How one Nantucket police officer chased his dreams of becoming a drag racer.
Nantucket’s gentle country roads don’t typically conjure thoughts of rubber-burning, engine-thumping, tire-squealing drag racing, but for patrol sergeant Travis Ray the need for speed has never been far from his mind. Over the last three years, this Nantucket native has spent his days patrolling the island’s streets and his nights preparing for what would be the greatest race of his life.
Held every September, Hot Rod Magazine’s Drag Week draws drivers from far and wide to race for the title of the country’s fastest street car. Not only are these vehicles clocked at a quarter-mile sprint in traditional drag races, but they must also drive 1,400 miles over five days to the various drag strips dotting the state of Illinois. Covering up to three hundred miles a day over high- ways and rural roads, this is no small feat for cars that are built to go fast. If the car breaks down, participants must fix it themselves with only the tools they have with them in tow.
“Once the car hits the tow truck, you are immediately disqualified,” Ray says. He knows this all too well; his first year, he broke a drive shaft, and he suffered fuel issues that disqualified him again during his second attempt. “It’s always the unforeseen things that if you were around your own garage, it may not be the hardest thing in the world to fix,” he says. “But when you are on some back road in a cornfield, small things become really big things.”
Ray might as well have Pennzoil coursing through his veins. He grew up working under the hood of his family’s car alongside his dad, their backs against the gravel driveway on Hooper Farm Road. Years later, they moved into a garage with a heated floor where Ray helped his father build a kit of his dream car, a Shelby Cobra. “It’s one of those cars that turns every grown man into a twelve-year-old boy when they see it,” Ray says. “It’s a car he wanted his entire life.”
While Nantucket might be a good environment to become a mechanic, it poses obvious challenges to becoming a drag racer. “I’m basically bringing an untested car out on the drag strip,” he says. “You can only do the Polpis–Sconset loop so many times.”
But Ray has a secret weapon on his side: Sleeping Beauty, his 2001 Chevrolet Corvette Z06, a rarity in the street car racing scene. “I would consider the car ‘mild’ compared to the real heavy hitters at Drag Week,” he says. “But based on speed, comfort and drivability the car is almost in a class of its own… it does everything well, both on the track and on the street.”
Sleeping Beauty’s rather unremarkable sports car exterior belies the raw muscle hiding beneath its hood. It packs one thousand horses and can go zero to sixty in two seconds. “On the quarter-mile track this car is quicker than any current supercar on the market,” Ray says. “That includes the new [$2.8 million] Bugatti and Koenigsegg.”
This past fall, Ray returned to Drag Week hoping to change Sleeping Beauty’s track record. “For me it was something I had to finish,” he explains. “I’ve always finished this event in tears, whether it’s tears of joy or tears of utter failure.”
Joined by his father, Richard, Ray beat out more than three hundred other cars and never broke down. By the end of the week, he’d earned the title as the 51st fastest overall. And while he might not have taken the checkered flag, the real victory was sentimental. “To have my dad there was a pretty cool father-son moment,” Ray says. “He had really pushed me to keep going.”
This April, the Rays will be making a special kind of victory lap at the Daffodil Festival with Travis in his police motorcade and his dad proudly parading the Shelby Cobra they built together. As for Sleeping Beauty, Ray has officially put her up for sale. “With car guys, your life is like a novel, and cars come and go as chapters change in a book,” he says. “Just when you think you’ve got everything you want, you say, ‘That car looks pretty cool, maybe I’ll go that route next.’”