Unbuckled: Getting to Know Michael Gay (Part 1)


Hometown: South Burlington, VT

Division: Allen Lumber Street Stocks

Car: Got That Rental #3 Ford Mustang

2017 Season: Finished 13th in Street Stock points; 1 feature win


What are your favorite non-racing hobbies?

My favorites are hunting white-tail deer and trout fishing. I hunt every deer season, both rifle and muzzle-loading, and I’ve been successful pretty much every year. I classify myself as a decent, better-than-average hunter. I’ve gotten a couple of big bucks – my biggest success was getting a 10-point buck at 212 pounds on Camel’s Hump, along with a big black bear that was 210 pounds. So I’ve joined the 200 Club here in Vermont. But I get deer pretty much every year, whether it’s a doe or a buck if I get a doe permit. I really enjoy it.

And it sounds like you eat well in the winter.

Yes I do. I through big venison parties every year. It’s good to get the guys around, play some cards, and watch the Daytona 500.

What do you do for work?

I own my own landscaping company in Burlington. I’m subcontracted through the city of Burlington to do some lawn care. I do design work and I do installs. I started the company in, I think, 1999.

What are your current racing plans for 2018? Do you have any goals?

My main goal has always been to have fun. I haven’t been as successful because I really don’t know the ins and outs of racing, so to speak – especially the technical parts. But I’ve learned some along the way. Now that I have my own car, I think my goals are set a little higher, because I can tinker with it a little bit more. I bought the car last year from Jennifer Getty along with my cousin from Got That Rental.  So the goals for this year are to win a few races and stay in the top-10 in points. I would really love to be in the top-10 this year. I plan on racing the whole year as long as I don’t wreck, because it’s pretty much just me and my sons working on my car.

What was the highlight of the 2017 season for you?

It’s obviously my first win in the Street Stocks in the Labor Day Classic. It really, really meant a lot to finally get that monkey off my back. It definitely was the highlight of my season.

You had been racing for a while before finally getting that win. Was it something you felt could happen last year after all that time?

I always believed that I could drive – it was just basically having the car set up and having the chance late in a race. I got dumped a couple of times last year when I thought that the car was coming to me and I was up around the top-5 with about 10 laps to go. But I always thought that I could do it. At the Memorial Day Classic, I finished 2nd, so I definitely knew that we had something where if I could start towards the front, not get in any trouble, hold my position, and be around in the end, I definitely could have a shot to win anytime throughout the year.

How did you get started in racing?

My brother worked for John Buffum, who was one of the world’s best rally drivers, and through him I met Paul Newman, Bobby Allison, and some of the other big names in motorsports. He also worked on Ron Barcomb’s car years ago, and as a young kid, I was fascinated with racing. Being the baby of 11 kids, it was great to go to these events and meet these people, but I never thought I would ever have a chance to do it. But that’s how I got my interest perked. And then, to be 100 percent honest, it was Ken Squier’s voice that sealed it. He captivated me during the Daytona 500 on CBS, and I just hooked from there.

As for how I actually got out on the track, that’s due to my boys. I used to go to Catamount Stadium as a young kid, and then when it closed, I started going to Thunder Road. When my kids were growing up, they always wanted me to get into the Junkyard Warriors. But I had zero experience driving anything on the track, so I took my brand-new 2006 Chevy Corvette out on the race track at Run-What-U-Brung – it wasn’t even two weeks old. (Laughs) I just took it around to see what the track looked like, and I fell in love with it and said, “alright kids, I’ll get a car.” And that’s what I did – I bought a Warrior car, fixed it all up, and went racing.

So what was it like growing up as one of 11 kids?

I wouldn’t change anything in the world. I didn’t have a heck of a lot growing up – my dad was working 2 to 3 jobs, and we lived in a 3-bedroom house with 1 bathroom. There were 6 girls and 5 boys, and I’m the baby. And I had to learn how to fight for everything. Basically, you go down the food chain, I had to learn how to fight and beg like a dog. But it was really good – we were really close. We picnicked every weekend, we’d play horseshoes, we’d play games, and a lot of us were pretty good at sports, so we were always running around at one another’s sports events. It was just different. I look at my kids today and say, “Wow. How can they stay inside and play video games when there’s so much to do?” We learned to explore. It’s a whole different generation, obviously. We’d go fishing and hunting. It was great just to have an older brother or sister around that was into just getting away, so we could always do different things. It was pretty crazy, but we had fun.

 Can you tell me more about your current family?

I have my wife Cristine and two sons. My oldest son Brandon is 21, and Travis just turned 20 a couple weeks ago. They help me out on the car. I have a couple of basset hounds as well. That’s pretty much where I’m going to stay with the family – I’m a little over-the-hill now in terms of adding to it. I’ve been married for 25 years, and it’s been pretty crazy.

Do you have anyone that you consider a role model or that you take after?

I try to take after my father as a role model. Of course, it’s a different generation now, but back then, his word was as good as gold. He had to barter a lot, and he always taught me that your word should mean something. If you tell somebody you’re going to do something, you show up and do it. Not to mention he just taught us good values. Another thing he always said was, “If you don’t lie, you never have to make up excuses.” Just be true to your word, and there’s work out there if you want it, and just work hard and keep digging.

What is your biggest life accomplishment so far?

Well obviously, having children is wonderful. I can’t even describe in words how wonderful having children is. It changes you – I like to say it hardens you as far as becoming a man and a father. That’s still a great accomplishment. I’ve bowled a 300 game, I’ve gotten a hole-in-one in golf, now I’ve won at Thunder Road. So far, knock on wood, I’m going on 16 years of being sober. And I don’t know if a lot of people know, but I have a debilitating disease called RSD that I’m trying to manage. A lot of people with my disease have taken their own lives, and most aren’t as lucky as I am to even be doing the things that I do, so I take a lot of pride and satisfaction in that as well.

For those who don’t know, what is RSD?

It’s short for Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy. It’s a nerve and muscle disorder that causes chronic pain. My pain level is very high. I don’t know if you know this, but back in the Warrior days, I broke my scapula (shoulder blade) and back after getting hit in an accident. But I never missed a race. I knew I broke my scapula, but I didn’t know I broke my back until I had an MRI for other issues. I just don’t know when I break bones because of the level of chronic pain. I’ve very sensitive to the cold weather, and I can’t have hair on my body. For a lot of people, it bothers them to even open the fridge and feel that cold air. Even the heat can affect it as well. I hurt every day, basically. It’s a struggle every day to get out. But it’s something I pride myself on. The best thing for it is to keep active, because if you don’t, then you can fall into a deep mental hole, and it’s hard to dig yourself out.

It’s crazy to think about you living with something like that when you’ve always been known as one of the most upbeat and positive guys in the pit area.

I put on a very good mask. And that’s part of the problem. I love to see people smile and laugh, but I’m hurting inside, and a lot of people don’t realize that. I’ve battled depression and anxiety, which are both things that are linked to this disease as well. But staying positive through it is something that I pride myself on, and I do that every day. As I always say to everybody, “I love your show.” That’s my line, and I stick to it.

What’s your dream vacation?

Man, I haven’t been on a vacation in so long. I think my dream vacation would be on a beach somewhere with no worries, no cell phones, unlimited food and drink, and good weather. And I’d surround myself with good people and just be happy. I mean, it could be anywhere in the world that’s warm – somewhere where the ocean is blue, and the food is good, and surrounded by family and lots of other good people with lots of laughs and no troubles. And no cell phones – definitely no cell phones. (Laughs)

Check back on Thursday, March 22 for Part 2!