VICTORY AT TEXAS WOULD BE QUITE THE THRILL RIDE FOR RAY FORT WORTH, Texas, Sept. 15, 1998 -- Driver Greg Ray's race car this season should have carried screaming teen-agers in the back with their arms extended above their heads. For him, it's ...
VICTORY AT TEXAS WOULD BE QUITE THE THRILL RIDE FOR RAY
FORT WORTH, Texas, Sept. 15, 1998 -- Driver Greg Ray's race car this season should have carried screaming teen-agers in the back with their arms extended above their heads. For him, it's certainly been a roller coaster ride. One of his "ups" came in the True Value 500 on June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway when he battled Billy Boat at 220 mph over the closing laps of the Pep Boys Indy Racing League event. The fans were on their feet when he charged into the lead with seven laps to go. Boat squeezed by on the next circuit and beat Ray to the checkered flag by .928 of a second. The league returns to TMS this week for Lone Star 500 on Sept. 20, and Ray has one thought in mind. He doesn't want to finish second or anywhere below. "I want to win," he said. Ray, from Plano, Texas, won both the SCCA Formula Ford and Formula Atlantic championships earlier in the decade. But he hasn't taken the top position on the Pep Boys Indy Racing League post-race podium. It's something that bugs him, but at the same time he understands that it's extremely difficult to win in major-league racing with a small team. "If I could win here I would get the monkey off my back," Ray said. "I want to do it to prove to myself I can do it. Then I can start focusing on winning championships." Ray made his Indy Racing League debut at Indianapolis in 1997 and was fastest fourth-day qualifier for Thomas Knapp Motorsports. He started 30th and finished 25th. A sixth-place start and eighth-place finish at Texas were his best results in five races last year. This season, Indy and Texas brought him newfound attention. At Indy, he made a terrific qualifying run that earned him a starting spot in the middle of the front row after the team secured sponsorship for the race a few days before. Boat sat next to him on the PPG Pole. Two weeks later at Texas, Boat again was his nemesis, but this time at the end of the race. Fans departed the track talking excitedly about their speedy duel. Ray then said he would skip the next three races to raise more funds. He sat out the New England 200 on June 28 at Loudon, N.H., next on the schedule. But in an ironic twist, Boat suffered a broken leg in a crash at New Hampshire, and Boat's car owner, the legendary A.J. Foyt, selected Ray to replace Boat. Ray started seventh at Dover, Del., and second at Charlotte, N.C., but placed 15th and 17th, respectively. "Driving for A.J. was kind of a letdown," Ray said. "I felt I had the opportunity to win, but in two races I came away with nothing. Fortunately for me, I had the speed to keep my name on everybody's tongues." The roller coaster continued. Boat returned on crutches at Pikes Peak International Raceway, and Ray was on the sidelines again. He resurfaced at Atlanta for the Aug. 29 race with the Thomas Knapp Motorsports Dallara/Aurora/Firestone. He qualified 16th and finished 24th, encountering a fuel pickup problem that wouldn't transfer the final 12 gallons into the engine. Things like the fuel problem happen with small teams, Ray said, because they don't have the time or resources to find potential problems in testing. "The ups and downs take their toll," said Ray. "It's pretty difficult. (But) I don't want to use the small team thing as a crutch. "For me as an individual, I drive because I enjoy it. I'm trying to turn it into a career. It's one I want to do very well. I don't drive just to get a check, but to be a winner and successful." Ray feels it's hard to describe what it's like racing wheel-to-wheel at 220 mph because he becomes so focused he isn't aware of anything else that is happening. "That's what some race car owners and engineers want and what some don't want," he said. "I want to win." Ray not only is the driver but also the chief financial engineer. In June at Texas, locally based AT&T Wireless provided strong backing. He continues talking with the company about a long-term commitment. In the final two races - the season ends Oct. 11 at Las Vegas - Best Access Co. of Indianapolis will be his primary sponsor, with Mitsubishi Forklift as an associate. Mitsubishi also will continue as an associate next season. "I'm working really hard for next year to iron out my future," Ray said. "It sure would be nice to notch a win. It would be the culmination of a Cinderella story."
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