Plenty to celebrate this Father’s Day for Johnny Gray and sons, and a little more wouldn’t hurt
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
|(Above) Johnny Gray, right, will be joined this Father's Day weekend in Bristol by sons Shane, left, and Jonathan (below), who competes in Comp.
It’s shaking down to be a pretty awesome year for the Gray family. Dad Johnny just brought home the second nitro Funny Car victory of his career at the recent Toyota NHRA SuperNationals in Englishtown, son Shane is debuting a new Chevy Camaro at the 15th annual Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals presented by Tri-Cities Area Ford Dealers at Bristol Dragway this weekend, and youngest son Jonathan will compete in Comp in Bristol, his fourth national event this year.
“Of course, we’d like to turn around and double up with a win in Bristol in our NTB/Service Central Dodge, and I’d sure like to see Shane and Jonathan do well,” said Gray. “But what’s really special is having the family all together. Jonathan and his family weren’t able to make it to Englishtown, but we’ll all be reunited in Bristol, and I’m really looking forward to that. Not every guy is as fortunate as I am to have their kids all together doing what we love to do.”
Although patriarch Johnny is the only one powering a nitro-infused race car, the Gray family is most certainly part of the Nitro Generation – NHRA’s moniker applying to a generation of racers and fans who have inherited the drag racing bug. Gray and wife Terry brought up their boys at the dragstrip, and the younger Grays watched their dad accelerate toward the future with record-setting runs in Comp and national event victories in Top Alcohol Dragster and Top Alcohol Funny Car.
So far, under the watchful eye of his now-grown children, Gray’s Professional drag racing venture has included Pro Stock competition as well as Funny Car. His first Professional victory was in Brainerd at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals last season and acted as a springboard to one of the strongest surges of his career. Although Gray did not make the Countdown to the Championship, he arguably had the strongest car in the latter portion of the 2011 season and went to the final round at three consecutive events – in Reading, Phoenix, and Las Vegas – to finish the year in the No. 11 position, the best possible outcome after being locked out of running for the season title.
Although the Service Central team had hoped to pick up right where it left off, Gray went through a bit of a rough patch earlier this year with a couple of first-round losses and a handful of non-stellar qualifying positions surrounding a start from the pole in Phoenix at the NHRA Arizona Nationals and a final-round performance at the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals presented by NAPAFilters.com in Gainesville. But with the help of the Don Schumacher Racing brain trust of crew chiefs, Gray’s tuning team of Rob Wendland and Rip Reynolds turned a corner and headed back into familiar territory in Topeka, qualifying fifth and really driving home their recovery with the Englishtown victory.
“It was a shame that we weren’t able to run for the championship last year, but we sure ended the season strong,” said Gray. “We went through a little bit of a rough spot earlier this year, but you know we made some changes over the winter, and it always takes a little picking to get everything lined out. Now we’re back to the point where Rob and the guys can roughly tell me what the car is going to do, and they’re hitting it. We’re going to have a very, very good car for the Countdown.”
Though Gray remains focused on his program, the Pro Stock team led by son Shane also has a fair amount of his attention. Gray, who first raced in the factory hot rod category in 1993, ventured back into Pro Stock in 2008, and in 2010, Shane joined the crusade. The father/son duo competed as a two-car team for a year before Gray returned to Funny Car racing in 2011. In both of his first two seasons, Shane qualified for the Countdown to the Championship and finished fourth and ninth, respectively. He is ninth in the series standings with hope of digging deeper into the top 10 before the Countdown kicks off, and Jonathan, driving the B/AA Service Central Pontiac, has maintained a berth in the top 10 in the Division 2 standings in the highly competitive Comp category. The Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway holds the potential for the entire onslaught of Gray men to advance in their classes, but to their fearless leader and father, what matters most is what is already a certainty.
“Sure, we’re looking forward to getting back to the racetrack this weekend, and we are all going to do our best to come out on top,” said Gray. “But no matter what the outcome is, the weekend is going to be great because we are all going to be together. A guy couldn’t ask for much more.”
For more information or tickets to the Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals presented by Tri-Cities Area Ford Dealers, log on to www.thundervalleytix.com or call 866-415-4158.