It’s a cold October day at Brands Hatch in 2016 and Lydd kid Bradley Ray was the hottest property in town after six straight British Supersport podiums, but he had something to tell his parents that could have changed his career forever.
Ray, whose racing had been paid for by his parents up until this point (and a host of small sponsors for many years), thanks to Dad, Kev, a builder working six days a week, and Mum, Tracey, the owner of a pub. But the then 19-year-old told them something they probably weren’t expecting to hear.
He was ready to jack it in all, after seeing them work every hour under the sun to help him achieve his dreams, he took the selfless decision to say enough is enough.
“After a while it got too much,” the current Bennetts BSB Championship leader said in an exclusive interview with BikeSocial. “At the end of 2016 when we were running our own Supersport outfit, I said to them ‘we’re not paying for anything anymore, you’ve done enough for me, if something comes up at the end of this year then great, but I’m not making you pay or graft like you are now to get me further.’
“We’d done so much; we’d done the Spanish Championship, Red Bull Rookies, BSB and kept chucking money at it, and I wasn’t prepared for them to do that anymore. That was a big thing to say, but they supported it.”
Brad’s Dad, Kev, has been there from the start
After all the hours put in building brick walls, houses, serving meals, pouring pints and time away from each other, he was ready to ask them to slow down and enjoy their money, not go spending it on race fuel and £300 sets of tyres.
But deep down, he knew that they would support his decision, whether it would be to finish racing or go working with Kev on the building sites.
“My dad is a builder, so he worked six or seven days a week, not so much now but he did back then, and my mum and brother had a pub for seven or eight years. They worked day after day, the pub was about an hour away from home so mum would go away for five days, come back for a day, and then go back again. So, I’d be at home with my dad, he’d be working and I’d be training, and then we’d all meet up when we could.
“They have been unbelievable - the time, the money, the effort they’ve put into me to get me racing is phenomenal.
“They’ve always believed and backed me, they could see something in me but knew I hadn’t had the right opportunity to go and show that. So, for them that was difficult, because they’ve put a lot in to me and they know I give 100%, but they knew I didn’t have the best package underneath me.”
Ray’s patience soon paid off with manager Roger Keys, who had previously managed Scott Redding and Danny Webb, securing him a ride with Stuart and Steve Hicken’s Buildbase Suzuki squad. The ‘Milky Bar Kid’ had his dream move, a ride in the Bennetts British Superbike Championship.
His debut season in the blue-ribband class saw him take to the podium at Oulton Park, stunning the team bosses who had shunned the chance to take him on because he wasn’t prepared to pay for his ride.
After such a bold move Ray has now gone from strength to strength, collecting his first BSB victory in 2018 and making the showdown for the first time in the same year, and he now leads the Bennetts British Championship with the Rich Energy OMG Racing Yamaha squad.
But, Ray maturely admitted that no matter where his career takes him he won’t change, no matter the amount of money he makes, or how famous he becomes, he’ll still be a big kid from Lydd.
“They (mum and dad) are proud as punch because of the results I’m getting”, he said while getting slightly emotional. “I’ve been winning, and I’ve been in dark places, but I’ll never change as a person, no matter what stage of my career I get to, I’ll never change. And that is from them, they’ve taught me well growing up, I’ve never had it easy, I’ve not been born with a silver spoon in my mouth, we’ve always grafted hard to get here.
“It’s a hobby for so long, but then it becomes a job because you’re putting so much time and effort into it that something needs to come from it. So, I was willing to step aside, I didn’t want to quit, but I was willing to step away. But I got a good opportunity and I’ve made the most of it.”
His rise to stardom was meteoric, culminating in a test on the Suzuki MotoGP bike at Sepang, but after that he then began three years of struggles, only taking to the podium a handful of times, failing to take a race win in that time.
A fresh-faced teenage Ray back in 2017
But, after switch to Yamaha from BMW machinery at the beginning of 2021 from his current employers, Rich Energy OMG Racing, he found his form again.
Ray has visited the podium a staggering 20 times in 2022, taking eight wins, seven seconds and five third place finishes – that’s a lot of Champagne and silverwear - and now leads the series by 40 points from Tommy Bridewell with just six races remaining of the 2022 campaign.
However, he remained his usual grounded self when asked if he expected to perform like this after so much hype about the R1 being the bike for him.
“It’s been unbelievable really, if you’d have said at the start of the season that I’d have had 8 wins and 12 more podiums, with my worse finish so far this year being fifth, I’d have snapped your hand off.
“I couldn’t have dreamt of a better season. I need to keep the momentum going, it’s obviously going well for us and we need to keep working the way we are. We’re heading to tracks which suit us, we have great data at as well so hopefully we can hit the ground running to seal the deal.
