This week something really special happened, and something that to be honest, I never really expected. We won the U.S. Nationals. It was a great day for Gray Motorsports already – we had three cars in the semifinals and I got to race my brother. Jonathan got the best of me the first two times we raced each other, and he is already a tough competitor and one that is getting everybody's attention out there, and I don't take anybody lightly. I was glad to get that win but sorry to beat him at the same time, if that makes sense. It really isn't any fun to race your brother because even though we know one of the Gray Motorsports cars is going to the next round, one of you still has to lose. I said it at the top end after we raced each other, I'm real proud of him and what he's done out here. His driving is coming along. He's got a good record at the starting line, and he's learning how to drive the car better as he goes down the track. The outcome of our race against each other in the semifinals in Indy might have been different if he was a little farther along in his career, and with more seat time and experience Jonathan is going to be one of the top competitors.
Racing my buddy Dave in the final at the U.S. Nationals and then winning is still something that hasn't quite sunk in. I know there has been a lot of people talking about it and questioning what happened, and I've learned a lot this week about people who like to sit behind their keyboards and say things that aren't very nice. My wife and kids read that stuff, and I hate that my family has to see people acting so bad. I can take it, and I sure try not to let it get to me, but it isn't fair to my family that they have to see that. And it isn't fair to the team who has worked so hard to get this far. You always hear talk about "haters," but to be on the receiving end of that is something else. Especially when you've worked as hard as this team works, day in and day out. My crew chief Justin Elkes, the guys at the shop, the guys at the track, every one of them work and work and work and they do that so that we can succeed. So that we can win as a team, and that is what we did on Monday at the U.S. Nationals. We won as a team. Heck, we already won before the final was even decided, and all of us were happy. We were happy at the top end of the track, and there were no hard feelings in either direction.
I wish it would have been a side-by-side race down the track and one of us had won by a thousandth, but as soon as Justin saw that they were spraying both lanes all the way to the waterbox – something that doesn't normally happen – before the final, he told both Dave and myself to be ready because both cars were going to shake. He said it was going to be a pedal fest in the Pro Stock final. We got lucky my car didn't shake as bad as Dave's did, it's as simple as that, and that's exactly what the data shows. Dave told us later that he could see daylight under the rear tire of one of the alcohol cars ahead of him, and that's when he knew he might be in trouble. That's racing, and that day I was fortunate that it worked out in my favor. I'd have been real happy if Dave had won it, because no matter what it was a win for our team.
I've won four times now in Pro Stock, and each time it seems like it's getting harder and harder. I remember the first time I won one of these things it was in 2010 in Pomona at the end of the year, and I thought, "That wasn't too hard. That was actually pretty easy. I don't know why these guys think this is so difficult." Boy, have I ever learned a lesson. I dug a hole and got way deep into it, and I'm just now crawling back out where I can eat those words. We're getting closer with our program, and we're getting closer to those top tier teams. I think our program is as good as anybody else's, and we're headed in the right direction. That's a good position to be in heading into the Countdown.
To win this race was big. I hadn't won more than a round at Indy in Pro Stock, and getting all the way to the final and then winning the darn thing was something that took a couple of days to sink in. I'm not sure it's even sunk in all the way yet, to tell you the truth. But I will say that this year was the first time I felt like we really had a chance to do something there. We were very blessed and fortunate, and the guys made some great calls on the car. We've done some celebrating, but now it's back to work to get ready for the Countdown. We've got three Gray Motorsports cars racing for the big trophy, and we were hoping dad would come out and race with us in Charlotte but he made the decision to let us focus on what we came out here to do. Win. We'll see you out there.
This is my first try at this blog deal, so don't be too hard on me. We just got to Topeka last night and when we were getting ready to get here, I realized that the NHRA Kansas Nationals will be my fifth race. That means that I'm automatically entered into the competition for Rookie of the Year, or as NHRA calls it, the Auto Club Road to the Future Award.
That would sure be an honor to get that, and I'm actually real surprised that my brother Shane didn't get it in his rookie year in 2010. I thought he did a great job in his first year learning this class and then winning the Finals in Pomona.
To be a real contender for Rookie of the Year at the end of this season, I have to continue doing what I am doing and enjoy it, because if you don't love what you're doing, you aren't going to be any good. I’m learning every week, and I'm still excited to get to every race. Being able to go out there and be .00 to .020s all the time on the starting line, that is nice – but the trick will be to continue doing that as I go. I haven’t let anyone change anything on my car because I’m still learning how to drive it, and right now I'm comfortable.
