Father’s Day just passed, and it was a pretty neat deal for me to be able to spend that weekend at Bristol Dragway racing with my dad and bringing out our new Chevy Camaro for the first time. Two of my boys, Tanner and Taylor, were there with us, too – and my oldest, Bryce, was Motocross racing. It was an exciting weekend all around, and not just for the Gray family. One of our crew members, Jason Laimonis, is about to be a dad, too. At this time next year, he and his wife Kim will have a little girl to run around after. Being a dad is one of my favorite things in life, and seeing other families grow is real special. I have a pretty good idea about what’s in store for our buddy Jason in the years ahead: a few tears, a lot of smiles, and the happiest days that life has to offer. We all wish Jason and Kim the best, and we can’t wait to meet little Baby Laimonis in a few months. In the meantime, here’s a blog by the proud dad-to-be giving you all an idea about how he came to be part of our Service Central team and what he does at the track and in the shop.
Jason Laimonis with wife Kim at the Charlotte race earlier this year
In 2008 with Johnny Gray at Houston
With Pat Herold in 2005 at Chicago
In 2007 with Pat Herold
With the new NTB Service Central Camaro in Bristol
I’ve been involved in drag racing probably since I was like 12 or 13 years old, when my brother got his first car – a ’68 Mustang. We worked on it with our father, and I think the first time I went racing was at one of the street car races at Brainerd around 1994 or 1995. After high school, I went to welding school because I wanted to do some chassis work. Around 1998, I got a job with Don Ness, and that was my first real racing job. I worked for him off and on for several years, and that really got my feet wet and got me interested more in the hows-and-whys of the way things work.
From there, I met Pat Herold through a mutual friend, and he had just bought Bob Benza’s old Grand Am. He ran Pro Street kind of stuff, the Fastest Street Car races, Quick 16, things like that. It was a 5-speed big block car, so it was run pretty similar to a Pro Stock car, and it was right up my alley. He had his eye on Pro Stock, and everything evolved to where we eventually got some more motors from Benza and then Jerry Hemmingson of Jerico Performance Products handled pretty much all of the engine building for Pat for Pro Stock. Everything came together, and we raced with him through 2007.
I learned a lot there as his crew chief – really, I was crew chief because I could dedicate more time than anyone else to the whole deal, and I focused my life around it. Thankfully, I had a job that gave me a lot of leeway to go and do that. I met my wife, Kim, at the racetrack in Brainerd in 2005; she was working in the tower. You could say that a lot of good things came from that experience.
I came here to race with Johnny Gray and Craig Hankinson in December 2007. Ness kind of hooked me up with that, too, after I inquired with him to find out if anybody was looking for a full time deal. He was building a Pro Stock car for Johnny – the first Stratus we had – and he got me in touch with Craig and everything came together.
I left Minnesota and started out in Ohio. Kim and I moved there, but with the direction the operation needed to go, it was decided that it would be better running it out of North Carolina. A lot of Motorsports teams are based there, it’s what you do, so we made the move. Shane started running Comp in 2008 and ran full-time in 2009, and when we came down to North Carolina, that was the beginning of the Gray Motorsports engine shop and the two-car Pro Stock team with Johnny and Shane.
What I do at the shop isn’t too different from what I do at the racetrack, it’s just on a broader scale; I maintain all the rear ends and go through the tire stuff, work on the car generally doing whatever needs to be done, work on the truck and trailer, and help out on Jonathan’s Comp car.
One thing about this team is that everyone has always been very open to asking your opinion, and we all talk about what we think. Some people might think it would be difficult to do what I do after being a crew chief on a car, but it’s not hard at all. I like this better because I’m able to focus on keeping my part of the car as perfect as possible so that our crew chief Justin Elkes and car chief Craig can do their jobs without worrying that something is going to go wrong.
