2013 NHRA: Johnny Gray Drives Pitch Energy Dodge To Semifinals At Season-Opener
As far as Don Schumacher Racing Funny Car driver Johnny Gray is concerned, the 2013 season of NHRA's Mello Yello Drag Racing Series is off to a very good start. Gray, of Artesia, N.M., wheeled his Rob Wendland/Rip Reynolds-tuned Pitch Energy Dodge Charger to a start from the No. 7 position and swiftly made his way to the semifinals on raceday at the O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
Gray's raceday performance at this season's rendition of the event was a vast departure from last year, when the veteran driver bowed out in the opening act. This time around, Gray held the upper hand in the first round of eliminations and blasted out of the gate ahead of opponent Alexis Dejoria to clock an impressive 4.056 at 314.31 mph that held as low of the round.
Fired up, the Pitch Energy team hustled to prepare their hot rod for a second-round meeting with Todd Lesenko, and their efforts were rapidly rewarded as Gray once again recorded the quickest time of the round with a startling 4.038 at 307.72 to eclipse his challenger's 4.20.
Gray and the Pitch Energy team were on a tear until halted by DSR teammate Ron Capps in the semifinals, who got the win light by a fairly narrow margin with a 4.036 to Gray's 4.056. Notably, the Pitch Energy Dodge wasn't running on all cylinders as it crossed the finish line yet still managed to record the second-quickest pass of the round.
"I went over and talked to Rahn [Tobler, Capps' crew chief] after the round and he said, 'You know, you just forced us to step up,' so I told him, 'You know, I really didn't want you to step it up quite that far,' " laughed Gray. "But seriously, Capps is a great driver, Tobler is a great tuner, and hey, we just got our butt handed to us. We'll go after them in Phoenix next week."
In addition to the excellent performance on Sunday, Gray's Pitch Energy Dodge Charger was honored as Best Appearing Car at the Winternationals. The brilliant paint scheme adorning Gray's Funny Car is a tribute to his father, the late John R. Gray, and includes a beautiful painting in his likeness on the quarter-panel.
"My son Shane was here racing Pro Stock this weekend, and my grandkids were here, my daughter-in-law Amber, my sister Terry Chandler, and of course my wife Terry," said Gray, whose youngest son Jonathan and his family were back home in North Carolina holding down the fort at the Gray Motorsports shop. "It's so special that racing is a family deal for us, and if you consider the fact that my dad is on the car, we had four generations here this weekend. It was just a great weekend in a lot of ways, and I'm really excited to move forward."
Gray heads to the next race on the Mello Yello Series tour sitting third in the series standings. The next opportunity to gain points will be in just a few days at the Arizona NHRA Nationals in Phoenix, Feb. 22-24.
"This weekend showed us that we're right where we need to be," said Gray. "We're excited to go to the next race because we know we have a great racecar."
Johnny Gray, Gray Motorsports/Pitch Energy Dodge Charger R/T
Qualified: No. 7
1st round: JOHNNY GRAY (4.056) def. Alexis DeJoria (6.255)
2nd round: GRAY (4.038) def. Todd Lesenko (4.202)
Semifinals: Ron Capps (4.036) def. GRAY (4.056)
Session 1: 4.087 sec., 308.78 mph
Session 2: 4.085, 308.28
Session 3: 4.440, 201.88
Session 4: 4.092, 309.77
NEXT EVENT: Feb. 22-24, NHRA Arizona Nationals, Firebird International Raceway, Phoenix
NHRA MELLO YELLO DRAG RACING SERIES
(unofficial, after 1 of 24 events; DSR drivers in CAPS)
1. Courtney Force, 124
2. RON CAPPS, 94
3. JOHNNY GRAY, 76
4. Gary Densham, 60
5. Cruz Pedregon, 56
6. Matt Hagan, 52
7. Bob Tasca III, 51
8. Todd Lesenko, 51
9. JACK BECKMAN, 43
10. Del Worsham, 38