Michael Ray Introducing Texas Whiskey to NHRA

Texan Michael “Sting” Ray is returning to NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle racing at next weekend’s Spring Nationals in Houston, and he’ll be using the opportunity to introduce Texas whiskey brand Bahnbrecker to NHRA Camping World fans. With the the help of long-time backers, the Gottsacker family, Ray will be teaming with two-time race winner Flyin’ Ryan Oehler to showcase the New Braunfels whiskey brand on Oehler’s long-awaited second Buell.

The Gottsackers have long owned Harley-Davidson dealerships in Texas, and Ray has frequently worked at one or another—including now at Gruene H-D in New Braunfels. “There’s a bunch of partners in the Bahnbrecker whiskey company, including the Gottsacker family,” said Ray.

The Bahnbrecker brand sponsored a NASCAR Xfinity Series car at the recent Circuit of the Americas (COTA) race. “They all had a really good time,” said Ray. “At some point over the weekend there, it got mentioned, ‘Oh yeah, we’re a drag racing team and, you know, it’s all we’ve ever done.’ And they kind of like, ‘Well, you know, Houston’s coming up in a few weeks, let’s go drag racing for the weekend!'”

See? Getting sponsorship is easy when you’re in the right places with the right people.

Ray has most recently been crewing for Matt Smith Racing, stepping into the seat of one of their spare bikes whenever the team wanted to test something or add an extra bike to the field. “Obviously, Matt’s got a super full plate with his own team and the Scrappers team, so he’s really not doing anything with the rental program,” continued Michael. “And I knew Ryan had been working hard to get his second bike up to speed. I know it’s good equipment and I think it’s gonna be a win-win for both of us. Ryan’s really excited, his program’s a good program, so why not, man?”

Michael Ray with Hal Gottsacker at Indy in 2014

Ray already has a history with the equipment under Oehler’s awning. “Michael actually rode my bike back when he and it were both at Star Racing,” remembered Ryan. “When I first went to George Bryce’s school, in like 2013 or something, it was Chaz Kennedy, Michael Ray and Scotty Pollacheck with the team. They were Team Sovereign. That’s when I first met Michael, and I really liked him. Right off the bat you could just tell he was one of those guys I was gonna really connect with. You never really know where anything’s gonna go, and then as time marches on, here we are. Im thrilled to have a part in this opportunity for him in our Happy Gilmore pit.”

Ryan Oehler at Gainesville (photo by Dwayne Cullpepper)

The Oehler team has admittedly had it’s ups and downs as an independent team making its way through a brutally competitive class. In addition to five final rounds and two wins, the team has weathered some deeply disappointing weekends—but who hasn’t? “We’ve re-downloaded the tune-up, the entire recipe from 2020 and 2021,” said Oehler. “And the performance came back at Gainesville. The performance was there, we just needed more than one run on Sunday to start to work from.

“Angie (Smith) is a good example. Angie went 6.81 (in E1) and ends up going 6.72 (in the Gainesville final against winner Karen Stoffer). I go 6.83 (in E1), Angie and I both had a 1.09 60 foot, and we were the fourth quickest of the round. But Jerry (Savoie, Oehler’s E1 opponent and Stoffer’s teammate) was the second quickest We lost to him by .01 and they set the national record on that team with Karen. Angie got to keep going and I was done. That’s just how the cards fell, you know. But I felt good, considering.”

Oehler is making a significant change to his set-up, one that will be in use on Ray’s bike in Houston. He realized that he had to make a major change in electronics on his motorcycles and sought out the help of Brad McCoy in switching ECUs from Magneti-Marelli to Motec. “We were using the old Marelli, which is very antiquated,” noted Oehler. “I said ‘That’s it,’ I’m completely had it with this, running an ECU because you’re almost afraid to change.

“So finally, I said, ‘I need help.’ Everybody’s offering to help me. Cecil’s (Cory Reed Racing tuner Cecil Towner) offering, but he’s really busy. Richard Gadson, he’d stop what he’s doing and help me, but he’s got a lot of irons in the fire.

Brad McCoy at Kuwait Motor Town in 2019

“I was introduced to Brad last year, and we hit it off. He said he’d stop what he was doing and help me. So I said, ‘Okay, stop what you’re doing today, because I’m heading your way.’ I spent three days with him in Mooresville, and it’s a good thing I went there, because there’s so many resources in that town. If he would have flown to me, we would have been stuck a longer time because you just can’t get in your car and drive down the street and go to Motec. So I’ve gone to the Motec, and I’m happy. It’s all working.

“And so Michael, in the midst of all this, called me and said, ‘Hey, I’m ready. Let’s do this. I got a sponsor. I’d like to work with you guys. You’re fun. You’re professional. And I’m thinking about getting back out there.’ So I said ‘All right.’

“We’re gonna really set this world on fire, it’s gonna happen.” To that end, Oehler has also acquired two Gen2 S&S Pro Stock motors from Reed and has a brand new chassis being built by Mike Mullaney.

And if you’re going to set the world on fire, then Houston is a great place to start, since the track is sold and slated for demolition anyway.

Michael Ray on the Star/Sovereign Buell in 2013

“The goal is to just go out there and have a good time at Houston, being it’s a local race,” said Ray. “But ‘m definitely going there with a ‘For Sale’ sign for the rest of the year. You’re not going to find any money if you’re not in the staging lanes. I know where that bike is and where it’s going the following weekend, so we’ll see.

“We need more racers out there, so hopefully, it’ll inspire some people to get out and go racing. And we’ll see if I can inspire myself and inspire somebody with some money to keep me inspired.”

Ray gave hearty thanks to the Gottsacker family. “They’ve supported me immensely for 15 years now. And big thanks to Bahnbrecker Distilling. I’m really excited to introduce their brand to the NHRA fans.”

Bottoms up, NHRA.

story by Tim Hailey, photos by Hailey and Dwayne Culpepper

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