Ray Alley, a former Funny Car racer and team owner who was instrumental in the early years of Kenny Bernstein’s racing career and later served as NHRA’s Director of Top Fuel and Funny Car Racing, died Feb. 7. He was 86.
Alley established his reputation as a tuning savant through his Garden Grove, Calif.-based Engine Masters business in the early 1960s. It was through that company that he and Bernstein first met in 1965 when Alley assisted Bernstein with some transmission help on his Anglia gasser. They stayed in touch over the interceding years. Alley owned and drove his own Funny Cars while Bernstein began a career in Top Fuel with Texas legends like the Carroll brothers and the Anderson brothers. On a trip to California in 1969, Alley turned over the wheel of his Barracuda Funny Car to Bernstein for a night at famed Lions Dragstrip. By 1970, they were partners and reached their first final round together at the 1973 Winternationals, where Bernstein was runner-up to Don Schumacher.
The two parted company a few years later but remained close friends. Alley, who in the early 1960s had brought the wild Allison-powered Big Al ’34 Ford Tudor exhibition car from Jim Lytle, returned to his showman days after purchasing a rocket dragster, which he called Age of Aquarius and campaigned extensively. Alley and Bernstein reunited in the late 1970s as Bernstein’s own Chelsea King Funny Car operation was taking off. Alley provided a guiding hand that continued into the early 1980s and Bernstein’s landmark sponsorship with Budweiser. Alley didn’t want to chase the tour around the country, but connected Bernstein with tuning great Dale Armstrong. The duo remained close friends, and Alley handled the marketing side of the new RacePak data recorder that Armstrong and Ron Armstrong (no relation) later pioneered in Bernstein’s car.
Alley continued to serve as a crew chief for a number of teams and as a consultant for others. In 2000, Alley accepted the post with NHRA in 2000, working directly with Top Fuel and Funny Car teams to enhance the quality of the show and create and enforce new rules. He left the position near the end of 2007 to work with Bernstein and his return to Funny Car competition.
“He helped me so much in the beginning of my career,” Bernstein recalled. “He seemed to always have confidence in me to be the driver that I could be and have success at it. He just saw that. I can't tell you how much influence he had on me through the years. It was like, whenever I got in the worst shape I was in, he was there to help. He was a great man and a great friend.”
Look for more on Alley's career in Friday's Dragster Insider column