My crew chief, Tommy Lee, and my brother, Shane, are helping me with my driving. Shane is one of the best drivers out there when it comes to shifting these cars. He is really phenomenal at it, and I guarantee you there isn't anybody as good out there. Tommy Lee is really great with me on the radio and talking with me; he is a very positive person and that is extremely helpful as I'm learning.
I’ve got less than 50 laps in my Gray Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro and I have some bad habits that I need to correct, so that is what we will be focusing on. There are a few things that I need to fix as a driver before we can move on to anything else, and if I can do that this weekend in Topeka and get a little better handle on the car, I think we can go some rounds.
It’s hard to say if we will win Rookie of the Year. We just need to give it a few more races and get some more win lights, then we will be able to really see how we line up against those other guys. It was great to get my first round win in Houston, and I'd like more of that, that's for sure. I know I’ve got to start going rounds; that will be the key. I'm not sure if I have a chance to be Rookie of the Year when this is all said and done, but I sure hope so. It's been quite a ride already.
The Gray Motorsports team is getting ready to head over to Las Vegas for the SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals, and it definitely looks like it's going to be a very busy weekend for us.
I have to send out a big thank you to everyone who voted for me to get into the K&N Horsepower Challenge. That was huge for our team, and it was a very big deal for me to have the support of the fans, especially since I haven't been in the driver's seat for the past few years. It's an honor to race in this competition with my teammate, Shane Gray, and I hope everyone knows that I am very grateful and I hope to make you all proud.
This race is going to be very special for our team for a few reasons. Obviously, we get to race the K&N Horsepower Challenge, but we also get to go back to Las Vegas and a track where Shane just came off a big win last October. We've both been to the winner's circle there before, and we have two of the toughest draws for the first round of the shootout (Shane has Jason Line and I have Allen Johnson), but I feel if we play our cards right, we should be running each other second round and one of us can go on and win this thing.
I feel like we may even have a shot at doubling up, and having that confidence in the team that surrounds you is a good sign. I wouldn't want another team behind me right now, that's for darn sure.
I can't wait to get to Vegas and race in this deal, but once the trucks were all loaded up and left the Gray Motorsports shop headed west, I went down to where I keep my motorhome and started thinking about de-winterizing it. Yep, I'm thinking about a bracket race that is scheduled the weekend between Vegas and Charlotte. You would think after being on the road and gone as much lately as we have been, the last thing I'd want to do is spend a weekend off at a bracket race, but I'm definitely considering it.
I might have to get my Chevy II up and ready and try to hit a couple. I'm not saying I'll hit every one, but there are definitely three or four key bracket races I'd like to be part of, and there are some good races I'd like to get to throughout the year. Maybe a half-dozen or so.
I just really enjoy the atmosphere and the folks out there. That's where I grew up, and I do miss it. I love Pro Stock racing, but it's a different atmosphere all together when you go to these bracket races. It's laid back, and you have a chance to enjoy the company of the other racers.
I like driving this Chevy II. I only ran it three or four times last year, and I runner-upped with it in a 10-grander in South Georgia so for only having it out a few weekends, I was very happy with it.
I'll try to keep you all updated on how things go on that end of things, but obviously the main focus is making progress with our Gray Motorsports Pro Stock Chevrolet Camaros and the COPO Camaros in Stock Eliminator. We're still working on a whole new Gray Motorsports website, but you can always find updates and pictures and stories on our Facebook pages: Facebook.com/GrayMotorsportsShaneGray, Facebook.com/GrayMotorsportsJonathanGray and Facebook.com/DaveConnollyRacing. See you out there.
The trucks are on the road and headed west
Hey everybody. The Gray Motorsports drivers, Shane Gray and Dave Connolly, were nice enough to invite me to take over their territory here on the NHRA blog for a little while, and that gives me a great opportunity to bring you up to speed, as they say. There has been a lot going on at the Gray Motorsports facility in the past few months, as I'm sure you've all heard by now. As you probably expect, it's been pretty exciting, to say the least.
You might be wondering, who the heck is this guy sharing some info about Gray Motorsports? That's a fair question, and a good place for us to start. Here is a little background about myself.
I came on board with Gray Motorsports at the beginning of the 2013 season with the mindset of contributing to building a championship operation, However, my relationship with the Grays started well before then. I was developing a piece of equipment used to quantify engine performance, called an inertia engine dyno. Johnny Gray recognized the accomplishments made during the development period and the usefulness the product had with his engine program. Johnny was persistent about getting one under his roof, and we worked together to make that happen. Since then my relationship with the Gray family has grown, and today I am the General Manager for Gray Motorsports.
