As I write this, it's Tuesday night on the week of the U.S. Nationals, and we've just wrapped up another day of testing. Right now, we're in Martin, Michigan, and we're going to keep on testing here tomorrow and then head on over to Indianapolis. I can't believe it's already Indy. This year has been either one of the longest or one of the shortest of my life. I can't decide if time is standing still or racing past, but I tell you what, we sure haven't been resting.
Right after Brainerd, we headed on over to Rockingham and we had two good, solid days of testing. We had some misfire issues in Brainerd, and we knew we needed to make some changes. So we tried out a few things with our Service Central Camaro and we were pretty pleased with what we saw. We try to be cautiously optimistic, because you know how this game goes. You think you've found something or figured it out – but then you get a curve ball. But we feel like we are on the right track. We just have to keep on working at it, keep on digging.
Right now we're 8th in the points. We sure want to make the Countdown, but a lot of that depends on how we do in Indy – and also how Larry Morgan, V. Gaines, and Jeg Coughlin do. We want to be in there and finish in the top 10 again, but our attitude is that we are going to take it one run at a time and do our best. I always try to do my very best, and this race won't be any different.
Going back to Indy reminds me of going there as a kid and watching my dad race. Back in 2008, I made my first NHRA run there in a B/A Comp car, and let me tell you, I was scared to death. At that time, I knew I wanted to race Pro Stock, and I was sure hoping I'd get to, but I wasn't sure how it was going to work out. You just never know, but look at this deal now, we've got this NTB/Big O Tires Pro Stock Camaro, we've won a couple of races – which is more than a lot of guys have had the chance to do – and we actually have a shot at making the top 10 for the third year in a row.
It's real important to me that I don't let my ego get big, but I know I need to appreciate all the good that has come of this so far. You can look at this deal one of two ways: you can either see the negative in it and keep thinking about how hard it is and how much you want to win and what's standing in your way, or you can see the positive in it and think about how good it feels to win after you've worked so hard for it. We're looking at the positive, and we're going to keep looking at it that way, especially going into this race and then the last few races of the year. It's an honor to race in Indy, and I feel privileged to get the chance to do that. I'm not nervous about it like I felt that first time I raced there – but I am real excited. See you out there.
With my sister Nedra and Shane in Denver. Nedra is taking the fitness challenge with us! (Below) Little Lexi was part of the positive change for us this year, too!
This year has been such a season of change for us as a family and as a team. With the Gray Motorsports Pro Stock team, Shane and the guys have worked really hard to build on what they know and weather the storms that can and do come along in this class. We were all really excited when Shane took delivery of the new Service Central Chevy Camaro, and when they brought it out in Bristol, they just kept their hearts and heads in the game to get through that tricky period of time where you have to figure out what a new car wants.
I doubt it's ever easy, but I'm so proud of the way that they brought that car out and tested the heck out of it, and now they are seeing it get better and better. Anything worth doing is worth doing well, and that has been a really important part of how they've managed this. These guys give 110% all the time.
It's my turn now to make a change, and I'm hoping to lead my whole family – and the team, too – down a positive and healthy path. Just before the Denver race, I started the Body by Vi challenge. It's a 90-day challenge that encourages fitness, a healthier lifestyle, and it's just a great way to feel better every day!
We come from a pretty small town in New Mexico, and all of my friends back home have been doing this for a while. They kept trying to get me in on it, but for one reason or another, I just wasn't ready. Now I wish I would have done this sooner, because already I'm feeling awesome.
It's also an amazing weight loss program, and one of my girlfriends back home started this in December and has already lost 60 pounds. She looks so good, but the best part is that she feels good, too. That's what I wanted for my family and myself: to feel good.
Fitness is really important to Shane; he is so dedicated to his workouts and always wants to take care of his body, so this is something that I'm excited to share with him. It fits with his program, and at the racetrack and with all the traveling, the guys are just going and going all the time. They won't miss a meal with this, because the shakes can be used as a meal replacement, and they won't be dragging. They'll get energy and nutrition right there in this shake. I've never been able to do shakes, but these actually taste really good, and I like them. I'm not kidding, they really taste like cake batter! But you can also add flavor packets to them, and the flavor packets have their own benefits: orange is for everyday defense, chocolate is for cardio. They're great and yummy! There are tons of recipes you can make with the shake mix, too.
This is really helping us step in the right direction of eating healthier and just being healthier in general. Since we started the challenge, we've been making a conscious effort to make better decisions when it comes time to plan for meals. You just feel better, and feeling better encourages you to lead a healthier lifestyle.
One of my favorite things so far is the Smart Energy that you add to your water bottle. It's designed to help with focus and managing stress, and I know how much pressure these guys are under out here. If it can help with what they do, I think that's a great thing.
We haven't always been the best about enforcing healthy eating, but I'm excited about this change. It's easier than I thought it would be, and real goal is to start a better, healthier pattern of eating for our family. The Body by Vi challenge fits perfectly with that, and I really believe that we are going to see results in all different areas of our lives. I'm most excited for the kids – to learn a healthy lifestyle and to be conscious of it at a young age will hopefully set them up for success in the future, especially with the sports that they want to be involved in. I hope this helps them have better lives down the road.
One of the really enticing things about it initially was that it's a business you can grow, and because I have tried the product myself and I'm so excited about it, I know that it's something that I want to commit myself to. We lead such a busy lifestyle, but this just fits right in, and it is something positive that I can share with people. Something I can be proud of.
There are all kinds of incentives that the Body by Vi people offer, and it's been fun already to see my friends reach and exceed their goals with the program – both in terms of health and on the business side of things (three of my friends have won BMWs, one couple is getting close to winning their second, and they are all making a great living as distributors).
Anyway, I'm really excited about my new business and this healthy change in our lives. I'm so excited about it that I couldn't wait to get back home after Denver and get everybody started on it! I'm building my business, but the product really sells itself. If you want more information, go to my website: http://agraync.myvi.net
, and if you have any questions about it, you can send me a message from that page.
There has been so much positive change in our lives this year. This little corner of the Gray family is very blessed, and I think we are all excited to see what's next – both at the racetrack and back at home.
Oh boy, let me tell you, we are definitely in the heat of summer. It sure was hot in Chicago and Norwalk, and now we're heading out West where it's pretty likely we'll have more of that heat, at least to some degree. As for how hot we are on the racetrack, well, we're getting there. We're still having fun in our Service Central Chevy Camaro, and we've been picking up a little bit here and a little bit there. We went a few rounds in Norwalk, and I'm going to chalk that up to having a good day. I hope there are a lot more of those good days in our future!
Denver is a race that is so different than anywhere else on the tour, and so what we do there may not be a good measure of whether we've made progress (or not). The high altitude makes it a challenge for the crew chiefs, and so we're kind of looking forward to seeing what we learned by looking at our notes from last year. We didn't go testing after Norwalk, we've just been working away at the shop, but we might have a little bit more of something to work with. I'm excited, and I always want to be optimistic, but at the same time, I really try to be realistic. It's a balance, a very careful balance.
Taylor on the boat on 4th of July
Tanner on Lake Norman
Taylor, Cody and Tanner wakeboarding
No matter what happens up there, I will tell you that we sure do enjoy racing at that fine facility. The Bandimeres and Larry Crispe have done an awesome job of making us feel so welcome there, and every time we go, it just feels like we're going home. I really consider Dallas to be more of a traditional home track for me, and we'll have lots of friends and family come out to Dallas, but where we're from in Artesia, New Mexico is pretty close to Denver. It's comfortable to go race there, that's for sure, and the boys have a great time taking their dirt bikes over to the motocross track up there. They've already been over in that area spending some time with Amber's family, and we sure can't wait to get back together with them this week. It's tough being away from those kids! We'll spend some time and have dinner with her folks, and then we'll get to racing at Bandimere Speedway. This should be interesting, don't you think?
Getting back to talking about summer, I really do enjoy it. I got the chance to put together an On The Run story for National DRAGSTER recently, and I hope you all will read it. I got to go on a little bit about the time we get to spend on the water. We like to go out on Lake Norman here in North Carolina as much as we can, and we've been pretty lucky that we have some good friends who enjoy it just as much as we do. Greg and Kim Anderson and their son Cody were out with us on the boat on the 4th of July, and Kim took some pictures while we were out there. I'll send a long a couple with this blog, but make sure you check out the On The Run feature coming up so you can see the rest.
We had a great time out on the lake with them for the holiday, we just took sandwiches out there and the kids rode the wakeboard. We were out there until around 8:00 that night, and we saw some fireworks out over the lake then went and put everything away because we had to leave for Norwalk the next day. It was a great, relaxing day, and in the middle of all of the racing we do during the summer, we really enjoy getting out there. We all do our thing, and everyone has fun.
This is summer vacation for the kids, and shoot, they're enjoying life. That's what kids are supposed to do, is enjoy themselves. Here in the next few years, they're going to have to start thinking about working – so I want them to enjoy themselves right now. Our oldest, Bryce, he's up doing his Motocross thing, and we miss him but I want to make sure I support that 100 percent. He has to get it in right now because that's an age driven sport. Age is of the essence there, and the older you get the harder that is. I'd like to have him with us more, but I have to respect his dreams and his goals. One of my main concerns in life is making sure those boys are happy.
That's it from here for now. By the time you read this, we'll be on the way to Denver for the first race of the Western Swing. Wish us luck!
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.