FREMONT -- Brandon Ray doesn't have souped-up motorbikes like some of his competitors. But the 7-year-old has guts galore, which is one reason his father's living room doubles as Brandon's trophy case.
In two years of competitive motocross racing, Brandon, a second-grader at Patterson Elementary School, has won more than 100 trophies.
This year, he took home his biggest and heaviest hardware yet, winning the AMP/GFI Winter Series Championship in three separate divisions, against competitors as old as 11.
"I just hold on to the gas and never let off," Brandon said, explaining his success at the series, which includes seven races at tracks throughout Northern California.
Motocross racing takes place on dirt tracks full of daredevil jumps that can send young riders 15 feet in the air, which is just fine with Brandon.
"Put a jump in front of him and, unlike a lot of kids, he will jump it," said Mike Sexton, owner of Club Moto in Livermore, where Ray often races.
Brandon said motorcycling is in his blood, just like it was for his father, John Ray, who used to race motorcycles on flat tracks at the former Baylands Raceway in Fremont.
"Every toy Brandon wanted was a motorcycle," Ray recalled. Finally, when Brandon was approaching age 3, Ray bought him his first motorbike, a Yamaha PW-50, with training wheels.
"He was probably too young to ask for it," said Ray, a single father. "I just got it for him."
In the early days, father and son would practice in the front yard of their Cabrillo neighborhood home. John Ray tied a rope to the bike, and Brandon would ride in circles around his father.
It's still illegal for Brandon to ride his three bikes on the street, so he mostly practices at Club Moto and occasionally at the 408MX motocross track in San Jose.
That's where Brandon and his father met and befriended Ricky Ryan, who, in 1987, became the only unsponsored motocross rider to win an event at the track in Daytona, Fla.
Ryan said that Brandon is really good, considering his bikes aren't top-notch. "If someone could help him a little bit more, he could go on to get sponsored," Ryan said.
Ray, 51, is doing the best he can, but one night 15 years ago, he crashed his motorcycle into a car that had been abandoned in the right lane of Interstate 880 in Fremont.
The force from the collision shattered Ray's right leg, ending his career in drywall and leaving him on permanent disability.
Ray said he hopes his son will decide never to ride motorcycles in the street. But, despite the risks, he won't steer Brandon away from motorbikes.
"It's in his heart and it's what he wants to do," Ray said. "I can't tell him not to follow his heart. All I can do is teach him to ride safely."
Ray bought his son's most recent $3,800 motorbike, a King Cobra 50cc, last year, in part by hawking his wedding ring, watch and coin collection.
"I was going to save them for Brandon, but I wanted to give him a fair chance to compete," Ray said.
So far things are mostly working out for the Rays, although finances kept Brandon from competing at a national competition for which he qualified earlier this month in Las Vegas.
Bob Bryant, a family friend, helped pay for the King Cobra. And the Rays met a man at a race recently who also since has contributed toward Brandon's racing. Fremont Honda Kawasaki also has chipped in with discounts on supplies.
"We're barely making it, but it seems like God provides," Ray said. "We always get lucky, and someone helps out."
Ray is planning for his son to race fewer local tournaments in order to concentrate on bigger events, which he hopes will lead to sponsorships and a chance to go pro.
"He has more natural ability than anyone I've ever seen," Ray said.
"We pull into some of these races looking like Sanford and Son, but we pull out with the trophy."