I take a lot of pride in what I do and in making sure that everything is just right. If there is something that has the potential to cause a failure or a performance deficit, it’s on me to catch it before it happens. The job that I do now is just a different way of looking at things, and sure I have aspirations to step up to the crew chief level at some point in my career, but what we have here right now is a solid team that is very focused and driven. These guys are basically like brothers, and we all have the same goals as far as a team. Our eyes are all on the same prize, and we all put the team in front of our own egos. Someday I may want to move up, but I still have a lot to learn, and I’m in the right place.
Seeing Shane’s boys, Bryce, Tanner and Taylor, at the racetrack gets me thinking about my own future. Kim and I don’t have a solid plan as to how we’re going to integrate drag racing into our daughter’s life, but we’ll do whatever we can to make everything as normal and as happy as possible for her. There is so much to look forward to, and I’ve never been more excited in my life.
The GXP in Englishtown
My dad, Johnny Gray, has been at this for so many years, and it was awesome to see him win in his Service Central Funny Car in Englishtown. Now he has two wins under his belt in the professional class, and I really think he’s going to win more this year. With the way his crew chief Rob Wendland and those guys have everything running over there, it’s just a matter of time.
You always want to win, but when I see my dad do something like that, it just makes me want to dig harder. He was at the Gray Motorsports shop last week, and he shed a lot of good ideas on our program. We all feel like we’re headed in the right direction, and we have some exciting things in the future. Shoot, we’re just going to dig hard.
After Englishtown, me and the guys all sat down and had a conversation as a team and we said, you know what, we’re never going to get the Camaro to a race until we get it out and really test it. We knew we needed two good days, so we took it out to Rockingham and sure enough, we had two great days of testing.
A photo taken by my crew chief Justin Elkes after a great day of testing in Rockingham.
It went very well, and I sure enjoyed driving the GXP, but it’s awesome to think about racing the Service Central Camaro in Pro Stock – Stock being the key word. You can actually go down to the Chevrolet dealer and buy a Camaro, and that’s just neat. The Camaros are the wave of the future. Besides all that, it’s just a really cool-looking car. I’m pretty excited to bring it out in Bristol for the first time and see what we can do at the Thunder Valley Nationals. I feel totally confident that the car is as good as, if not better than, the car I just got out of.
I have a new attitude. I’ve been doing some soul-searching and looking around, and you know what? There are a lot of people who have it a whole lot worse than me in life. I’ve been frustrated with our program, but I’m going to look at this from a different perspective. There are a lot of folks out there that suffer and have way bigger problems than I have – heck, the only problem I have in life is that my racecar isn’t quite as fast as I want it to be right now, and that’s really nothing to gripe about.
I guess you could say that I kind of slapped myself in the face and told myself that I need to appreciate what I have and what I’m doing. There are a lot of people out there who would gladly take my seat even if we can’t qualify on the pole. I’m changing my attitude, and I’m getting myself moving in a new, positive direction.
We’ve got a lot of reasons to be excited heading into this race, so we’re going to go to Bristol with a new car and a new attitude, and we’re going to do the best we can.
As drivers, we get a lot of attention. We’re the ones with our pictures on those pieces of paper called “hero cards,” but the guys who are behind the scenes working their tails off don’t really get much recognition. They’re the guys who should be signing autographs because without them, we wouldn’t be going very far. These are the people who get us from point A to point B in more ways than one, and Jep Trammell is an important part of what goes on with our Service Central car at the racetrack. Even though he wasn’t real excited to talk about himself, I thought it was about time he got a little recognition. I work with some great guys, but this one is about Jep.
My dad, Jep Trammell Sr., raced Super Pro when I was a little kid, so I guess you could say that I’ve been in drag racing all my life. I always loved it, and when I got older, me and my cousin Arthur Allen would go wherever the local race was. I was 18 years old when Arthur came back from the military, and a couple of our friends had Top Sportsman cars so we started traveling around with them and going racing.
I did get out of racing for a little while. When I turned 21, I got my CDL and my dad gave me my first dump truck, then in 1996 I went down to Atlanta for the Olympics and moved there the next year. I was driving dump trucks and working for Gaddis Trucking, and that is where my next connection to drag racing came in. The trucking company belonged to the brother of Pro Stock racer Barry Grant’s wife, Robin. She knew I liked racing, and she approached me about working on the team. Barry Grant was the driver, and Buddy Ingersoll was the crew chief. In 2005, I started working with them, and Buddy Ingersoll taught me everything I know. He used to tell me to go out there and take the car apart and put it back together. I learned everything from him, and I thank him every day.
