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Apr 08, 2013 - 08:24 AM
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2013 NHRA: Pitch Energy Pilot Johnny Gray Continues Thrilling Journey
Posted by: newsla on Apr 08, 2013 - 08:19 AM
NHRA
2013 NHRA: Pitch Energy Pilot Johnny Gray Continues Thrilling Journey In Final Full Season


Don Schumacher Racing Funny Car driver Johnny Gray is on an exhilarating ride through the 2013 season of Mello Yello Drag Racing. Racing for the championship for the final time, Gray is logging a career year in his family-backed Pitch Energy Dodge. At this weekend's SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Gray experienced extreme highs and lows that included a destroyed Funny Car body and two nights spent at the top of the points.

 

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The first round of qualifying was non-representative of greater things to come; it was anything but smooth and included a massive engine explosion in the heart of the Pitch Energy Dodge that demolished the beautifully painted Funny Car body and sent pieces flying.

Following the explosion, Gray expertly piloted the open chassis safely to a stop and emerged uninjured, and his team thrashed to prepare for a second chance in Las Vegas. Their hard work paid off, and the Pitch Energy team rebounded from the early setback and returned to clock a strong 4.107 to jump up to the No. 3 position in qualifying. The successful pass and accompanying bonus points also allowed Gray to take over sole possession of the points for the first time in his career as a nitro Funny Car racer.

The second day of the event was equally as successful, and Gray put a 4.096 at 308.71 mph on the scoreboard that would stand as his qualifying best and position him as the No. 4 qualifier with a first-round meeting with rookie Funny Car campaigner Chad Head.

Gray was out of the gate first on Sunday morning, leaving his opponent in the dust as he galloped to a 4.163 for the win. The 60-year-old driver was dialed in to chase another win light in the quarterfinals, but without lane choice Gray and the Pitch Energy team, led by crew chief Rob Wendland, truly had their work cut out for them. The racing surface had proven to be particularly tricky over the course of the weekend, and few drivers were able to navigate it smoothly. Gray launched ahead of his opponent, eventual SummitRacing.com Nationals winner Cruz Pedregon, but hazed the tires down track.

"We definitely weren't the only ones who lost out of that left lane, and matter of fact, I was impressed because we made it a lot further than most people did," said Gray. "We were probably two and a half hundredths ahead of Cruz when it came loose, but we were doing everything we could over there."

An abbreviated raceday prevented Gray from accumulating more points in Las Vegas, and he had slipped down one notch to second in the Funny Car standings at day's end.

"Even so, this team is very pumped up," said Gray. "We are very focused. Would we like to leave here in the lead? Absolutely. Is it earth-shattering that we're second? No. We have been at this point thinking, my God, if we don't get the car straightened out, we're not going to make the top 10. Now we're thinking about getting back in the No. 1 spot.

"It's going to be a dogfight up there [for first], but there is a whole lot of difference in the mentality of fighting for a top 10 spot and fighting for No. 1. I have the team, the crew chiefs, the team members, and Don has supplied me with the parts necessary to go for the championship. Our goal is to stay up towards the top so as we get into the Countdown, we have those additional points, because boy it's hard to catch those guys. But this is a good feeling. We're there."

The Pitch Energy team will stay in Las Vegas to test on Monday, and on Tuesday they will travel with trucks, trailers, and the entire 10-man team to the family's home town of Artesia, N.M., and set up a display for an afternoon celebration honoring Gray and sister Terry Chandler's father, John R. Gray, who passed away in 2001. The celebration will take place near The Partners statue of John R. and his partner, Mack Chase, at the Derrick Floor & Oilfield Pioneer monuments at South Sixth and West Main streets on Wednesday, April 10, from 3-6pm.

Gray will 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 DSR.

"We're all looking forward to going to Artesia, and I appreciate my team and the community coming out and supporting us for this neat day," said Gray. "It should be a real good time, which is right in line with what we've been experiencing this season. Boy, I'm just having the time of my life out here, and I'm grateful to have the opportunity to enjoy this season with my family and such a great team and organization behind me."

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