Last week we ran through the standard motocross questions with Alex Ray, asking him about his 2020 season and his 2021 plans with the SGB/Maxxis/Babbitt’s Kawasaki team. But A-Ray’s journey is much more fascinating that what you’ve seen lately. He’s gone from a rider who couldn’t make night shows to a rider who routinely makes 450SX main events. Even he is not totally sure how that worked out, because it certainly didn’t seem destined to happen…well, we’ll just let A-Ray explain in his usual hilarious fashion.
Racer X: Okay Alex, changing gears a bit here, there’s something about your career I’ve never understood. The first time I’d heard of you is when Hanny [Josh Hansen] took you out for no reason in practice one day. Long time ago…
Alex Ray: That was 2012. Long time ago!
What were you, 12 years old?
I was 18 or 19?
That was eight years ago. How old are you now?
Twenty seven. Dang! I’m old.
You were like total unknown guy who didn’t even make night shows and then somewhere along the way you started getting better and now you just make mains. Your story is so bizarre.
Yeah! My first year was 2011. I turned 18 right before Seattle, so yeah, I was a young buck.
Okay here’s what confuses me. I’ve looked at your Loretta’s results….
Yeah you get 12th overall in B class at Loretta’s. So what made you say, “Okay, I’m 18, I’m ready to turn pro and race supercross.” What led to that?
A guy named Brian McDonald, he does video-splice stuff and mental coaching, he was working with Tyler Bowers and Vince Friese at the time. He had this supercross academy in California. My dad just said, “Hey you want to try supercross?” I was like, “Yeah, I’ll try it.” Because I grew up on small night tracks. They were tight. So I figured I could try supercross. So 16 years old, after Loretta’s, my dad just drops me off in California with his credit card, which, that was a very bad idea! I go to Brian McDonald’s supercross academy. It was good, but that all ended up getting shut down and we went to Palm Springs and we kept doing supercross. The next year I was able to get my pro license somehow. I think Brian wrote a letter, and I think I went and raced Mini O’s or something….and yeah, I showed up to Anaheim 1.
Did you even race A class?
I did two races I think. Mini O’s and then a local race.
So you’re an okay B rider—not crushing it—and you decide to just turn pro?
Yeah I’ve never been top ten at Loretta’s! Not even in a moto!
So you decide after that you’ll just skip A class and go straight to supercross?
Yeah! And it did not go good!
[Laughs] I was trying to say this in the most respectful way possible! This is not the normal pathway!
Yeah, it’s not! It all just kept working out, so, hey, I’m here now. Brian McDonald did the Supercross Academy with these 20 other dudes. We’re all going to live in a house together and riding supercross every day. I’m not going to lie, I was sketchy as hell. You can ask anyone that was there, you can ask [Tyler] Bowers, [Seth] Rarick, Deven Raper, they just thought I was this young dumb fat kid that was just there to hang out! But then I started riding and they were like, “Okay well this kid isn’t that bad.”
So they at least only thought that based on looking at you and your personality. The riding was okay.
Yeah I was just there cracking jokes all the time. I was a slacker. Just a class clown type deal. I started getting better at riding. We’d do race simulations and I’d beat some of these guys, and they would get pissed. I remember there was this guy Ronnie Goodwin. He was from Vegas and he got mad at me one day because I passed him in the whoops and got kinda’ sketchy. So after the moto he was like, “Hey dude, what was that all about?” And I’m like, “I don’t know, dude. I had my eyes closed.” He got so pissed!
[Laughs] Where they actually closed?
Probably! At that point in time I was just hanging on for dear life!
So did you ever race the 250 class?
I did, wow, but it was a struggle because I was a big boy. First year, 2011, I rode 250 West and 450 East. I did the whole series. I was like “Hey, I’m racing baby.” I missed Anaheim 1 night show. But I made the next one in Phoenix, but I ended up crashing in practice and got knocked out, so I couldn’t race. I ended up making the rest of them. I got tenth in a heat race, missed by one spot, and I got third in an LCQ in Seattle, so missed by one spot. I’ve got a photo of me on the podium getting the Asterisk Medic Card, from Diana Dalgren, still in my phone. Sick! Yeah, I raced all the 450 class on the East, I missed a couple night shows but I was just excited to be there. I was just out of the B class. I was 17 years old, I was a young kid.
You kind of explained it right there. You used the term “made it” meaning the night show. Now when you say “made it” you mean make the main. That’s how far this has come.
I know right? Last year I was top 20 in points! To come from literally nothing—or I should say, to come from absolutely sucking—to be top 20 in points last year, and think about it, I’ve ridden for great teams! I’ve gotten a fill-in ride with factory Yamaha for outdoors, and I’ve never even had a top ten outdoors. I’ve ridden for Cycle Trader Rock River Yamaha, HEP Suzuki, even my team now is great. I’ve done everything I’ve wanted to do and more! I’m just some fat kid from Tennessee. You know what I mean?
There’s no way you thought this is where you’d be ten years ago.
Hell no! I thought I’d be working in the pawn shop with my dad.
[Laughs] Well I guess your dad knew something when he dropped you off by yourself at a supercross track in California at age 16.
Nah. I think he just wanted to get me away from him for a little bit.
