DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Sept. 16, 1998) Mike Ray, 43, has hit the NASCAR racing jackpot, winning $39,500 in his home town of Las Vegas, but he didn't win it at the casinos or the lottery. Ray is the 1998 NASCAR Winston Racing Series ...
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Sept. 16, 1998)
Mike Ray, 43, has hit the NASCAR racing jackpot, winning $39,500 in his home town of Las Vegas, but he didn't win it at the casinos or the lottery. Ray is the 1998 NASCAR Winston Racing Series Pacific Coast Region champion. Now, instead of going to Las Vegas to collect his winnings, he's going to the national champions' banquet in Nashville, Tenn., on Nov. 6.
The NASCAR short track racing veteran is no stranger to winning titles at the 3/8-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He was the NASCAR Winston Racing Series Late Model champion in 1996 and also won championships in the Limited Sportsman division in 1991 and 1992.
This year Ray dominated the competition, winning 14 of 18 races. He attributes his outstanding season in the Pangonis Racing-owned Chevrolet Monte Carlo to experience, hard work and luck.
"Everything has just come together for us," said Ray. "We've run pretty well in the past, but nothing like this year. The team has jelled real well and the car is working as well as ever, but I always attribute a year like this to Lady Luck. Things have just gone our way. It was not a different effort than in the past, it just all has come together this year."
Ray sees the NASCAR Winston Racing Series as an opportunity to compete on a national level without traveling away from home. The regional and national titles provide great recognition for the local racers, he said.
"I never had a lot of ambition to go beyond the local level," Ray explained. "To me this (regional championship) is about as high as you can go at the local level. It's kind of like a dream come true. Nobody here in Vegas has done it, so that's a feather in my cap. It's a great deal. It's as good as you can get locally in short track racing with the NASCAR Winston Racing Series."
Ironically, Ray feels his biggest obstacle this season may have come from himself. "That's not to discredit any of the competition," he stressed. "We have a lot of good cars and a lot of good people. They all ran me clean."
But midway through the season he seriously damaged his foot in an accident while working at his auto body shop.
"We took the cast off, put on a metal plate and taped it up," said Ray. "We ran and won a couple of races right after that."
He is quick to credit his crew, meanwhile, for this season's success. "When I say that it's a team effort, it's certainly true," said Ray. "I only do a portion of it. They do all the hard part. Combined as a team we probably have as much experience as anybody here running regularly this year. I'm sure that attributed to a lot of our success this year."
Ray first became involved in racing at the age of 16 when he got the opportunity to work on a pit crew for a Las Vegas dentist who was racing at the former Riverside (Calif.) International Raceway. Several years later he got behind the wheel of a race car for the first time. But after about five years of competing with limited resources, Ray opted to hang up his helmet in 1980 -- choosing to concentrate on raising his family and starting a business.
He said he always wanted to return to racing and by 1991 he was back in competition, racing in the Limited Sportsman division. After winning two consecutive titles in that division, Ray tackled the premier division at LVMS. He finished second in the standings in 1993, fourth in 1994, third in 1995 and then first in 1996.
Ray and his wife Debbie have been married for nearly 24 years. They have two sons.
Source: NASCAR Online