ENNIS, Texas -- Last September, Michael Ray rolled into the AAA Texas NHRA Fall Nationals at Texas Motorplex hoping more than anything just to put on a good show for the fans.
Throw in the fact that Harley Davidson had won every Pro Stock Motorcycle event of the season and the Buell-riding Ray was a longshot at best.
But that's the great thing about NHRA drag racing. Anything can happen - and often does - as it did for Ray who ultimately captured his very first Pro Stock Motorcycle win in front of a very supportive home track crowd.
"The odds of me winning were slim and none," said Ray, who hails from New Braunfels, just three hours south of Texas Motorplex. "The only way I figured I was going to get much done was for the Harley Davidson riders to slip up because they had been so dominant."
After qualifying eighth, Ray beat Scott Pollacheck in the first round of eliminations on a red light, then won over top qualifier Hector Arana Jr. in the second round, also on a red light. In the semifinals, he knocked off Andrew Hines, thanks to a great reaction time, and then bested Karen Stoffer in the finals.
"When I saw Karen beat Eddie (Krawiec) in the semis, I felt like I had an opportunity," said Ray. "And then Andrew left the door open a little bit and I was able to get through it."
And then, before he knew it, he was celebrating his first PSM victory.
"I was such a ball of emotions," said Ray. "We had hundreds of friends, family, employees (Ray works at Gruene Harley-Davidson in New Branfels) there. To get my first win at my home track was such an awesome feeling and to experience it with a lot of my co-workers. and with my mom and dad, everybody. It was just so huge.
"I didn't even know what I was doing. I kind of yelled at one of the NHRA officials afterward and said 'I've never done any of this' because I was looking for winner's circle. He was saying for me to do this and go there and I was just so out of it. It really didn't hit me until I left the media room and I was walking back to the trailer holding my Wally. that's when it finally sank in that I had won and I had done it at my home track.
"It was just so special winning at home. It was unbelievable. Boy, what a roller coaster of emotions that was - and it was so awesome."
With two wins under his belt since then, it's no surprise that Ray, who won three national Sportsman titles before going the professional route, is anxious to get back to the Motorplex for the Sept. 19-22 AAA Texas Fall Nationals, the second race in the Countdown to the Championship.
"I could race at Texas Motorplex every single weekend," said Ray. "It's an awesome place. It's also where I got one of my first Sportsman wins. It's a great place and any time you can win a race just up the road from your house in front of so many friends and family members, it's definitely going to be a favorite."
Needless to say, Ray, who is currently third in the PSM points, will enter the Motorplex this time around feeling a little better about his chances.
"I feel very confident going back there," he said. "I've got a really fast ride AND I'm racing at home where I've won. I'll be honest, that takes a little pressure off - but in reality I'll have a bulls eye on my back since I'm the defending champion. It's more pressure, but I have a lot of confidence about defending my title there."
And he feels the race also could launch him to a possible championship.
"Last year I went from ninth in the points to fourth after that race," Ray said. "When you leave that track you've got four races left and obviously I feel like I can make up a lot of points there because it's one of those hot, greasy tracks where championship teams really seem to do well.
"I definitely wouldn't mind going there, getting another win and setting myself up for a title. I honestly feel this year is my best shot for winning a championship. Last year I had no idea what to expect and didn't really know what it would take to make a championship run. I've been like a sponge though and I've applied everything I learned last year to this year and I feel very confident that I can it this year.
"Hey, I've won national titles before so I know what the pressure is like and I feel like I've got just as good a shot as anybody else to win it."
Tickets for the AAA Texas NHRA Fall Nationals are available now, ranging from just $10 to $380 for weekend packages. Youth tickets for children 12 and under start as low as $5. For tickets or more information, please call the Texas Motorplex office at (800) MOTORPLEX or visit www.texasmotorplex.com.
Gates open at 10 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 19 with sportsman qualifying runs between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Two rounds of professional qualifying, at 2:15 and 5:15 p.m., highlight the Friday, Sept. 20 schedule, along with sportsman qualifying throughout the day. Saturday, Sept. 21 is packed with sportsman eliminations and the final two rounds of professional qualifying at 11:15 a.m. and 2:15 p.m.
Gates open at 8:30 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 22, with pre-race ceremonies at 10 a.m. and final eliminations getting under way at 11 a.m.
Texas Motorplex was the first all-concrete stadium-style drag racing facility ever constructed. Built in 1986, Texas Motorplex has been the place of many drag racing milestones and world record performances. The Billy Meyer-owned facility hosts a number of racing and car show events between March and November each year and also features the Champion's Club - an 11,000 square-foot facility - that serves fully catered events throughout the year.