It will be a family affair for the Grays this year at the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals presented by NAPAFilters.com.
Pro Stock driver Shane Gray and his dad, Johnny, who competes in the Funny Car class, are one of many father-son tandems who have competed side by side in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series throughout the years.
It was the sport’s history of strong family ties and the passing of the racing torch through generations that led NHRA to launch its Nitro Generation celebration this season. The Gray family epitomizes NHRA’s Nitro Generation theme, demonstrating that the Nitro Gene is alive and well and fully embracing the NHRA lifestyle.
Both drivers hope to end their weekend at the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals presented by NAPAFilters.com, March 8-11 at historic Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville, with a family photo in the winner’s circle. If they are both holding Wallys, it would be even better.
The 2011 winners of the tradition-rich NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event were Del Worsham (Top Fuel), Mike Neff (Funny Car), Jason Line (Pro Stock), and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle). The race will be televised by ESPN2HD.
Although both are New Mexico natives, Johnny recently bought a home in Florida and expects to be plenty busy during the weekend hosting family and friends and helping Shane tune his 200-mph Tire Kingdom-sponsored Pro Stock car. Oh, and if that's not enough to keep him busy, he also has to work time into his schedule to drive his 7,000-horsepower Service Central Dodge Charger in the Funny Car class.
“Yeah, it’s a little hectic getting ready for Gatornationals,” the elder Gray said. “But it will be great to have all our family there and represent Service Central and Tire Kingdom. We’ll be burning up some gasoline in the scooter going from pit to pit. We’re just all coming down to have a big time and put on the best show we can for the fans and our sponsors.”
For Shane, who finished in the top 10 the last two seasons in Pro Stock and has earned two victories, he is looking forward to the competition and the bonding time.
“I enjoy racing with my dad,” the younger Gray said. “It’s a lot of fun sharing the experience, and the best part is that this is family time for us. [Wife] Amber and the boys are with us at the track; my mom is there. It’s just a great way for us to all spend time together, and the bottom line is that family is what matters.”
Both drivers enter the event holding down positions in the Full Throttle top 10. Johnny, who had one of the strongest-performing cars during the last six races of the 2011 season, is eighth overall in Funny Car after racing to the No. 1 qualifying position in Phoenix three weeks ago. Shane is tied for ninth in Pro Stock after a couple of disappointing early-round losses in Pomona and Phoenix and hopes to better his position in the standings with a strong performance at his sponsor’s race.
“I’m really looking forward to racing in Gainesville because it’s such a good track,” Gray said. “It’s going to be fast down there, and that always makes it a lot of fun. … I’m always looking forward to going to a track where we have good air, a good surface, and good barometer. All the fans at the Tire Kingdom Gatornationals should expect to see a good race.
“It’s also a race backed by our primary sponsor,” Gray continued. “Service Central and their people have been very good to us, and we’re happy to represent them by wearing the Tire Kingdom colors at the event. It’s also nice to get a little extra attention and have the opportunity to really interact with the fans. They make this whole thing worthwhile.”
Shane will be challenged by a host of talented Pro Stock drivers, led by series leader and four-time world champ Greg Anderson, a two-time Gatornationals winner, and his teammate Line, the defending Pro Stock world champ who has won the last three Gatornationals titles and four overall. Jeg Coughlin Jr., Vincent Nobile, Erica Enders, Allen Johnson, Greg Stanfield, and Rodger Brogdon are also drivers to watch in the factory hot rod category.
In Funny Car, rookie sensations Courtney Force and Alexis DeJoria have been stealing the headlines, but Neff, Robert Hight, and John Force are the trio that sits atop the points order. Jack Beckman, Ron Capps, Cruz Pedregon, Jeff Arend, and surprise rookie challenger Todd Lesenko are among a strong contingent of pre-race favorites. Defending world champ Matt Hagan is outside the top 10; the Virginia cattle rancher will try to move back into title contention with a strong showing this weekend.
Antron Brown leads the way in Top Fuel in his Matco Tools dragster, and seven-time world champ and four-time Gatornationals winner Tony Schumacher will be looking for more success at "the Swamp." A strong group of drivers will provide a solid challenge to Brown and Schumacher, including Spencer Massey, Morgan Lucas, Shawn Langdon, Doug Kalitta, Bob Vandergriff Jr., and Brandon Bernstein.
The Pro Stock Motorcycle category opens its 16-race season, and defending series champ Krawiec, rider of the Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson, will try to add his third consecutive Gatornationals victory to his resume and begin the process of defending his series crown. Krawiec, who increased the national record to 199.26 mph here last year, also will try to become the first rider to break the 200-mph barrier in the two-wheel category. All of the usual suspectsare entered, including three-time world champ Andrew Hines, last season’s rookie of the year Hector Arana Jr., past world champs Matt Smith and Hector Arana Sr., veterans Karen Stoffer, Steve Johnson, and Michael Phillips, and a few notable rookies, including Anne Hansen, Scotty Pollacheck, and John Hall.
* SCHEDULE: NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series qualifying sessions are scheduled for 1:30 and 4 p.m. on Friday, March 9, and 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 10. Final eliminations will begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, March 11.
* TICKETS: For tickets for the 43rd annual Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals presented by NAPAFilters.com, call the NHRA Ticket Center, 800-884-NHRA (6472), or log on to NHRATix.com.
* ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise one hour of qualifying coverage at 4 a.m. ET on Sunday, March 11, with a re-air of the qualifying show following later that day at 5 p.m. ET. ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise three hours of eliminations coverage at 6 p.m. ET, also on Sunday, March 11.
* LUCAS OIL SERIES: The 43rd annual Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals presented by NAPAFilters.com also will feature competition in seven categories in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, where some of the future stars of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series are born. Lucas Oil Series qualifying begins at 9 a.m. on March 8. Lucas Oil Series eliminations begin at 8 a.m. on March 9 and continue through March 11.
* PRO MOD SERIES presented by ProCare Rx: NHRA’s popular Pro Mod touring series will make its first start of the 10-race 2012 season at the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals presented by NAPAFilters.com. The series features some of the world’s fastest and most unique doorslammer cars, with an eclectic mix of vintage and late-model body styles, in quarter-mile competition. Two of three scheduled rounds of qualifying will be held on Friday, March 9, at 1:30 and 4 p.m. The final round of qualifying is set for 11 a.m. on Saturday, March 10. The first round of eliminations is scheduled for Saturday, March 10, at 1:30 p.m. Eliminations will continue on Sunday, March 11.