No situation has proven to be too big for Tanner Gray in his rookie season in Pro Stock. After a first-round loss last weekend in Denver, Gray is determined to make sure that continues to be the case during his first experience with the famed NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Western Swing.
The second of three stops takes place during this weekend’s 30th annual Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals at Sonoma Raceway, with Gray looking to make quick amends in his Valvoline/Nova Services Chevrolet Camaro after the early exit in Denver. With what he’s already accomplished this year, winning twice and sitting third in points, there’s no reason to think that won’t be the case.
“I am confident that the drastic change in racing conditions from Denver to Sonoma will not affect our performance because of the experience we have on our side,” Gray said. “Racing the Western Swing for the first time, I have already learned this far into the season, both the car and the driver need to align. I am very fortunate and blessed to have the guys back at Gray Motorsports that are continually searching for ways to create more power. My teammate Drew Skillman has proved the last two weeks that our Gray Power has what it takes to be the last car standing on Sunday.”
J.R. Todd (Top Fuel), John Force (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and LE Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including live final eliminations coverage starting at 4:30 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, July 30. It is the 15th of 24 events in the 2017 season and the second race of the Western Swing means the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship is right around the corner.
That means as nice as Gray’s early-season wins in Las Vegas and Topeka were, his goal is making more improvements. He’s watched Skillman look outstanding the past two races in picking up victories and Gray’s goal is matching that in Sonoma after a disappointing outcome in Denver. As the stakes get bigger, Gray also wants to make sure his performance continues to match it.
“Each race is just as critical as last,” Gray said. “We are in pursuit of every point we can get. My team has coached me throughout the season on how to become a better driver and I have learned from my mistakes. The pressure to perform is increasing as we head closer to the Countdown. My papa Johnny (Gray) and dad (Shane Gray) are great teachers of how to deal with this pressure because of the combined years of experience racing toward a spot in the Countdown.”
As for his own improvement, Gray has already made tremendous strides throughout his rookie season. Of course, the rest of the class is just as impressive with nine different drivers chalking up wins in 2017. It’s led by points leader Bo Butner and his three victories and reigning event winner Anderson, but Gray continues to enjoy the process of learning in the talented Pro Stock class.
“I feel more comfortable in the car,” Gray said. “I have a lot more seat time learned from not only competition but from testing of how to become better at doing my job and listening to what the car is doing each pass. My team continues to build momentum one round at a time. Qualifying better, being lowest ET of the round, and winning rounds on Sunday all keep spirits high in our pit.”
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 4:15 and 7:00 p.m. on Friday, July 28 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, July 29, at 1:10 and 4:20 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, July 30.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call 800-870-RACE (7223). Tickets also are available online at www.sonomaraceway.com.