Brandon Ray began to gain quite the reputation throughout the 2019 racing season as he branched out to more and more events on the national scene. The rider out of the Bay Area started to put together some solid results and did so in style, racing a CR500 in the FMF Two-Stroke class at Mammoth that he bought off the Facebook Marketplace a couple of weeks earlier. Ray drew the attention of the JMC Motorsports team right before Loretta Lynn’s and ended up earning two 5th place overall finishes with only one day of practice on the bike beforehand. He repeated the same feat at The Motoplayground Race at Ponca City and collected a multitude of podium finishes at the Arizona Open, bringing him into the 2020 season with a decent amount of momentum on his side. He wasn’t able to secure the results that he was after at Spring A Ding Ding, but he’s used it as motivation to step up his training program during the recent lockdown, ramping up his physical training to an unprecedented level. We were able to get Brandon on the phone as he took a second away from remodeling his bathroom and we discussed how he’s been handling the lockdown, living in the city as a motocrosser, and moving up to the B class for Loretta’s.
How has the recent coronavirus pandemic affected your day-to-day life?
Yeah, it really hasn't been that bad. It hasn't been that different, you know. Except for all the stores and local tracks have been closed. I've only really ridden twice in the past month, it wasn't just because of that but we need to get stuff done while this whole pandemic is going on. So you know, I was able to get my schoolwork done and then focus on my off the bike training, I really needed that. (laughs) I was kind of lackin' on my physical shape. I've had to put my head down workin' on that, runnin', and training every day.
Apart from your training, what have you been doing to occupy all of the extra free time that you've had?
Even though it's a negative time, it's good that this kind of happened because there's a bunch of stuff that me and my dad needed to get done. We've been fixing up our house, we really wanna sell it. I live literally like five minutes from Oracle Arena, so where I live is really not that good. I live in the city, it sucks. You know, motocrossers that live in the city just hate it there and I hate it here. All I have in my backyard is a motorhome and a pool, that's it. I don't get to ride or nothin' by my house, so we definitely wanna fix up our house, which we're doing, and move out to the country somewhere. Me and my dad have gone hunting a couple of times at a ranch in Niles which is about ten minutes away, it's right up the road. I'm also building a truck right now, I've had a truck since I was fourteen and I just got it on the road and everything so I've just been working on that. And I've been trying to ride my BMX bike a lot and get better on that. (laughs) I suck, dude. I fall so much on that thing, so I've just been tryin' to get better.
At least you're getting some two-wheeled activity in to keep yourself sharp.
Yeah, 'cause I don't play no video games or anything like that. I mean I could, but I'm an outdoor kid. I'd rather be out on my bicycle than inside playin' Fortnite or whatever them kids play. I'd rather be outside shootin' a basketball or something like that. It kind of sucks 'cause we had a lockdown where we had to stay in our house, you know. It was kinda crazy 'cause before I left on that trip to Texas, JMC (the team that I race for) actually picked me up and took me to Nevada and I did a Loretta Lynn Qualifier, then we went from there to Underground. When I left it was like "Okay, the coronavirus, you gotta be careful." Then when I came back stores were wiped out, everything was wiped out, so it was pretty crazy. We actually left the day before practice even started at Freestone 'cause my team is from Washington and they were talkin' about shutting the border down and then on the way home we found out they canceled the race anyways.
How has it been for you in the Bay Area lately? It's especially bad up there in terms of restrictions and whatnot.
There was a two-week lockdown right when I got back. I was like "damn, this is crazy," and I kind of started freaking out, you know. It's just me and my dad at home, my mom ain't really in the picture and me and my dad knew we were gonna be alright. We weren't stressin' about that. We know how to hunt and we know how to do stuff. My dad's actually disabled so I do a lot of the stuff around here, but I knew if I had to I could go and get food if I needed to. So I wasn't really stressin', but now they just put a law out where you have to wear a mask if you go outside no matter what and if you don't it's a $500 fine.
Did you have stuff stocked up when you got back or what was it like for you coming back to that situation?
