Quite simply, Pro Stock driver Shane Gray would like a repeat of last season’s event at Heartland Park Topeka. The eldest son of Funny Car driver Johnny Gray – brother Jonathan races in Comp – scored the second victory of his career in his Service Central-backed Pontiac there last year but hasn’t seen the inside of the winner’s circle since. The Gray Motorsports team has been tireless and persistent, though, and is aiming at seeing its efforts come to fruition at the upcoming Dollar General NHRA Summernationals.
True to his humble character, former NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series Comp pilot Gray was modest regarding last season’s accomplishment and gave credit to his team.
“I think everybody just missed it last year, and we didn’t,” he said. “My guys did a great job out there, and it happened to be our day – but I don’t think we have more than anyone else unless you take into consideration how hard these guys all work. We probably put 100 runs on the car in testing before we won that race, and this year, we’ve tested just as much.”
At the 2011 event, Gray qualified in the top half for the first time that year with a 6.67 that was good for the No. 7 position. He got ahead of a tire-shaking Erica Enders in the first round of eliminations before taking on the power-packing Summit Racing cars of Jason Line and Greg Anderson, respectively, in the second round and semifinals.
In his meetings with the KB Racing cars, Line and Anderson each spun the tires while Gray got the power to the ground more effectively for the win light. In the second round versus Line, Gray improved on his qualifying best by a thousandth for a 6.674 to 6.690 victory, and his 6.710 in the semi's was quicker than Anderson by .08-second.
“There was a lot of excitement as we were going rounds, especially when we were able to beat Jason and Greg,” recalled Gray. “But when it came time for the final, I just said to myself, ‘It is what it is; let’s see what happens,’ and I treated it like it was another one of those test runs.”
It was a test that Gray and his Service Central Pontiac GXP passed. Final-round opponent Greg Stanfield was seven-thousandths quicker off the starting line and gave a good fight, but by half-track, Gray had the lead and followed through to win by .007.
This season has been a battle of another kind for Gray as the Gray Motorsports group has been digging to find more of those priceless ponies. In the factory hot rod category, where every bit of horsepower is critical to the game, the team has experienced bright spots of hope. But as it is for every other team, the hunt continues for more of what they need: power.
Entering this season’s event, Gray is in the same position in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series standings as he was at this point last year: 11th. The triumph at Heartland Park Topeka lifted the Denver, N.C.-based driver into the top 10, and he maintained a berth there for the remainder of the season, ultimately finishing in the top 10 for the second consecutive year in his second season driving in the category.
“That luck and momentum got us kicked off and going a little bit,” said Gray, a four-time finalist who won his first national event at the season-closing Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals in Pomona in his rookie season. “We didn’t find the consistency that we wanted, but our confidence level really rose, and we went to Englishtown and qualified No. 2. We’ll be thinking about that as we head over there this year, and we’ll see what we can do in our Service Central Pontiac.”
Gray will be wheeling the team’s trusty GXP with an NTB scheme at the Dollar General NHRA Summernationals but plans to debut a brand-new Jerry Haas-built Chevy Camaro in the near future. Until they can click off a few more test laps in the Camaro, they are content to continue fine-tuning their program in the Pontiac and would like to send it to pasture on a high note.
“We were lucky there in Topeka last year,” said Gray. “I sure wouldn’t mind if a little of that luck fell our way again.”
For tickets for the Dollar General NHRA Summernationals, call Heartland Park Topeka, 785-43-RACES (72237), or log on to HPT.com.