bird, you cut. I thought to myself I better not screw up this turkey because it was the only one we had. But all in all it worked out, we all ate good and watched some football. Then for Christmas my mother and father came over so that we could do a little Christmas brunch then it was off to Del Rio to see Jennifer's family. The shop was closed the 24th and the 25th so we did my family Christmas Eve morning then peeled out for Jennifer's family. This year was pretty special for Jenn being able to stay Christmas Eve night and experience Christmas morning with her family. With them living a few hours away and our limited holiday time off we usually have to come flying in to town, stay for a few hours and peel right on out again.
This year when we were opening gifts it was really funny. I only asked for socks, a coffee maker, and Home Depot gift cards. So when I was opening presents to find these gifts I was like a little kid again! I mean come on, who doesn't need something from the Home Depot? I really wanted them so I could get some paint and finish painting the inside of my house, but I already burned them babies up too! I got some paint that I like and started a bathroom, but I really used them on myself for my mancave. I completely finished the mancave, building shelves and what not so that I would be ready for playoff season. As most of you know I am Baltimore Ravens fan and have been for quite some time. I always get the weird look being in south Texas when I roll around with my Ravens jersey on but who cares right! Last year was a great year for them but like most teams right now spent all their money on their QB and we just had to let go of too many good players to keep him, the 49ers being the biggest beneficiary to the trades, but that's hearsay. They missed the playoffs so the mancave will have to wait another year before we host a home Super Bowl party for the Ravens. Then yesterday the Packers went down at home! But I still got good ol' Tom Brady and the Patriots to root on so there is a chance a favored team of mine will go all the way. The shop has been doing pretty good the past few weeks since winter time and the holidays have come through. The weather around here has been a little crazy for this time of year around here, pretty wet and cold for right now so naturally everything has been a little slow around here. All in all it's been actually nice since we had such a killer year to be able to close down the year right, get all the paperwork ready for that ol' guy Uncle Sam and recharge for when the weather breaks and we go crazy again.
Back in the middle of December Rugger and I had the privilege to fly to Americus and spend some time at the shop. This was really cool for him because he has never been to the shop and seen how everything works day-to-day from that standpoint. With me having worked there and lived in Americus it was just like being back home for me. Plus he had the chance to meet the team that's responsible for all the success that we have at the track every day. It was really unfortunate the night we flew in our flight was delayed about an hour and a half getting in because we were late for the annual Star Racing Christmas dinner with all the family there. We came rolling in late as usual so we got to spend some time with a few of the guys and their families but most of them had roll to get home so we had a few drinks and left. The next morning is when we went to the shop for a few hours, I showed Rugger around the awesome mega city that is Americus, Georgia, then it was south to go testing.
I know you remember George talking about getting a Suzuki going again and trying to make that thing fast again, well the monster has been built! Ken really did an awesome job building this bike and making everything fit how he wanted and some of the little things that they did to the body and chassis make this bike really cool. We tried to get it down the track a couple of times with no real numbers on the board that we wanted to see because of a bad tire that wouldn't stop spinning, but we accomplished a lot in my eyes. We built a brand new bike that goes straight, it shifts, and most importantly it stops. So even though we didn't set the world on fire it wasn't a bad attempt at a Suzuki for the team, after all it's been 10 years since they ran a Suzuki in NHRA.
Another reason we went down and tested was needed to make sure that we fixed our problems we found with the Buell program. The last half of the season we really couldn't find any consistency with our engines, they would run great for about 3-5 runs then be just dead slow for no reason and the 3-5 runs it would make weren't stellar. The numbers on the computer showed everything really fast, but they didn't translate over to the time slips and the run sheets. So when we got back from Pomona these guys went to work and found quite a bit of things we needed to fix. So when we went testing, Chaz rode the Buell and made several consistent runs that were fast. The big thing we wanted to see was consistency, the elapsed time was nice to see be fast, but we needed to see it happen all day instead of once or twice. We got wrapped up for the day said our goodbyes then Rugger and I were out of there to get back home for a few weeks. I will go back down at the end of this month and run the Suzuki again, hopefully now we will have the tire problem fixed and the new motor combination that NHRA is going to allow us to run. They (NHRA) really did a good job this year with helping the Suzukis, they have always been behind the curve since the Buell came along and really changed the dynamic of the class so this year should be exciting.
