Ray Bugg in action
We had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Ray Bugg, a local Sprint 360 racer and legend in the Midwest. Ray is 75-years-old and is still kickin’ butt and taking names. From Iuka, Mississippi, Ray has been racing for 55 years and is still going strong. Bugg is a funny, down-to-earth man with his awesome wife Velma, who doubles as his crew chief. Here’s a look into Sprint car racing from a man who has been in the industry for over five decades.
When did you first start racing Sprint Cars? Were you hooked from the start?
1958. Back then they were called A-cars. I started right out in an A-car.
Did you first start out racing on a dirt track or asphalt?
It was dirt. It was at “The Ditch” in West Memphis, Arkansas.
What was your favorite moment during that time?
Actually, it was a few years later when I started racing on asphalt.
Do you prefer asphalt or dirt racing?
Ray Bugg and his new Sprint car.
Actually, I prefer asphalt racing. There’s not any tracks close by. I would have to travel a long ways. This is my 55th year racing these Sprint cars. In the ‘60s I ran asphalt. I built an asphalt car. Back then you built your own cars. I built an asphalt car and I ran with all the Allison’s – Bobby, Donny, Red Farmer – but back then they called them Super Modifieds. For about five years I ran asphalt. At that time I was living in Memphis. They had a circuit going on in Memphis, Mobile, Pensacola, and Nashville. I ran that circuit.
So this is your 55th year racing. Do you plan on quitting any time soon or do you plan to keep on truckin’?
Well, I just built a new car and I ran it over the weekend. I need to get some things worked out. If it turns out good, I may run another year.
During your time racing has the sport changed for better or worse?
Well, it has gotten really expensive. The guys come up with big sponsors and that kills guys like me. The motors they are running now are between $50,000 - 60,000. Over the years I just managed to keep going and build my own car. I go down here to J&J and buy a frame kit. Some of these hot shots come in and you think, boy here comes Earnhardt with everything in the world, the most expensive stuff you can buy and the driver is about 13 years old and has never drove before. I keep a close watch, and before the year is up they end up selling everything. I have a real good wife (Velma) that helps me out and she’s my crew chief. She won “crew chief of the year” the year before last, and she’s up for it again this year. Just her and I – we run about nine states.
So you travel a lot for these races?
Yes, I do. Before I was hired from my job I couldn’t travel around like this, but I retired out of the elevator business in ’93 and since then I’ve been running in circuit.
What’s the furthest you’ve traveled for a race?
Well, we go all the way to Florida. The weekend before last I went 900 miles round trip for the first asphalt race in 46 years. We got one coming up in Atlanta and I’m already locked in for it. It’s at the end of next month, the same weekend as the Atlanta 500. They are going to run us on the short track. ESC is running that.
Do you have any advice for anybody just starting out with Sprint racing?
Well, yeah I do. They need a little bit of experience before they start jumping into these sprint cars. Some of these guys have been racing for a long time. This one kid is only 13 years old and has probably been racing about ten years. He started out in go-karts and then moved on up.
Any keys for success and longevity?
I’ve run with the best of them. I’ve broke a lot of those guys in. Over the years it has been fun. It has just gotten so expensive it’s hard to compete. I built my own motors and do my own cars. At this time it’s hard to compete with the guys who just pull up and get whatever they want. Money is no problem and the drivers have no idea of what anything costs. It makes it rough because they are out of control. They are fast and you just have to watch them because they’ll be spinning out and tearing it up.
So you’re pretty much going to wreck at some point, right?
Ray Bugg and his first Sprint car in 1958.
I’ve been in some bad wrecks. In 1967 I crashed at Mobile, Alabama on a half-mile track. I crushed six vertebrae in my back and broke my chest bone in two places. I’m lucky to be able to still do this. I have a lot of friends and they can’t believe I’m still racing and doing good. I’m still competitive.
Have you raced anything else besides Sprint cars?
Nope, I’ve never raced anything else before. I was raised around here in Iuka, Mississippi and I went to Memphis and got a job, and went to the races over there and said “I love this, I got to get me one.”
So if all goes well, you plan to continue another year?
I believe I will. I just got a towing home that has all of the living quarters in it. I should have got one about 30 years ago. When you’re on the road it’s just hard to find a motel that you can get in and out of with a truck and trailer. With these homes they just let you park it wherever.
How fast do you usually go during these races?
I actually run about 150 mph. These cars don’t weigh but 1300 lbs. with 700 horsepower. They are really a thrill to drive. They get real wild when you bump them against another car.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I love it. Even if I had to quit racing due to health reasons, I would still own one. I never had a sponsor. I just picked up my first sponsor last week, Gant Concrete Pumping. He’s going to buy my tires. Those rear tires are over $200 a piece.
I raced with my son Danny Bugg for ten years, but he doesn't race anymore. My nephew Marshall Skinner races with me and we borrow parts. We've been hanging out since he was two years old. He lives in Arkansas and when I retired I moved back to Iuka, Mississippi.