I came from the NASCAR world of the racing industry. I worked for three years for Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing as a Design Engineer before accepting a full time position at Gray Motorsports. I was designing chassis components for the NASCAR Sprint Cup cars of Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya. My tenure there included wins at Indianapolis (Brickyard 400), Charlotte, and Watkins Glen. It was a pretty big transition for me to change from turning left most of the time to going straight and only making one left turn at the end of the pass. Even though this is quite a different world than I am used to, I've really come to enjoy drag racing through working with Gray Motorsports. I really enjoy the competitiveness of the Pro Stock class. Quite honestly, how could someone not be excited about the close competition we experience on the track?
My daily duties at our shop in Denver, N.C., start with overseeing many of the day-to-day business operations, and that includes everything from administrative duties to making sure the guys have the tools and equipment necessary to do their jobs and to do them well. There is always plenty to do around here, especially over the last few months.
Last season was relatively simple for the Gray Motorsports group. We were small and operated as a very competitive single-car team. Victor Cagnazzi was equally impressive with his single car operation. Common sense told us that we could function more efficiently and even more competitively as a combined unit. So, this led to the merger that has been a hot topic in the off-season. Yes, the merger has brought on many challenges, with the biggest being the rapid growth of our small program. That's a challenge that I consider to be very positive. It was a great feeling to add the former Cagnazzi employees to the Gray Motorsports roster. Our talent pool grew exponentially, and this growth adds to our excitement for the 2014 season. It's great working with Shane, his brother Jonathan, and their dad Johnny. Really, the entire Gray family has been so welcoming and shown such a sense of commitment to drag racing. This is completely evident with the recent growth of Gray Motorsports.
It is also a tremendous opportunity for all of us at Gray Motorsports to work with Victor Cagnazzi, especially when you consider the past success he has had in NHRA's Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and the experience that he brings to our team. He has already added great sponsorship partners to Gray Motorsports and we are excited to share our future success with all of them.
The Gray Motorsports Dyno Room
Now let me tell you about our workforce! This is where I get really excited… We have great people here at Gray Motorsports, starting with two crew chiefs in the building now. I was fortunate to spend last season working with Justin Elkes, and let me tell you that was exciting – it gave us a glimpse of the future success that we will all have together. Now we get to welcome Tommy Utt to the group as our co-crew chief, and with Tommy's vast experience in the Pro Stock series, our Gray Motorsports cars should be getting down the track even faster.
Near the end of last season, we restructured the engine shop and brought about Paul Hoskins and Dan Cordier to work with Mike Smith, and our future began to look very bright. And when we announced the merger with Cagnazzi Racing, we added Stevie Johns and Kevin Wideman to the engine program, exponentially increasing the potential for the program. Since these four have been added, our dyno cells have been very active, with Mike at the controls. Mike has been with Gray Motorsports for several years now, and he is a very versatile guy. He can do anything we ask him to do…Yesterday our air compressors failed…again – the lines froze due to the moisture and cold temperatures (again) we have had here in NC – and it seems like just about every day Mike goes out there and has to fix something with them due to the extreme cold weather we have had. That's just one example of how he takes on responsibility. He's a good asset to the team, just like everyone we have here at Gray Motorsports.
Jep, also known at JT, is another guy who has been with Gray Motorsports for a long time. JT is a reliable member of the team who will do what it takes to get things done. Not only is he our transmission and clutch guy, he will drive Shane's truck and trailer down the highway this year. Dan Duncan is new to our team, and he'll be responsible for the back half on Shane's car and driving Dave's truck and trailer. Without JT and Dan safely moving our equipment up and down the highway, we wouldn't be going anywhere. Johnny Utt is also new to our program and he will be filling a variety of roles with both cars. He brings plenty of experience to our program and has a great mentor to learn from with his father as a co-crew chief.
Speaking of Dave, adding him to our driver line-up is really exciting because of his past success and his reputation as a driver. It’s going to be awesome to watch how well he and Shane work together. I think they'll be a dominating team.
Of course, when we talk about the team, we can't forget to mention Angela. She is up front in the office answering the phones and making sure the bills are paid, and doing anything else that is asked of her. With the talent pool we've built at Gray Motorsports, we're optimistic for profound results in the 2014 season. The chemistry that the team has built in such a short time is evidence that we have a great group of guys working together, and it's only going to get better. We're on our way and so is our equipment! Hello NHRA Winternationals in Pomona …. Here comes Gray Motorsports!