On the way home, we heard about what was going on and we stopped at stores to get whatever we could. My dad actually went out to go look for stuff, because my grandma called from Oregon and she was askin' how my dad was doing and he didn't really know what was going on' 'cause he isn't really big on the phone or technology. So he didn't really know what was going on and he went to our local store and it was wiped out; that's when he got kind of nervous. He called us and told us what was goin' on so we stopped and got some bread and stuff like that and when we got back here, Michelle, the owner of JMC's wife, went on her phone and bought us a bunch of food on Instacart which helped us out a lot. As the weeks went by, stuff started to get better. Right now I could go do whatever I want. If they would've just stayed the same as before, everything would've been fine but everyone started freakin' out about it and goin' ballistic!
So have you always lived in the city? It must be tough sometimes when you're competing against kids staying at training facilities.
Yeah, I've always lived here. Like I was sayin', where I live isn't really all that good of an area either. It's good though because our little piece of junk house right now, not even big at all, is goin' for pretty big bucks. We have to fix up a couple of things and we could sell it and get a really good price for it. We've been lookin' into that and we've had a couple of people look at the house. A couple of the rooms were messed up and I've been helping out; I've been learning lots of stuff which is cool 'cause I like building. I just tore out the floor in my bathroom, repainted it, and we're layin' tile down. We're throwin' stuff away, my dad has lived here for thirty-some years. I think he bought this house when he was 26 and he just turned 60 now.
What's your riding situation normally like? If you're taking care of your dad, you probably don't get a lot of time away from home.
I'm pretty much here, every time I ride he's usually there. There's a local track called Club Moto in Livermore and then Hangtown's like two and a half hours from me -- that's like the closest real motocross track to me. Then there are some tracks in Marysville which is probably about three hours and those tracks are pretty sick, those are mostly sand tracks out there. I've only been able to ride twice a week where I'm going up against kids that can ride like five days a week. I would not mind it, I would do that no matter what. I've heard stories about kids gettin' burnt out from it, like I would not get burnt out from riding. (laughs) The two days that I did ride, I rode at that ranch we went hunting at. There ain't no track there or nothin', dude. It's a hundred somethin' acres, it's fat! I was goin' out in the hills and I found some natural jumps I was hitting, I had a couple where I was like fourth gear tapped off the lip and the people out there were like "Dude, you're gonna get hurt," and I was like "I got it, trust me!"
For someone that doesn't get to ride as much as other kids, how did you hone your bike skills? Some of your whips at Spring A Ding Ding were pretty awesome.
You know, I started ridin' the day before I turned three years old right in my front lawn. My dad tied a rope around the exhaust bracket or somethin' of my PW50 and I'd just ride circles. You know, I've been ridin' for a long time and I just fell in love with it at a young age. I played basketball and stuff like that, but I didn't really like it 'cause you had to count on other people too much, you know what I mean? You could be a good player but if the other players aren't good, then you're not good. That's why I really liked motocross, it's an individual sport. I've always just loved doing it.
How'd the racing go for you at the beginning of the season before we went on hiatus?
Yeah, things have been turning around for sure. Last year was a really good year for me, it was probably my best year. I won the Loretta Lynn Qualifiers, I did really good at the 125 Dream Race against Villopoto and I never had recognition before that. Everyone overlooked me 'cause I wasn't able to get to the big races, like I said my dad's disabled and he's on social security so it's really hard for us to do it. Then the races I did go to, I was out there on a ten-year-old bike at one point running with the top ten riders, you know, on an old CR85. Last year I had a pretty good bike under me, a guy named Paul Barr actually started helping me out. He sponsored my supermini program and then when I moved onto KTM 125s and then last year like I said I got a lot of recognition. Before Loretta's, JMC hit me up and said they had a bike for me if I wanted to come out and ride it. Actually, at Mammoth we had a fallout with Paul, you know, so I didn't have a bike to race. I had a 2017 practice bike and I sent the transmission through the cases and we didn't have enough money to fix it, so we put it out there on Instagram and I was like "Is there anyone that can help me out?" Like I've qualified and I've worked so hard to get to this point, can someone help me get to the next point? A lot of people reached out to JMC that were close with them and they said they had a bike for me that I could ride at Loretta's, so I met up with them there and I only rode the bike one time before Loretta's. Then I went to Loretta's got two 5th place overalls and my best finish was 2nd. From there I stayed with the team and we went to Monster Cup and then we went to Supercross Futures this year. Like I said, I've been lacking on my physical shape and I've been working on that. I'm not gonna lie, I got tired in the motos at Underground and I got bad starts, too. I don't know what was going on.
