2013 NHRA: Johnny Gray And Pitch Energy Team Buckle Down For Brainerd
Don Schumacher Racing Funny Car pilot Johnny Gray and the Pitch Energy team have made good use of the hours in the week and a half since the most recent event on NHRA's 2013 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series tour, and now it's time to buckle down and put their efforts to the test at this weekend's Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway.
Gray, currently fifth in the Funny Car standings, is seeking his fifth win of the season at the racetrack where he earned his first Funny Car trophy in 2009. Last year in Brainerd, Gray navigated his speedy Dodge Charger down to the 1,000-foot mark finish line at BIR with a remarkable, track record setting 316.75 mph during qualifying.
"We sure seem to make good runs there," said Gray. "That makes it a lot of fun, because you go up there expecting to have a really good time during the day running your car, and at night you have a really good time driving around 'The Zoo' [Brainerd International Raceway's popular, festive campground] and seeing what everyone is up to.
"We like Brainerd; it's been a great race for us. This weekend should be another good one, and we need it. We were fortunate to run good during the year, but lately we've been slipping in the points and we need to move ourselves up in the standings before the Countdown starts."
Gray is in the midst of what has already been a banner year; the 60-year-old Funny Car driver based in Artesia, N.M., declared this season his last as a full-time competitor chasing the points and has so far more than doubled the wins on his scorecard, scoring four in 2013 to bring his career total to seven in a fuel Funny Car. It isn't much of a stretch to remember that first Funny Car win scored at Brainerd International Raceway, nor to believe that the Pitch Energy team has the power to repeat at this season's rendition of the Lucas Oil Nationals.
"These cars just get better and better every year," said Gray. "If we want to defend our speed record, the boys are going to have to step on it pretty good. But I have a lot of confidence in this team and their capabilities. It would be really, really nice to go out there and maybe win another one to pick ourselves up to the top of the pack, where we actually belong with this car.
"We've got everything ready for these next couple of races before we get into the Countdown, and we've also taken some time to relax and regroup since [the last race in] Seattle. Everybody is looking forward to getting back out there and seeing what we can do. As a team, we're feeling really good about this weekend. We're rested and eager, and we all have our heads screwed on straight. We're ready to go do battle."
JOHNNY GRAY, Pitch Energy Dodge Charger R/T
Last event: Aug. 4, Kent, Wash.; lost in second round to Courtney Force.
A year ago: Qualified No. 4; lost in second round to Ron Capps.
Career wins: 1 (2011)
Career runner-ups: 0
Career poles: 1 (2011)
Pts Events Titles Rup Semi Poles DNQ Win/Loss
5th 16 4 0 1 1 1 23-11
220 7 12 22 4 41 152-172
1. MATT HAGAN, 1,151*
2. Cruz Pedregon, 1,034
3. RON CAPPS, 1,017
4. John Force, 996
5. JOHNNY GRAY, 991
6. Courtney Force, 983
7. JACK BECKMAN, 951
8. Tim Wilkerson, 877
9. Bob Tasca III 874
10. Robert Hight, 841
*Clinched berth in NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship
WINNERS: C. Force, CAPPS, GRAY, C. Pedregon, HAGAN, C. Pedregon, GRAY, GRAY, HAGAN, J. Force, C. Force, HAGAN, GRAY, C. Pedregon, CAPPS, HAGAN
LUCAS OIL NHRA NATIONALS SCHEDULE
Friday: Nitro qualifying, 3:30 p.m., 6 p.m.
Saturday: Nitro qualifying, 12:30 p.m., 3 p.m.
Sunday: Championship eliminations, 11 a.m.
Saturday: Qualifying, 11 p.m. (ET), delayed
Sunday: Eliminations, 9 p.m. (ET), delayed
Friday: High 79; 10 percent chance of rain
Saturday: High 80; 20 percent chance of rain
Sunday: High 81; 10 percent chance of rain