Shawn Gray had a decision to make.
He knew he couldn't afford to go three months without racing anymore.
He made a decision he wasn't 100 percent sure of. Gray had to leave his comfort zone in the state of Maine. He was headed into uncharted territory.
Gray's landing spot would be Western New York and Buffalo Raceway, smack dab in the middle of winter, no less.
January in Buffalo...not a lot of first choice selection by anyone.
On top of that, it was all new to him. Gray was basically an unknown in an unfamiliar location.
A little more than six months have passed and Gray is no longer wondering what the change of scenery was going to do to his career. He has found paradise.
Gray, the defending 2011 North American Universal Driving Rating System champion, captured the just completed Buffalo Raceway driver's title, something he never expected or do so that easily.
"It just worked out from the get go for me at Buffalo Raceway," Gray said. "I didn't know what to expect and I honestly thought that I'd be heading back to Maine when the Buffalo season ended. I really had no intentions of staying."
The numbers Gray put up at Buffalo were staggering to say the least. Gray had 1,021 starts and registered 206 victories with $1,055,064 in earnings. He beat runner up Dan Noble by 50 wins in the driver's race.
Astonishing numbers to say the least. When you look at the statistics from 2011 in Maine, you can see why he loves New York, Western New York that is. Gray had 962 starts with 269 wins and $799,957 in winnings for the entire 2011 campaign. He has surpassed all those numbers in six months of racing.
"I made the move for financial reasons," Gray said of his wise move in shuffling off to Buffalo. "I couldn't afford not to have three months off in the beginning of the year because there's no racing in Maine. I am here now...It would be crazy to go back now."
Gray also said he picked Buffalo Raceway when he decided where to move his stock because, "it looked like the place where my horses fit the best and had the best purses for them."
So it didn't take long for owners and trainers to take note of Gray's skills. He was second in starts, only four behind Kevin Cummings.
"I didn't expect to get as many catch drives as I did," he said. "The more I won, the more I got. It was crazy."
Gray also appreciates the fact that both Buffalo Raceway and Batavia Downs both have made him feel welcome. "It's nice, it really is," he said as both Buffalo Raceway and Batavia Downs have promoted him. "It feels good to be wanted."
He brought a stable of 10 to Western New York and has added a horse since. Gray keeps the stable at the farm of Dave Krol in Alden, N.Y.
"Dave Krol along Carl and Darrin Monti really helped me out when I first got here," Gray said. "They made it easy for me."
While Gray dominated the local competition, he enjoyed the nights when Jim Morrill Jr. would be in town for races.
"He's great," Gray said of Morrill. "I watch him as much as I can and learn from him. It's fun to drive against him...you always have to keep an eye on him. He's one of the best."
And now that racing has shifted to Batavia Downs, Gray hopes he can keep his success going. "I gonna try," he said. "It's a different track, I've never raced here until now so I am going to have to learn as I go but I think you can wait a little longer here to make a move as opposed to Buffalo."
And then asked if he can eclipse Morrill's Batavia Downs' record of 177 victories in a season, Gray was quick to respond, "No, no, no, I don't think so. I am not a stats guy anyways. I am not worried about stuff like that. I am going to do the best I can, however, and but have to have the horses to be successful."
After just four race nights, Gray has nine wins in 32 starts including two triples and a double. That puts him on pace to break Morrill's mark.
Gray also commented on the weather in Western New York. "I heard it wasn't that bad at all at Buffalo this year. But I remember that one night in the end of January in the Open. I had Cam Patch. I was sitting fifth or sixth and I literally got blown to the outside and didn't realize I was in front until just before the wire. I couldn't see anything," Gray lamented. "It was the worst conditions I ever drove in that night and that race in particular. It's cold in Maine, but the weather like that night, never experienced anything like that before."
The way Gray is talking, he's going to get a chance to experience a few more Western New York winters.
"My wife and I like it here," Gray said. "We'll be here for a while."
And about the future, Gray said, "I am a pretty happy guy right now. If I can keep feeling the way I am right now for the rest of my life, it would be fine with me. I am very happy to be here."
And Western New York is happy to have you here as well.