You guys please remember to bring in your animals this time of year! I don't care what it is, a dog, cat, or a giraffe, no one likes being cold so neither do they. Bring em in and give em a blanket.
Well I guess we are about to wrap up another season of some great NHRA action. I can’t believe how much fun this year has been and I never thought I would experience the emotional roller coaster of running for a championship and to tell the truth if it was up to me, we’d go STRAIGHT to Gainesville to start next season. The last few races have really gone well for us seeing as how we have qualified really well and gone to three consecutive semi-finals, so that has really helped us move up to second in points before we run in Pomona this weekend.
When we were up in St. Louis we were invited by the amazing folks with World Wide Technology to come enjoy a Cardinals game in their suite that have. It has really become a tradition if the Cardinals are playing to go hang with these guys and catch a game. This year since we have really built a great relationship with these guys over the years, they decided to let us host a weekend at the track for them where we rented them a suit at the track and treated them to a great VIP experience at an NHRA event. Once the weekend was over they were all jazzed up and were already making plans to attend next year’s event as well as a few more along the tour. One of their executives Scott has two young daughters who happens to be a HUGE NHRA fan named Sam, so this year when they all came out I made sure to bring Sam up for driver into and get her all decked out in Star Racing gear for the weekend, she even sported her Star hat at the Cards game saying that these were her two favorite teams. Thanks for the love Sam and see you next year. Another really fun first time for me in St. Louis was attending the Rams game on Thursday night. I had never been to NFL game before so being inside that place live and not watching on TV was awesome, that’s really the same for anything live. When you’re at home you don’t feel the energy like you do being there when the crowd gets all fired up. But after all that fun stuff we did have a race going on that we happened to do really well at until I came up a little on the wrong side of the green light and went red against our new champ Matt Smith. That weekend was a little crazy for the team with the surprise exit of Scotty, but I thought that the entire team did a really good job staying focused on our performance and not the outside drama. From there we loaded straight up and headed home for a few days, then it was immediately back up to Reading.
The guys just headed straight there since there was no reason for them to come home, then I flew up Thursday morning so I could stop at the all the good steak sandwich shops in Philly before making the trip out to Reading. This trip was going to be huge for us with Chaz making his debut, the championship really getting tight with a few races left, and like the last two I won I was SOLO. With us running four races in a row all of my GOTTSPEED crew stayed in Texas and shipped me out east to kick ass and come home with the points lead and a Wally. The weekend went really well for us with us getting our third number one qualifier as well as Chaz making his first NHRA field, also Big Ken made his famous “Ass in The Trash” pork butt. He uses an aluminum trash can to smoke the pork butt all day, then after a few minutes with a cutting board you have some great meat. It was really funny watching everyone from the track as well as the locals looking at all us rednecks cooking in a trash can, we invited them back later to sample it but no one came and that just meant more goodness for us. I really had fun in Reading and look forward to going back there next year, the track might not be centrally located to anything but the woods and the world famous Finish Line Bar, but I love racing there because it’s so beautiful and really fast. I know the guys were excited to get to go home after that race after being on the road for so long, but they really had to hurry since we only had two weeks before Las Vegas and that’s a 4 day drive out there, but for me it was an easy three and half hour flight out there…
Since everyone loves a party and that’s pretty much all that Vegas is, I think we had 25 guests with us in Las Vegas this past weekend. Starting to just name a few, I had the entire GOTTSPEED crew and family with me, GB had his family, big daddy Jeno was in the house, and then we had the awesome guys from Renalta Rentals, and Marla Enterprise as VIP guests of our for the weekend. So needless to say, my father was a busy man shuffling everyone around, the hardest thing about having guests like that in my eyes is tickets. NO ONE ever remembers to bring there ticket back with them the next day, so this time bought day passes for everyone so they wouldn’t lose anything, once they were in they were in. I have to say THANK YOU VERY MUCH to my father, he busted his butt all weekend and all year for that matter really helping keep people organized and having fun at the races, thanks dad for all of your help buddy, love you pop! For the business side of the event it went really well, we had Jeno there showing him how brutal the competition has been and how good we have been doing so that we can keep going for several more years. I think it worked because we are really close to putting a multi-year deal together with Sovereign and Jeno that will let us do more R&D, testing, and let us go run for a few championships for the next few years. The race went really well with us going out in the semis against Jerry Savoie, I left on him and just like in Reading we slowed down for no reason. But we showed all our sponsors that were there that we are no joke and we just need another shot at this to come home with more hardware. I want to say congrats to Matt Smith and Viper Motorcycle Company on their championship this year, you guys stepped up when you had to.
Well I’m done typing and going to go hit the sales floor so I can sell some bikes before I leave tomorrow. I think for the banquet Andrew and I are going to wear some crazy tuxedos since it’s our last night to party together for 2013 we are going to make it an epic evening. Stay tuned for details and thanks for being such amazing fans that read this. It really means a lot to me when I hear someone talking about reading my blogs.
Well we’re two races into the Countdown and so far my bike and team have shown up for the dance but unfortunately I haven’t done the best job of driving on Sunday. I have just really struggled believing in myself that I can go do the same thing every time; I mentioned the other day to someone that I felt like Dexter Morgan, I knew the code but I didn’t follow it and now I’m on someone’s table…. So all that being said I look at the last two weeks as great examples that I need to have the self confidence in myself that I can do it, so press the reset button and go get it on this weekend in St. Louis.
You know the Countdown sure has brought some interesting scenarios to our team. Since first round in Charlotte we have had starting-line miscues, my visor breaking on the starting line, and the wonderful drama of not being qualified going into Q4 in Dallas this past weekend. Nevertheless we stay committed to the little piece of tape on my dash that says “Just Have Fun.” I know that there are times that we get frustrated or breaks might not be going our way but we stay hard at and laugh all the way thru Sunday until we close the back door for the last time. All that being said, it’s been really funny since the NASCAR chase started because the guys have been getting in these pools and they are all strategizing all night at the hotel of their best odds on winning the pool on Sunday afternoon. You would walk by our pits on Sunday after the race was over and they are all glued to the radio listening to NASCAR. They all had a day off on Friday in Dallas with the rain so Ken spent the day on his phone getting stats for the weekend, while the rest of us played Ping-Pong and cards all afternoon. Then when they called the race we all kind of let our hair down and played in the rain for the rest of the day. You know it was a lot of fun going back to Dallas for the race this year after all the success we had last year plus it’s always fun to see some friends and family out there.
Like always we make it a must to attend the annual DRAW auction that is held on Saturday evening. I scored a really cool Action collectable that is a painted Pro Stock Bike from the 2000 Gatornationals and an autographed Dave Schultz hero card. The bike is really cool because that’s the year that Dave won the Gators and since I’m a huge fan, I had to snag it up. All in all the night was a ton of fun, Hal snagged up some good stuff and we almost my buddy Jamon from Reform Energy signed up for a day at the track with Alexis…
After we left the track we had to stop off at Waffle House in Waxahachie. That particular one has quite a bit of history for me, I have eaten at this one every season I’ve raced since 2005, so even though it was late we all made a light night pitstop. I always eat the steak and eggs with cheese-covered hash browns; I mean is there any better steak in the world?
We leave for St. Louis tomorrow morning and hopefully we will be as bad ass as we were the past few weeks because I’m sick of driving like an idiot and I’m ready to get back to driving like a champion. We should have some really great things happening for our team over the next few weeks so please make sure and stay tuned. But first tonight we are heading out to the local track in San Antonio to wear out some street bikes, should be fun. Talk to you soon, maniacs.