After more than a month off, the Pro Stock Motorcycle class returns to competition at this weekend’s Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway. With plenty of anticipation surrounding that return, class standout Michael Ray knows what happens in Atlanta can have a major impact for the rest of the season.
“You better not come to Atlanta behind the eight ball,” Ray said. “We’re coming here and really starting the bulk of our season here, and that’s huge for the class. This race can really set a precedent of who is going to be the rider to chase in this class.”
Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Johnny Gray (Funny Car) and Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of the event that will once again be televised on ESPN2. After a year absence the PSM class returns to Atlanta for the third of its 16 events during the 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.
Ray welcomed the return to Atlanta Dragway with open arms and also eyed it as an opportunity to get his season going in the right direction. Currently seventh in points, Ray advanced to the second round of the season-opening race in Gainesville in PSM before falling in the first round in Charlotte.
But for the young standout, racing in Atlanta is the chance for Ray to unleash the true potential of his Star Racing Buell.
“The first two races, we had to work out some of the gremlins but the guys in the shop having been doing a tremendous job and that’s a huge confidence-builder for our team,” Ray said. “(Team owner) George (Bryce) has been like a mad scientist. He wants to win and the focus has been trying to make everything we have bulletproof.”
It needs to be in a class that somehow seems to boast more talent at each event. The first two races had 23 and 22 riders, respectively, while an impressive 26 bikes are entered for the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway.
Ray believes that’s a sign of the strides the class has made, which also means the competition level continues to climb.
“It’s so cool to see where the class is now,” said Ray, who has three career victories and finished second in the points a year ago. “To be in the mix of it is really awesome. The depth of the field is incredible and is just stacked with power. I’m excited for what Star Racing has in store and I think we’re really going to shine.”
The Star Racing team includes Ray’s teammate Chaz Kennedy, who has just five races in PSM. But Ray termed Atlanta a possible “breakout performance” for the 19-year-old Kennedy, adding another name to the list of contenders in Atlanta. It starts with Andrew Hines, the current points leader who also won at Atlanta in 2010 and 2008, as well as his teammate Eddie Krawiec, a three-time world champion and 2012 and 2009 winner in Atlanta.
A host of challengers, including Hector Arana Jr., Gainesville winner Steve Johnson, defending world champion Matt Smith and Scotty Pollacheck make for another dynamic field.
“If you’re racing in this class you are really good,” Ray said. “When go up for the first round you can’t be goofing around on the tree or you’re going home, and that’s awesome. You can’t go .030 or .040 on the tree. That’s cool, that’s what any competitor wants and that’s where our class is.”
But the event also has major significance for Ray. Not only is it a home race for the Star Racing team, racing in Atlanta has always been important to him.
“Knowing the heritage and tradition of the track, it’s a special place,” Ray said. “It’s really exciting to go back here to race and I’m ready. I feel like I’m driving the bike better than I ever have.”
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and enjoy some cherished face time and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
Mello Yello Series qualifying begins Friday, May 16, with sessions at 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, May 17, at 12:30 and 3 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, May 18. Pro Mod qualifying is set for Friday, May 16 at 3:45 and 6 p.m. and Saturday, May 17 at 12:45 p.m. Pro Mod eliminations are scheduled for Saturday at 2:45 p.m.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, log on to www.NHRATIX.com or call 800-884-NHRA (6472). Children 12 and younger are free.