“I knew the bike and the overall package would be good, especially after the test we did out in Spain before Christmas, and then the pre-season testing.
“But Bennetts BSB is Bennetts BSB, it’s such a close Championship and you can’t guarantee anything, so for me to be doing what I’m doing, and for the team to be performing as we are is a dream. I never expected it, I knew in myself I was capable of winning races and getting podiums most weekends, but it’s not always possible with how this Championship is, so I can’t really ask for a better season really.
“I’ve always wanted to get on a Yamaha because I knew it would be a bike that would suit my style. The way the Yamaha is I knew it would be the bike for me, but at the time it wasn’t right for me, with only one factory team and with them keeping the same riders for a long period of time it would have been tough for me to get a ride in there.
“It would have been nice to jump on the bike at the end of 2018 and see what I could have done then to maybe progress into the World Championship a little bit earlier. If I want to make the move it needs to be soon because I’m 25-years-old now, but I’m a person that thinks that ‘everything happens for a reason,’ so we’ll just have to keep doing what we’re doing and see what comes of it.”
A move to the factory backed TAS Racing BMW team didn’t work in 2020
Not only a change in Ray’s working career has helped his success, but a change in personal life had also helped him focus fully on achieving his dream of becoming a Champion.
At the start of 2022 he split with his girlfriend who had been by his side from 2019, and even though he admitted it was a tough and difficult decision, it was one he felt he had to make with the opportunity he had in 2022.
“In some ways yes, it’s a difficult one, but yes. When I’m at a race track, I’m not a different person to what I am at home, but I’m very focussed when I come here, it’s my place of work essentially.
“I need to do my own thing and I can’t worry about other things, but on the other hand it is nice when you have a bad weekend that there is that one person who is there to help and make it better.
“But racing is a very selfish sport, and I know that people say when you find the right one you know it etc. etc. but after such a bad few years I’m purely focussed on performing here and focussed on myself to put everything in to it.
“It was a tough call to make, it’s never nice, especially when you’ve been with someone for a while it’s not nice. It was super selfish but the way I see it is if it’s right then it will work in all scenarios, no matter what. But I knew I needed to be on my own to fully focus on myself, and that is obviously helping at the minute.”
With Ray’s current performances putting him in the shop window for many teams in the Bennetts BSB paddock, where does he see himself in five years’ time, if a move to World Superbikes is on the cards would he take the jump?
Well, the 25-year-old admitted that would be the ideal scenario for him to showcase his skills on the World stage, but he’s under no illusions how tough that is.
“The prime example is Taz last year, he’s been with Yamaha for four five years now, won the British Championship for them and last year didn’t get a chance, and this year it looks hit and miss.
“It a tough one, it’s a real shame, with World Superbikes being run by Dorna it seems that if anyone in MotoGP hasn’t got a ride, they will just spit them into World Superbikes. A lot of people are doing good jobs, but they take a lot of money to those teams, so why would they take someone from British Championship who wants to ride for free, or in some cases get paid a fortune.
“It seems the sport is going more that way, which is a shame, I would like to get into World Superbikes, I wouldn’t say MotoGP is impossible because never say never, but who knows what the future holds. I’d like to be fighting for wins in World Superbike, Jonny is close to retirement, so is Alex (Lowes). So, at some point they’ve got to bite the bullet, but it seems that BSB is a last resort for some teams at the moment.
“All I can do is continue what I’m doing now and see where it takes me, I still have dreams of being World Champion, they will never die. I could be sour about it all and say that this sport is ‘shit’ because it’s full of politics, which it is. Money talks, colour of your passport etc etc.
Will 2022 be Bradley Ray’s year?
“But I look back and think back to when I was five years old, ‘what was I doing then? I was loving it’ and that is how I handle every Bennetts BSB weekend, I love it. I’m doing the one thing I’ve loved since I was a child, which is riding a bike, and I forget about all the bullshit and the politics, because ultimately results talks and if I’m winning races and Championships, I know I might get a chance somewhere.”
But with Ray’s full and undivided attention now on securing his first Bennetts British Superbike crown, and with the help of multiple Champion Shane ‘Shakey’ Byrne in his corner as his manager, what would it mean to him to lift that trophy at his home track of Brands Hatch in just three weeks’ time, in front of his parents and loving family?
“It would be 25 years of hard work, to be a British Champion would be amazing, ultimately, it’s what I’ve worked towards, and it would be something very special, not just for me but my family as well.
“I’m giving it my all to getting it over the line, and I’ll certainly be taking mum and dad to wherever they want to go afterwards, they deserve it just as much as I do, if not more.”