The Don Schumacher Racing Dodge Charger R/T driven by Funny Car pilot Johnny Gray will have a new look for 2013 with a special tribute scheme in honor of Gray’s late father, John R. Gray. The soon-to-be christened, family-backed Pitch Energy Dodge will compete at all 24 events on the 2013 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule, but it will be the final season that Gray, who turns 60 in March, will race for a championship.
“I’m certainly not saying that I won’t race anymore, but I won’t chase the points after this year, and I won’t participate in the grueling schedule of a full season,” said Gray, a diverse driver with three nitro Funny Car victories, three NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series national event wins, and two Lucas Oil Series division championships.
Gray’s slimmed-down driving schedule following the 2013 season will allow him to focus more on family, including the NHRA Pro Stock career of his son, Gray Motorsports Chevy Camaro driver Shane, and the Late Model dirt-track ventures of his youngest son, Jonathan. Gray and wife Terry’s grandchildren are also beginning to take great interest in motorsports, specifically stadium truck racing and sprint cars.
“It’s time to pay attention to the kids and the grandkids and quit driving full-time after this year,” said Gray. “The fact is I’ve always promised my wife that I’d quit at 60 – and I’m good with it. Trust me, I’m good with it. It’s been real, and it’s been fun. But it’s time for me to be done.”
One person who regrets but understands Gray’s decision is team owner Don Schumacher.
“We’re not just happy that Johnny will be part of DSR for another season, we are thrilled because he is a great race car driver who has been an asset to our team the past two years,” Schumacher said. “Johnny is an incredibly good person who DSR has been fortunate to be associated with for many years as a friend and a team member. We would prefer this would not be his last season racing full-time with us, but I certainly understand why he wants to spend more time with his family.
“That Johnny is honoring his father this season on our Pitch Energy Dodge just shows what kind of people he and his sister, Terry Chandler, are. It’s going to be a very special year for Johnny and DSR, and nothing would be better than to have him bring DSR its third straight NHRA Funny Car championship.”
The eye-catching Pitch Energy Dodge will be adorned with a special paint scheme in honor of Gray’s father, John R. Gray, who passed away at the age of 71 on October 28, 2001. Gray and his sister, Terry Chandler, will jointly fund the effort through Pitch Energy Corp.
“It’s a real pretty car, and my sister and I thought this would be a fitting tribute to Dad,” said Gray. “Marbob was the parent company to Pitch Energy, which was another of his companies, and actually it was named after the card game. My dad loved the game of pitch. Every afternoon after work, he and a handful of his cronies would get together wherever they were and sit down and play for two or three hours.”
Gray’s father was a businessman in the Southwest; he was co-founder and president of Marbob Energy Corp., a thriving company in the oil and gas industry.
“My dad, John R., never really wanted anything to do with racing, no matter what it was I was racing – go-karts, late models, dirt cars, sprint cars, alcohol cars – whatever it was, my dad had no use for it. Until the fuel cars,” Gray continued. “For some unknown reason, he really liked the fuel cars. When I licensed in Paul Smith’s school fuel Funny Car in Dallas, Texas, my dad was there.
“I think as we were all getting older, he was seeing the value of spending more time with his kids, and I was realizing the value of my dad’s knowledge. We became a lot closer, and he started going to every race that he could. And wouldn’t you know it? He’d bring a bunch of cronies with him, and between rounds they would play a game of pitch.”
Gray, a New Mexico native who calls Artesia, N.M., home, will proudly point the Pitch Energy Dodge toward a championship in his final season of full competition with crew chief Rob Wendland at the helm of the tuning group. In 2012, Gray finished a career-best sixth in the series standings, and he intends to see an even better finish this season.
“It would be great to achieve a championship before this is all through, and what an honor to accomplish that in a car that’s a tribute to my dad, John R.,” said Gray. “But you know what? We’re going to have fun either way.”