“Living the Dream”, It’s a term we hear quite often and usually associate with very few lucky individuals. But for Spring Lake, Michigan’s Bill Bray that is exactly what he does each and every weekend.
For the driver of the no.94 Dirt Late Model racing isn’t just a hobby as he said with a smile, “I race! That’s what I do and who I am.”
For generations the Bray name has been synonymous with southwest Michigan dirt track racing, Bill’s grandfather Gus started the family legacy which was carried on by his father Stan, Uncle Bob, and although from the other side of the cockpit his brother Scott.
Growing up in the Bray household meant summer Saturday nights on the bleachers of Thunderbird Raceway in Muskegon, Michigan and from the time he was three years old there was no place else that Billy Bray wanted to be. As his 16th birthday approached Bill was itching to get behind the wheel of a race car, but his mom Shirley sternly put her foot down and informed him that he would have to wait until after graduating high school. After that Bill and his brother worked putting together a racecar, both honing fabrication and mechanical skills that they never thought would have an effect on their futures; just on the no.94 machine that they wanted to see on the 3/8-mile dirt track not far from home.
At age 19 Billy strapped in and he has been making his presence known ever since. In the early 90’s Bray made his home at I-96 Speedway (Lake Odessa, MI) and Thunderbird Raceway and from 1990-1995 he was nearly unbeatable in the tough Pro-Stock division. Bray soon found himself with an actual bounty out on him; challenging any driver in the state to try to beat him. Many nights saw the no.94 machine at the rear of the A-Main after accepting the challenge to race all the way to the front, and despite starting 20-cars deep Bray managed to find himself in victory lane time and time again. “We got lucky!” stated Bray with a grin before adding, “Those were really good times. We couldn’t do any wrong during those years in the early 90’s, The car was really good and for some reason I had a knack for getting around that big ½-mile track at I-96. When everybody else would lift off of the gas I wasn’t smart enough to get out of it I guess and I drove around them. Those years were definitely fun and we had a great time”.
It was during that time frame that Bill also became exposed to asphalt racing through the MSPA Wednesday night events. Although Port City Racing where Bray was employed as a fabricator at the time had an undeniable presence in asphalt Late Model racing, Bill was one of the anomalies that chose dirt, but soon the tides turned. The MSPA tour made no distinction between dirt and asphalt tracks, and drivers looking for a series title had to prove their consistency and their diversity. Billy got to put his skills and his dirt car to the test one night at the 3/8-mile paved Owosso Speedway (Owosso, MI). “Bill Trueblood (no.35) and I started on the front row of the feature.” Recalled Bray, “We raced side-by-side for 10-laps and we just couldn’t beat each other. Neither of us could pull off a pass but then Bill broke a fan belt and had to pull off ending that fun, but with 5-laps to go there was a caution and one of the Owosso veterans restarted just behind me, on the white flag lap driving into turn one he drove into my rear quarter panel and got me all sideways but I just stood on it like a dirt racer is supposed to and drove right out of the corner pulling him by about three car lengths at the end. That was my first asphalt win and it was a very exciting moment for me!” exclaimed Bray.
Soon after that pivotal Wednesday night at Owosso, Bill bought an Asphalt Sportsman car and did weekly double duty competing Friday’s on the dirt and Saturday’s on asphalt.
After a number of dominating years, an I-96 Speedway championship and an MSPA Championship; Bray moved his dirt program to the Late Model ranks in 1996 and although he enjoyed some success in the division, he was also soon getting opportunities in the world of asphalt racing. For three years Bill considered Berlin Raceway in Marne, Michigan home as he competed in the Super Late Model division. That switch to asphalt also opened the door for Billy to compete in ARCA, and once the fabrication skills that he and his brother Scott honed while working on that first racecar were noted he was offered a position with Michael Waltrip Racing. From 2005 until 2009 Bray worked for MWR and Germain Racing as a fabricator and part of the over the wall pit crew and although free time was limited, on off weekends Bray would find himself back behind the wheel of a Dirt Late Model running at Carolina and Cherokee Speedways.
Bray enjoyed his time in North Carolina, especially as he was able to spend more time with his brother Scott who now works as a set-up specialist for Stewart-Hass Racing working on Stewart’s Cup team, but there is definitely no place like home. After spending weekdays working in the Research & Development Department of Die-Matic Tool & Die in Grand Rapids, Bill can usually be found working in a garage building a car or helping someone else with theirs. His roots in racing go deep and for Bill, Saturday nights at his home track of I-96 Speedway are unbeatable and having the support of his race-driven family is great.
For the Bray’s racing isn’t just a sport or a hobby, it is a tradition and one that carries many memories. Of those, for Billy the most memorable still remains an event a Thunderbird Raceway in the 90’s, “We had an Ambush Chili Gang charity grudge race between my dad, myself, and my uncle Bob. It was a 10-lap event and after watching the video you can see that you could have thrown a blanket over all three of us as we crossed the line with me in the front. Beating my family was definitely exciting!” stated Bray. But for Bray the most touching part wasn’t the race itself. The Ambush Chili Gang was an organization dedicated to helping families of racers who were injured or killed, for the Bray family the organization had a special place in their hearts, “My grandfather Gus died in a racecar in ‘59” stated Bray before adding, “After that race we did a parade lap leaving the pole position open in his honor. The whole Bray family was there to witness that race. It was a very touching and memorable thing. I will remember that experience forever!”
When it comes to the Bray racing legacy Bill has no plans of letting it fall to the side anytime soon; for the remainder of 2012 Bray will be making every stop on the Michigan Dirt Cup Late Model tour as well as being regularly seen on the clay at Winston Motor Speedway and the now 3/8-mile I-96 Speedway.
Bill’s smooth style and winning ways make him a definite favorite to watch, and it will be exciting to see him once again test his skills with a touring series.
To keep up with Billy and all of his latest accomplishments don’t forget to check out his facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Bill-Bray-Racing/167176503341348