[Laughs] Ah okay. So now I feel like you’re pretty handy at figuring out how to get into the mains now. The amount of times we’ve seen you get a garbage start in the LCQ and somehow make the main, it seems like you have that down. So are you now switching to goals of positions in the main instead of just making the main?
To be honest the goal is just top-20 in points. That’s where I want to be and need to be. We missed it this year. I had a big crash in Tampa and that set us back, I struggled for a few rounds with pain in my back and stuff. But the main goal is top 20 in points.
Well, one thing you did say is that you’re more comfortable on tighter tracks, so maybe you would be better in supercross, but you have to be pro to see that.
Yeah definitely. My dad has a night track and I grew up on it. The little TMXA series. I did do my share of big amateur races, but we raced every weekend somewhere.
So your parents have a race track on their property?
Oh yeah! It’s sick! Like an hour closer to Memphis from Loretta’s, opposite of Nashville. We get great crowds, quads, dirt bikes, we do it all. It’s in my backyard!
Is this track a local legend in Tennessee?
Yeah! This has been going on for 20 years or so!
Now that you’re the big famous Alex Ray, have you shown up and raced it again?
Yeah, I have, but the last few years I haven’t. I really need to go back, but it’s been tough with the nationals schedule during the summer, that’s when they’re racing and that’s when we’re racing outdoors. They need to get a sign on the Atwood Tennessee line that says, “Home of Alex Ray.” We need to get one of those made!
Yes! When you’re done they can list how many main events you made on the sign.
Dude, the other day I was hanging out with BudMan [Buddy Antunez] because I was working with him. And [Brandon] Hartranft was there. And Hartranft had no idea how many Arenacross wins BudMan has. I’m like, “Dude, Budman won like 111 of these things! You need to know this!”
Oh yeah he’s the King of Arenacross! You know what? I’m not surprised Hartranft doesn’t know this.
He’s just “The Brick” dude. He’s “The Brick.” That’s it. You know what? The way my career is going I can see Arenacross coming back and getting big just in time for me to get in there and I’ll just do it until I’m 40.
Arenacross could be a real niche for you.
Yeah I know! I’ll be cleaning fools out.
Okay, can you give any advice to any aspiring riders who want to make it to this level?
You’re gonna get knocked down, Hanny is going to clean you out, you just need to keep going! [Laughs] Really you just can’t give up. To be honest, I slacked off for a few years and I was just happy to be there. Finally I was like, if I’m going to be able to continue to do this, and make some decent money at it, I just have to work my ass off. So I took every dime I had made the previous year and invested it in myself. I moved to California and I just trained as hard as I could. You can ask Seth [Rarick]. I would be there doing 60 to 70 laps a day, not eating, freaking trying to grind so I can get where I am today. It was a long process but it happens, and I’m still doing it. Still trying to get better. So, don’t give up.
What about the Davi Millsaps part of this? I know he was part of it.
Yeah so that was pretty much it. I talked to Davi at Salt lake City in 2017. I sort of told him what I was doing at ClubMX, we were texting back and forth. He basically told me, “Dude, for your body type, how you ride, you’re doing all the wrong shit. Move to California, I will train you, we can be partners.” This was 2017, I was riding for Cycle Trader Rock River. I asked Christina [Denny, Team Manager] and I asked her what did she think I should do to get better. And she said I should move to California. So literally after Vegas in 2017 I flew home, I packed all my shit and I drove out to California. I didn’t tell anyone what I was doing, I just packed up and drove straight there. I didn’t even stop along the way! Straight to California. I get out of the van and I text Davi and I’m like “Okay I’m here, I’m just unpacking all my stuff.” And he says, “Okay, we have a cycle in the morning, be there.” Didn’t even have a chance to sleep in, and I’d just driven across the country! We do this big climb the next day, and I was struggling. Davi was like, “Man I thought you’d be in better shape than this! We’ve got work to do.” So we started training. Me Davi and Pablo [Toribio], the same guy I still train with today.
Pablo! That’s my guy from New Jersey! Yeah I remember him working with Davi when Davi lost all this weight. He’s still around?
Well, he’s not, he lives in Singapore now, but he facetimes me every day, gives me a training program and all of it. I started training with Pablo, and it worked.
You were training with Davi when he had his big crash?
Yeah I was actually back home for Thanksgiving and he was still testing. Jimmy Perry [Yamaha Team Manager] called me and said Davi crashed. As soon as I was back in California I went to visit him in the hospital. It sucks. Lost a training partner, but more importantly he was pretty damned hurt. So that was really bad. But even though he didn’t race that year, he actually still kept working with me through that whole year. He worked out my riding program and everything. So 2018 ended up being my breakout year, really thanks to Davi and Pablo.
Do you even know why Davi wanted to help? Did you ask for his help?
I did ask him. I asked him, “Hey, you were a bigger guy, how did you get in shape? What did you do?” He just welcomed me with open arms to help. I was like, “Hell yeah!”
Well, this makes a little more sense. But it’s still crazy A-Ray out there.
Well, dude, does this not make sense, knowing what I’m like? You should post my Loretta’s results. I don’t care. I’m going to come back and race 25 Plus and kick Brownie’s ass!
You can listen to the full interview with A-Ray on the latest episode of the Racer X Exhaust Podcast below: