Dream comes true for Ray

By Bruce Martin

Dream comes true for Ray

Greg Ray has been one of motor racing's greatest dreamers. He dreamed of becoming a race driver so one day, at the age of 25, the Plano, Texas-native decided to follow his dream and entered a driving school.

His greatest dream was to one day make the starting field of the Indianapolis 500. He realised the dream by making the race in 1997. The next two years, he dreamed of winning the pole, but fell short by qualifying second in both 1998 and 1999. On Saturday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Ray realised his dream of winning the pole for this year's Indianapolis 500 as the defending IRL champion knocked defending CART champion Juan Montoya off the pole with a four-lap average of 223.471mph in a Dallara/Oldsmobile Aurora.

There is one dream left for Ray to accomplish, but he will have to wait until next Sunday's 84th Indianapolis 500 to see if that dream will come true.

"I can't even begin to fathom what it would be like to win the race," Ray said. "I think in my mind and in my sleep and in my daydreaming, I've seen myself win it. I think that is what sports breeds, it breeds dreams, it breeds fantasies and that is why we love sports so much."

With that, team owner John Menard quipped, "I've been in that dream myself." For Ray, winning the pole brings him closer to his ultimate goal of winning the Indianapolis 500.

"This is small, it doesn't really compare with winning this race," Ray said. "People forget about a polesitter, but I think Eddie Cheever put it best when he said he is forever known as an Indy 500 winner. He is not Eddie Cheever anymore. It's the same thing with Kenny Brack - he is Kenny Brack, 1999 Indianapolis 500 winner.

"That is a tagline you take with you for the rest of your life. It does mean more and is more personally satisfying. It's all about fulfilling dreams. For me, it would fulfill a boyhood dream. I can't think of a better gift you could give yourself."

Ray had to wave off his first qualification attempt when he nearly sent the car into the wall.

"At the end of the day, you want to go for you competitors, and we were ready to go, go, go, but the car wasn't ready," Ray said. "The car wasn't capable of being a pole car. It was pushing too much, and if you pull off the throttle, there is no way to get a pole. In the first lap, I was committed into turn 1 at 233mph and the car went straight.
"I had to back off to keep it off the wall, and there was no point in continuing the run at that point."

So he came back into the pits, regrouped, and went out several hours later. Ray came through with four of the most consistent laps of the day. His first lap was 223.658mph with ensuing laps of 223.397, 223.503 and 223.325mph for a four-lap average of 223.471 mph. That was better than Montoya's four-lap average of 223.372 mph.

"I was flat out all four laps and grazing the wall," Ray said of his qualification run. "Any time you want to be fast here, especially with the field as close at it is, you have to take all the downforce out of it. Especially with the cold tyres, you just have to hold your breath and hand on. I found out today I could hold my breath for 160 seconds (the length of his qualification run).

"The man upstairs was with me through every corner." Ray's pole is the third for Menard in the last six years. The late Scott Brayton won the pole in 1995 and 1996, but was killed in a crash the following week while practising at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

"This is a great day for Team Menard to win the pole, but Scottie's pole will always be the best, God rest his soul," Menard said.

"I wish he was here to see us and to participate with us so Scottie's pole will always be the most special in my mind.

"Winning the pole is the best thing you can do outside of winning the race here at Indianapolis. It is kind of a prologue to the race because if you can go fast enough to get the pole, you are in a good position to start the race and stay out of trouble early in the race."

Team Menard didn't become masters of speed at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway by accident. The team decided to go with a 90-degree crankshaft, which is more reliable for 500 miles, than the 180-degree crankshaft that many of the IRL teams use this year with the 3.5-litre engine.

"We had to make a choice," Menard said. "We could have gone with a 180-degree, which would have been quicker and better for the pole, but it vibrates a bit more and shakes pieces off the car so it probably isn't as good for a 500-mile race.

"Butch Meyer (engine builder) said, `Look, I can't make as much horsepower, but I can make a better, more reliable race engine out of it. I can give you a pretty good engine for the pole.' As it turns out, he gave us just enough horsepower to make it."

Ray has been one of the best qualifiers in the IRL, with three out of four poles this year and seventh for his career.

"Winning the pole at Indy would never get old," Ray said. "When I qualified here in 1998, I came over for the front-row photos. I told my wife she could just stay at the hotel, because they were just shooting some photos. Then, 700 photographers showed up.

"The four laps of qualifying here is the ultimate speed event. I wish it was as easy as just holding on, but you've got to drive it for all its worth."

Ray has accomplished one of his dreams, but his ultimate dream won't come without a tremendous amount of hard work. "I've always described qualifying as desert before the meal," Ray said. "I love the speed, I love the challenge. "500 miles is a long day at the office."

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