National Hot Rod Association Media Conference
August 22, 2013
THE MODERATOR: We'll get started today with our NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series teleconference. As you all know, the series heads to the world's largest drag race, the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals on August 28th through September 2nd at historic Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis. The story lines are plenty at that event with drivers not only trying to win the most prestigious drag race in the world, but some trying to battle their way into the Countdown of the championship, others looking to improve upon their seedings and Top Fuel, and Funny Car racers attempt to take home $100,000 in the Traxxas Nitro Shootout that will also take place during the course of the event.
Joining us today to preview those topics and more will be Pro Stock motorcycle racer, Michael Ray, Pro Stock racer, Greg Anderson, Funny Car racer, Ron Capps, and Top Fuel competitor, Tony Schumacher. We'll start our conference call today first thanking members of the media for joining us and also thanking Pro Stock Motorcylce racer, Michael Ray for joining us. Thanks a lot for being here today, Michael.
MICHAEL RAY: Thanks for having me.
THE MODERATOR: Michael is on his Sovereign‑Star Racing Buell is in the midst of a breakout season for this Texan rider. In 2012, if you'll remember, Michael was the only rider in the category to win an event other than Andrew Hines or Eddie Krawiec. This season he's won at Englishtown in Chicago, as well as racing to two semifinal appearances. He also recorded his first two number 1 qualifying positions of his career this season and currently sits third in points.
Michael, the first question I'll start off is what has been the difference this season as opposed to last year or previous seasons for you and that team?
MICHAEL RAY: I think the biggest thing is preparation, and not to pound the rules and beat a dead horse. 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 Tire Star Sovereign Team, with George 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.
THE MODERATOR: Great, thank you very much, Michael.
Q. A lot of people look when you start winning and all of a sudden you've got some sudden success, but we all know it's not that way. But what in your past has helped you most along the way with the winning that you're doing now?
MICHAEL RAY: I think confidence that my father instilled in me in everything that I did. Honestly believe in yourself that everybody out there is as good as you. If you put a hundred percent into it, I know it sounds cliché, but you get back what you get in, per se. So I'd say that my father, my mother, they put a lot of great work ethic into me. I would say that my job, day‑to‑day at Gruene Harley‑Davidson, working in sales and being in a management position with this company for the past eight years has really taught me to be focused, remain very calm, be level headed.
When I go put on my helmet and I have to do my job behind the controls of that S&S powered Buell, it's nothing different than I do every day. So I try to take it‑‑ I know the pressure's there, and the U.S. Nationals and all the history and how prestigious that event is, but for me, I try to take it one lap at a time, one day at a time, and don't put any more pressure on myself than what already is.
Q. Would you say for any young person growing up, would you give that kind of suggestion of what they can do to be successful in anything that they try?
MICHAEL RAY: Definitely, definitely. There are resources out there to do anything you want to do, and it's all based on your mental outlook on it. If you honestly don't believe that you can go be successful in anything that you try, you're not going to do it. It's just as easy as that. So for any young individual out there, whether it be drag racing, badminton, owning their own business, being an architect or anything for that matter, if you go give it 110% and know that you've honestly put everything aside, personal, your family, you know, regardless of what anybody can say, if it drives you and you're passionate about it, go try to do it. Because you only get one shot at life, and you might as well enjoy it and do what you love.
Q. Michael, you talked a little bit about George Bryce and being a rider of his. He's obviously a wizard when it comes to Pro Stock motorcycles. What's that relationship been like, and is that something that you really have valued this season?
MICHAEL RAY: His knowledge from back in the '80s when him and John Myers were racing Pro Stock before Racepak computer was even known. Today, for him to be able to write a book, he could train anybody on how to be a successful driver. We go to the track, and he's always, always trying to work with me not to be better than the next person in the other lane, but be as good as I can be. Him and Jackie have really, really helped me a lot this year as far as always working on if I see a problem that I'm having or I may be developing a little bit of a problem as a driver, George has raced and crew chiefed on both sides of the visor. He's coached Angelle to a championship, and when George was racing, he was a champion.
So he can really, really help you out, whether it be mentally driving the bike or the communication that a crew chief may have with a driver to say that, hey, I need to you do this. I need you to do it like that. He can really break down that communication barrier that always has been there between a driver and a crew chief. I think with me being as young a driver as I am, I don't have any bad habits. I feel that at the beginning of the year, I came in and checked my ego at the door, because last year I did have a lot of success in my rookie year. Winning my first race, naturally, my head could have been bigger than my talent.
But I knew coming over with George, and Jackie, and Kim Johnson, and that entire Star Racing Camp, there isn't any ego. It's one goal, one focus, and that is to win races and win a championship. I'm really, really glad that I made that decision, and I'm really blessed to have George be a part of it. I don't feel that I'd be anywhere where I'm at today pertaining to this championship without him and all his success and all his knowledge.
Q. Michael, drivers talk about every single track, and they're all the same size; they're all the same basic material and everything. But when the U.S. Nationals is mentioned, it's like they're going to the greatest place in all of drag racing history. What is it about the U.S. Nationals to you that makes it such a wonderful event?
MICHAEL RAY: Seeing all the race teams that come out for that one event. 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. 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. So for me, 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.
Seeing all the different teams. The five days of just awesome action, the cackle‑fest, all the really old HotRods, all the old Top Fuel cars. I mean, for me being a really, really young fan of the sport, I just turned 29, I know nothing about those old Top Fuel cars. But when I go up and I see them and just being a fan of it, it just blows me away to see where we've come. And to see the old highlights of the fuelers smoking the tires through the lights, that's what drag racing is all about, and that is exactly what the U.S. National is all about. It's every bit the history that got us to the point and present that we're at and everything moving forward.
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 the 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.
Q. So when you go and you leave your work and you leave your home and you go to the U.S. Nationals, what do you have to do to your mind to make sure that you stay entirely focused on your goal?
MICHAEL RAY: I would say for Indy you truly have to take it one day at a time. Every day is different. I was trying to compare it to one of my customers the other day as speed week at Daytona or bump day or everything for the Indy 500. Friday, we get one shot. Okay? So really, Friday you can kind of throw that away. Saturday conditions are different for Sunday qualifying, so every day is different.
Truly take it one day at a time because so much can change there, conditions can change. We can get a little bit of rain, and it goes from one of the fastest facilities that we go to, to one of the stickiest places with humidity that we can go. So don't get overwhelmed and just stay focused.
Get in there on Monday morning, and then that's when you can kind of let the Indy jitters come around, because that is when we're down to the quick 16 and we're fixing to crown a champion. That's the main point. Take it one day at a time, and get yourself in position on Monday where you can go in for the kill.
Q. Since last year's greatest rivalry was anybody against the Harley team, who would you say the greatest rivalry in the new landscape of Pro Stock bike now? What is the greatest rivalry going on now?
MICHAEL RAY: I'd have to say if you discounted Matt Smith Racing and Viper Motorcycle Company, that rivalry between Matt and I, you'd be cutting us a little short. Him and I have raced really hard together. Him 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. Because I am ruthless and not afraid of anybody. We all know from his last name and his history, he's got a good mouth on him and he's a great racer. He's a past champion. To be the man, you've got to beat the man, and I'm focused on taking him out.
Q. He plays this off like you guys are just good friends, kids and all. But as we've seen in the pits at Englishtown where there were fisticuffs, would it ever come close to that for you guys?
MICHAEL RAY: No, no, Matt and I are great friends. I think that our friendship off the track allows us to be more fiery competitors to each other. I talked 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 hold 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.
Q. Is there a redline for you guys that you guys know we've taken it too far or has that yet to be determined?
MICHAEL RAY: I would say we've got a red line when it comes to really, really pushing and shoving. But I'm definitely not afraid to tell Matthew how I feel about a situation. He's definitely not afraid to tell me what he thinks. It's definitely been good because it gets us both fired up and focused.
I don't think you'll ever see us punching each other, but I'm not afraid to get up in his face and let him know what's going on, and he's not afraid to get in mine and tell me where I'm supposed to be either.
THE MODERATOR: Michael, I think that ends our questions for you this afternoon. Thank you again for joining us on the call. Michael will take to the track for the first time for the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at 6:00 Friday, August 30th. So, Michael, we'll see you then.
MICHAEL RAY: All righty, man. Look forward to seeing you guys there.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much for your time today, Michael.
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