What do you think about the track layout down there at Underground?
It's definitely different, you know. Nowadays they don't build big, giant jumps on a motocross track anymore so it was definitely cool to hit those. It's like really deep there which is awesome; I like sand, I would say I'm a really good sand rider. The dirt there is really deep and you have to get used to it at first. I don't have tracks like that up here, none of the tracks are like that. They don't get that deep or that rough, so it takes some getting used to but I love it. I mean, I really love that track and I wish I could ride there more to be honest.
Talk about riding the CR500 last year at Mammoth.
Yeah, funny story about that...I actually won the King of the West on a CR250 which was Paul's bike. That's the bike I was going to race at Mammoth and two weeks before, my dad was on the Facebook Marketplace and we found a CR500 for a $1,000. Me and my dad we're lookin' at each other and we were both like "We have to get it!" My dad was lookin' at me like "Dude, what're we gonna do with it?" and I was like "I'm gonna race it!" We went out and I think they researched it before we got there because they started saying they didn't want to sell it but we were already on our way, so we ended up buying the bike from them for like $1,200 and it ended up being pretty clean. I went out and rode it once but right when I got it I called FMF, Acerbis, AC Levers and they helped me out big time. They sent it right away. I went out and rode it one time and the very first time I rode it the carburetor popped off when I landed like I looked down and it was sitting out of the boot. (laughs) So I went through the bike by myself, you know, 'cause I really didn't have anyone to do that and I was doin' all my bike maintenance mostly, but I have a mechanic now. I went through the bike before Mammoth and I rode it one time then we just took it to Mammoth. To be honest, I would've done better on that 250 two-stroke, you know. The 250 was there, I could've run it, too. I actually raced Schoolboy 2 on the 250 two-stroke but I just wanted to race the 500. I'm sitting at the line for the Main and I blew a fork seal and the fork oil was dripping onto the front brake then onto the concrete. So that was a heck of a start, almost lookin' backward off the cement. I just wanted to ride it -- everyone was saying "That's sick you're racing a 500!" -- so it was just off peer pressure basically. I could've done a lot better like I said, but it sure was fun racing that thing! I was pullin' all the people up the hills and another thing, I burned the clutch out 'cause the cable was worn out. (laughs) I really should've done more stuff to it, but I just didn't have enough time to. I've taken it out to the dunes since then and put a paddle tire on it and that thing is so fun out there!
What're your thoughts on what might happen with Loretta's this year?
It's definitely confusing. My dad showed me a little bit of it, but I was workin' on somethin' so I forgot. I just hope it doesn't get canceled basically and I hope they can pull it off. I'm feeling really good this year, you know, I'm going in there in 250 B and Schoolboy 2. I can't race one of the classes because it's an advancement class, that's what the AMA guys said at the qualifier. I was going to race 125 B/C and Schoolboy 1 but then we switched over because I'm not gonna go to Loretta's on two different bikes, you know. I'm trying to get some time in on the 250, this is like my first year on the 250 basically. I've only ridden it a couple of times, but I've been able to adapt to bikes pretty quickly. I've been trying to get more time on the 250, so I just hope it gets run and it doesn't get canceled. Actually, at AZ Open I won the Buddy Wentworth People's Champ Award and Mr. Wentworth went and helped me out and paid for a couple weeks of training with Shannon Niday so I'll be doing that before Loretta's.