Ray On The Move Again

It hasn’t taken long for Greg Ray to go from being known mainly as the 1999 Indy Racing League champion to being a journeyman driver on four different teams in three years.

Ray will drive the No. 20 Empress Casino/Sam Schmidt Motorsports Dallara/Chevrolet in the final two races of the season, Chicago and Texas. He drove for fellow Texan A.J. Foyt in nine races this season, qualifying and finishing no higher than 12th.

"I'm extremely excited," Ray said of joining Schmidt Motorsports. "They've had a competitive program. They have a tight-knit group of guys, and I'm looking forward to stepping in there and accomplishing goals for the team and myself.”

The partnership of Ray and Schmidt brings together two friends, who also were known for their competitive nature on the track. Schmidt, who scored one career Indy Racing victory, battled many times with Ray during Ray's 1999 IRL championship run and was still mathematically eligible for the championship entering the final race in 1999 at Texas.

"I'm excited about it," said Schmidt, who became a team owner after he was paralyzed in a testing accident in January 2000. "In some sense, it feels a little strange for me, because Greg and I were such fierce competitors back in 1999 for that entire year. I think it's a good fit, good timing, and I think Greg will do a great job with the team."

Ray is driving in place of Richie Hearn, who scored top-10 finishes in six of seven races for Schmidt before suffering a broken right foot at the Belterra Casino Indy 300 Aug. 11 at Kentucky Speedway. Anthony Lazzaro drove for the team Aug. 25 at Gateway International Raceway in St. Louis but crashed in the morning practice session and did not start the race.

Although the partnership with Schmidt provides some stability for Ray for the final two races, it continues a roller coaster of events that dates back to August 2001 when he and Team Menard parted ways. Ray won the 1999 IRL championship and earned all five of career IRL victories with Menard.

Ray hooked up with A.J. Foyt Enterprises for the 2001 season finale at Texas and was set to start 13th when he was involved in an accident with Billy Boat during the morning practice session the day of the race. The Foyt crew worked the rest of the morning, repaired the car, and Ray brought it home in eighth place.

In the offseason, Ray signed a deal with Kelley Racing to be a teammate to Scott Sharp for the 2002 season, but the deal ended just days before the season opener March 2. Ray was without a ride at the start of the season.

On April 24, A.J. Foyt Racing signed Ray for the remainder of the 2002 season and the 2003 season. However, the partnership produced mixed results, with Ray scoring Top 15 finishes at just Texas and Richmond.

Ray recently asked for and received his release by Foyt from his contract for the final two races of the season.

"I think the last 12 to 14 months for me haven't gone as I would have planned or wanted to plan on," Ray said. "But in this world of business and racing and sponsorships and contracts and scenarios, things just happen a certain way. While for me personally, it hasn't been the highest highs or the best moments, certainly they're educational, and you learn from things and mistakes."

While the times have been tough, Ray still has the competitive urge of a champion.

"I still have the same fire, the same passion, the same dedication to racing and the business side of that," Ray said. "I'm looking for to great things happening in the future and looking to get off on a great step with Sam Schmidt this weekend."

That future could also include heading back to Foyt for 2003.

"There is a possibility we could work next year if things come together," Ray said. "We're taking that one day at a time, and I'm pursuing other things, as well."

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Auto Club 500

@ Auto Club Speedway
Saturday, October 19, 2013
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