Unbuckled: Getting to Know Michael Gay (Part 2)


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


(Editor’s note: The following is the second installment of a 2-part interview. For Part 1, click here.)

If someone turned on the radio/media player in your car, what would they most likely be listening to?

I’m kind of a freak of nature when it comes to music. I’m all over the place. If you turn my radio on, it could be anywhere from WIZN to 95 Triple X to WOKO. I like the ‘80s and ‘90s music – that’s kind of when I had all my “swag” – and I like listening, going back and thinking about what I was doing back then with those songs in my head. Those were a lot of good times there. But I’m all over the place – I’ll even listen to blues and classical music depending on what mood I’m in. You could probably hit any station on my truck radio scanner and I would listen to it.

If you were asked to appear on a TV show or in a movie, which one would you want it to be?

I’d like to act, and I think I’d be all over the place there, too. There could be some serious roles all the way to comedy. I’d really enjoy comedy movies, just because I think that’s what this world needs. Everybody needs to smile and laugh. It’s proven that’s what makes people feel good, and that’s what I’d like to do. I’d rather be in something that can be shown season to season. I think the ultimate thing would be a Christmas comedy – doing a fly-on-the-wall at my house would actually be pretty good.

What sports do you follow or play?

Because of my disease, I hardly play anything anymore. A lot of people don’t realize that. It used to be that I was trending a 7-handicap in golf, but I don’t play that anymore. I used to bowl a lot, but I don’t think I’ve bowled since ’93. I was one of the younger kids in the game back then. It seems like 300-games are thrown nightly now, but back in my day, they actually gave you money if you got a 300. I played floor hockey for 14 years. I love hockey – that’s my favorite sport. My parents couldn’t afford to get us any of the equipment or to get us to the rink, obviously, so I never pursued that. But I lived vicariously through my kids. (Laughs) I played football, and I excelled at baseball in high school. So I played a lot back when I could.

Nowadays, I follow the major baseball, football, and hockey events on TV. But I love to get out and just do things that I like to do now, like sit in a tree stand if it’s warm enough. I used to chase the deer down, believe it or not. I was a slayer back in the day. Now it’s more the rattling and calling. But you can only do what you can do. There’s only 24 hours in a day, and there’s a lot of people who have it worse off than I do, and that’s kind of what keeps me going. But I’m still racing! My doctors told me I should give that up, too, but the heck with that. It’s the only thing that brings a bright spot to my summer, you know?

Who is your biggest supporter at the track?

That would be my wife Cristine. She films my races, and I’ve learned a lot going back over the years and reviewing the race tapes. If there’s any conflict that I’ve had with anybody or anybody has had with me, I review the tapes, usually when I get back up in the stands. And it’s nice to be able to go and show them whether I made the mistake and can own up to it, or if they made the mistake, they can see it and learn where my frustrations would be. She’s just been really great. She can see the whole track, and when we go back to review, she’ll tell me if I’m not up to par on my restarts, or I should have passed this person, or this person is nudging you. I think she’s my biggest support system there. Week in and week out, even if it’s raining or cold, she’s up there with a camera and helping me out. My kids are big supporters as well. They’ve helped me out in the pits and supported me. Even when I’m feeling down and can’t get the car ready, they help out and start tearing parts off and putting parts on, and it gets me going for the next race.

The competitors in the Street Stocks help each other out a lot as well, don’t they?

I talked to Tom Curley about it in the past, and he always said the Street Stocks are the most fun group of guys and gals that you could come across in short track racing. It’s a great division to be in, just because everybody does share information and you kind of lean on each other for parts and help. I don’t usually have anybody in my pit stall to change tires or anything. Last year was the first year I had somebody, because my son would go up most weeks, but it wasn’t 100 percent of the time. For a long time it was pretty much just me all around to fix the car, paint the car, and set all the graphics. Over the last couple of years, my boys have really helped out there, but it’s often been me and just the guys at the track.

There’s a real sense of family within the division. I’ve learned and seen that. One group I consider real good friends are the Gravels. They’re at the top level now in the Late Model division, but even now, they still pop on down into my pit stall, and I go to theirs. And they even say that when you get up to the higher levels of competition, it’s not as free with the tongue and the turning wrenches, so to speak. But in the Street Stocks, people are eager to help out. I could list a ton of names over my racing career that have helped me a lot just to get pieces and parts for my car so I could gather a few points. I would do the same for them, and I have as much as I’ve been able. I don’t have a great knowledge of what the internals of the car are. I’ve just learned it over the years, and I’m really just a guy that goes out there and has fun. I owe a lot of this to Chuck Hess. He gave me a car to use when I destroyed mine in Groveton, and he just said, “Are you having fun?” For the most part, even when I had a car that wasn’t all that great, I was having a great time, because I was doing something other than feeling pain in my body. (Laughs)

Who or what has had the greatest influence on your racing career?

I think pretty much everybody in the pits has had an impact on it. Family and friends have had a lot, but it’s been everything from the voice of Ken Squier in the beginning, to my kids watching the Warriors and wanting me to get a car, to being in the pits. Even in our division, going up there and hauling my own vehicle up there, and having everybody come and asking how I’m doing – I don’t know if it’s just because I’m very outgoing, but those people have left a mark on my life for racing.

But in the end, I’d have to say Marvin Johnson and Gary Mullen. One race that I would have liked to win is the Marvin Johnson Memorial. There’s a guy that was 70 years old and racing at Thunder Road with the same enthusiasm and love of the sport that I have. This is the closest I’m going to get to NASCAR, and here this guy was, with aches and pains and struggles at the age of 70 still doing it. I parked next to him every week for that reason. Him and Gary were and are two of my favorite guys at the track. I would like to be like them at the track. They were and are people that I can really look up to and know that they always had my back there, so I didn’t feel like I was way out in left field. I can’t really tell you exactly why, but I just looked up to Marvin Johnson for some reason. He was like a father figure. I miss the guy. I’m still in contact with his family.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

If it goes back to my fighting days and my drinking days, “deny everything.” (Laughs) One piece of advice my dad gave me was, “Always think about someone who has it worse off than you.” Being the baby of 11 kids, we didn’t have a whole lot, but we had each other. I think that’s another quote from my dad. You don’t have to have a whole lot – as long as you’ve got family, you’ve got something.

Where do you hope to see yourself in five years?

In five years, I probably won’t be racing unless I’m still in Vermont. But I hope to be somewhere where it’s a little bit warmer and I feel a little bit more comfortable. I also hope to be able to do some traveling now that I’m older. So hopefully I’ll be all over the United States. Maybe I’ll visit a few different countries as well. And I’d love to be a granddad taking care of my grandkids if circumstances work out that way. But traveling and being somewhere that’s a little more comfortable on my body, surrounded by the wife and kids, is the main goal. If I am still in Vermont, hopefully I’ll still be racing, or possibly having one of my kids race a few times and see them race. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring though – I don’t even know if I want to be here this afternoon. (Laughs)

What would you do if you won the lottery?

I probably would start a bucket list and fulfill a few things on that, like traveling to places I’ve never been. I don’t have a bucket list right now because I don’t have any money. (Laughs) I’ve got a bucket and a “Honey-Do” list that’s on the fridge, and I’ve got to get to that once we’re done talking. But I’d do some traveling, I’d try to spread a lot of smiles, and even spread the wealth – giving back to friends, family, and certain charities that I see fit.