2013 NHRA: Johnny Gray NHRA SummitRacing.com Event Preview
NHRA Funny Car pilot Johnny Gray is determined to make his final full season in the driver's seat his best, and with a victory already logged and half-ownership of the points lead in his possession for the first time in his long and diverse drag racing career, the driver of the Pitch Energy Dodge Charger is well on his way.
This weekend's SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the fourth of 24 events in the 2013 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, will afford Gray the opportunity to extend the celebration started two weeks ago when he scored the win over long-ago teammate Del Worsham in the final round at the Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals.
The Gatornationals victory was extremely rewarding on many levels and was a race-win high on Gray's wish list. The accomplishment came with the added bonus of vaulting Gray to the top of the heap and a tie for the points lead with Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps. With the Countdown to the Championship still months away, some may pose the question of peaking too early and running out of steam, but for Gray, his shared perch is a motivator to reach even higher.
"Shoot, at my age you better peak any time you can," joked Gray, who turned 60 on March 20th, just three days after winning the fourth nitro Funny Car title of his career. "To be honest, it's great to be where we are right now, and we really don't feel like we've peaked yet. Every time my crew chiefs Rob Wendland and Rip Reynolds look at the car, they see things they can improve and how they can make it better. As a driver, every time we sit down and critique me, I see things I can do a little bit better, too. We feel like we've got plenty left to improve on, and that's what it's all about, going out there and getting better and better. If we can carry that through into the Countdown, we'll be pretty competitive."
A return to The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is always enjoyable for Gray, who was runner-up there at both the spring and fall events in 2011. With incredible performances at the most recent two races (the Pitch Energy Dodge was the quickest Funny Car in Phoenix and qualified second in Gainesville), Gray is positioned to carry momentum to the favored facility.
"Our car is running extremely well," said Gray. "We haven't always had good luck in Vegas, but we've run well there before, and we're pretty excited to get back there and see if we can carry this thing forward. We were win No. 199 for Don Schumacher Racing in Gainesville, and our buddy Antron Brown [Top Fuel] got 200; we'd love to be the team to get the 201st win for Don. We'll be digging at it."
Gray has a very dedicated team behind him - including sister Terry Chandler, his partner in sponsoring the Pitch Energy Dodge - along with the unending support of wife Terry and sons Shane and Jonathan. Clearly, the theme for the year is "family," and Gray literally drives the point home as he campaigns a gorgeous paint scheme on his Pitch Energy Dodge in honor of his father, the late John R. Gray.
Following the Las Vegas event, the Grays, Chandler, and the entire 10-man team will travel to the family's hometown of Artesia, N.M., to display the Pitch Energy Dodge at a special community event honoring John R. Gray, a legendary oilman in Artesia, on April 10th. Gray will also sign autograph cards and participate in an effort to raise money for Artesia's Grammy's House through a special reduced-price sale of souvenir shirts and collectible diecasts donated by Don Schumacher Racing.
"It's going to be a great day, and we're all really looking forward to it," said Gray. "It's a neat deal to be able to share this with the folks of Artesia, and it just adds to the special, special season that we're already having. It'd be just awesome to show up there in Artesia with another trophy, so we're going to focus on that at the moment. We've got a great team and a great racecar. If anybody can go out there and double-up with back-to-back wins, it's got to be us."
JOHNNY GRAY, PITCH ENERGY DODGE CHARGER R/T
JOHNNY AT LAS VEGAS
A year ago at Las Vegas 1: Qualified No. 13; collected a quarterfinals finish.
Last October at Las Vegas 2: Qualified No. 5; finished in the semifinals.
Career at Las Vegas 1: Runner-up in 2011
Career at Las Vegas 2: Runner-up in 2011
Johnny Gray's STATS
2013 Pts Races Titles R-up Poles DNQ Win/Loss
1st t. 3 1 0 1 0 6-2
Career Races Titles R-up Poles DNQ Win/Loss
207 4 12 4 40 135-163
CAREER BEST TIME, SPEED
4.010 seconds (10-1-11, Reading), 319.45 mph (10-8-12, Reading)
NHRA MELLO YELLO DRAG RACING SERIES STANDINGS
(after 3 of 24 events; DSR drivers in CAPS)
1. RON CAPPS, 244
1. JOHNNY GRAY, 244
3. Courtney Force, 216
4. MATT HAGAN, 209
5. Cruz Pedregon, 181
6. Del Worsham, 168
7. Robert Hight, 156
8. Bob Tasca III, 155
9. JACK BECKMAN, 148
10. John Force, 144
2013 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Event winners:
Courtney Force, RON CAPPS, JOHNNY GRAY.
THIS WEEK AT LAS VEGAS
WHAT: 14th annual NHRA SummitRacing.com Nationals
WHERE: The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway
NITRO SCHEDULE (times are PT):
Friday: Qualifying, 3 p.m., 5:30 p.m.
Saturday: Qualifying, 1 p.m., 2:45 p.m.
Sunday: Championship eliminations, 11 a.m.
Saturday: Qualifying, 8 p.m. (ET)
Sunday: Championship eliminations, 11 p.m. (ET)
Friday: High 86; 10 percent chance of rain
Saturday: High 87; 0 percent chance of rain
Sunday: High 85; 10 percent chance of rain