Two years later, I started working with Bob Gilbertson on his Funny Car. Tommy DeLago was the crew chief and showed me how to do the clutch on the Funny Car. I took a year off after that because some buddies of mine had some dump trucks, and I went to help them get the business running – me and my brother and my dad. We started with one truck, and when I left we had eight.
In November of 2009, the Pomona race, Craig Hankinson – he’s the car chief on Shane’s car – called me and asked if I would be interested in working with them on Johnny’s Pro Stock car in 2010. I knew Craig from when I worked with Gilbertson, there was a guy there named Dan Gieselman and he used to work with Craig at Mark Pawuk’s. We used to go watch Craig drive – he is a real good driver – and that’s how I got to meet him. I knew his face from when I used to work with Barry, but I had never really met him before.
When Craig called, it took a minute for me to realize that that’s what I really wanted to do. Well, I knew I did, but I didn’t know how to tell the guys that I had formed the company with. It was a tough decision, but I ended up leaving January 4th and moving to North Carolina. I stayed with Jason from the team and his wife Kim for 3 months before I got my own apartment, and I’ve been there ever since. When Johnny moved to Funny Car, they moved me and Jason over to Shane’s team. Shane and the boys, they opened their arms to me.
I do the clutch on the car, build transmissions, and I can do the back half – but that depends on what you call the back half. I can change the tires and put the rear ends in, but messing with the four-link, I don’t do that. I also drive the transporter, and I like driving to all the races because you see more than you do flying, and I see stuff that I’ll never forget. I don’t care how old I get, I will never forget where I’ve been.
This Service Central team is a great place to be, and as long as they keep me, I’m here. I love it, and I just love who I work for. I’m happy to stay right where I’m at.
I guess you could say I felt real special on my birthday
Yesterday was my birthday, and the birthday elves stopped by (I think Amber and Kim might have had something to do with it!). We had a good lunch and some laughs, and yes, it was all at my expense, but I know it’s out of love. Well, I hope anyway.
Amber is a great wife, a great mom, and a great friend. She always goes above and beyond to make everyone feel special, and I should have known that Kim Ward was in on it, too. She runs the show at the Gray Motorsports shop handling more than you can imagine in the front office. Anyway, it was a good time and a nice break for all of us in the middle of our day. So a special thank you to the girls and to everyone in the shop for being involved – and to everyone on Facebook and in the Twitter world who took the time to stop by and say hi. I appreciate all of you!
It feels like so much time has passed already, but it really wasn’t too long ago that we got to spend some family time together for Easter. Bryce was home from school and motocross camp so the whole family was together. I also got to spend a lot of time with my dad on the fishing boat that weekend, and you know that made me real happy because I love being on the water. I’ve said before that if I wasn’t driving a race car and working at the Gray Motorsports shop, I’d probably be doing something with boats. It’s just one of my favorite things, and I love being out there whenever I get the chance.
We also took the kids for an Easter egg hunt on Saturday that weekend. Jason and Cindy Line’s little ones, Jack and Emma, they were there too with Taylor, and it was neat to see them having fun and enjoying themselves.
Sunday morning the family went to Church and then afterwards I got to get back on the lake to do a little more fishing. We went over to my mom and dad’s place and picked up Bryce’s new motorcycle they bought him for his birthday (next week already!), and Amber took some great family pictures before it was time to say goodbye to Bryce before he headed back to MotoCross camp with a friend who came to pick him up. We finished up the weekend with dinner on the lake with Amber, Tanner and Taylor and my parents.
It was really nice to have that relaxing time with the family. We are so fortunate to get to do what we love and race our Service Central car, but sometimes we get so wrapped up in it that we forget for just a minute what really matters. I have a great family, and weekends like that are the ones that are the best of all.