When Tanner Gray drove to victory at the Denso Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals, he etched his name in the history books as the youngest driver to win in the Pro ranks. Who else makes the top five? Following is a look at the youngest Pro-class winners in NHRA history.
Tanner Gray: 17 years, 11 months, 18 days
In interviews following his Las Vegas win, Gray mentioned setting a goal of becoming the youngest Pro Stock winner in history. Well, he achieved that and then some, not only setting the record for the class but for the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series as a whole, winning just 13 days shy of his 18th birthday. A third-generation racer with a proven record of success behind the wheel of many different race cars, Gray entered his rookie season with a lot of buzz surrounding him, and he proved worthy of the attention. Gray opened the year with a round-win in his debut, and he qualified third at his second event in Phoenix, where he also advanced to the semi’s. After another solid outing in Gainesville that included a round-win, Gray was able to go the distance in Las Vegas and did so in convincing fashion, ousting all three KB Racing-powered entries en route to the winner’s circle.
Jeb Allen: 18 years, 1 month, 8 days
Before Gray surpassed him on the list, Allen held the distinction of being the youngest Pro winner ever for more than 40 years thanks to his victory at the 1972 Englishtown event that came just over a month after he turned 18 years old. Allen, who remains the youngest Top Fuel winner in history and is also the youngest to ever license in the class, also showed potential from the start. Allen went to the semifinals at his debut race, the 1971 Supernationals at Ontario Motor Speedway. Then came his breakout win in New Jersey, where Allen bested veteran competitor Tom “the Mongoose” McEwen, 6.36 to 6.51, in the final round.
Cristen Powell: 18 years, 1 month, 26 days
Like Allen, Powell was still in high school when she began her Top Fuel career, and also like Allen, her breakout win came in Englishtown. Powell missed her high school prom to attend the 1997 event in New Jersey, and it proved to be a wise decision because Powell ended up with memories some may argue are more valuable than those made at a high school prom (not to mention, of course, the Wally). In an event that many labeled the Upset Nationals due to, among other things, wins by Powell and Kenji Okazaki, Powell outran Bruce Sarver, 4.84 to 5.81, to claim the trophy. Powell also defeated Kenny Bernstein, Cory McClenathan, and Gary Scelzi en route to victory.
GT Tonglet: 18 years, 2 months, 15 days
Tonglet remains the youngest Pro Stock Motorcycle winner in history thanks to his victory at the age of 18. The win came in just the seventh event he ever entered. Tonglet, who made it to the semifinals in his debut event, won a battle of young guns to claim his first Wally, eking out a narrow 7.32 to 7.33 win against Shawn Gann in the final round at the 2001 St. Louis event. Tonglet’s win came after an interesting qualifying outing, during which he began on a new Kawasaki ZX-7R but ended with Tonglet riding the Suzuki he campaigned in his first six events. Tonglet also had the honor of making a tribute pass on the Hayabusa of the late Dave Schultz as part of the Schultz Memorial Tour, making for an even more memorable weekend.
Vincent Nobile: 19 years, 5 months, 25 days
Though his fellow Pro Stock runner Gray knocked him off the top spot for the class, Nobile remains among the top five youngest winners overall. Appearing in his third straight final round, Nobile sealed the deal and earned his first Pro Stock Wally at the 2011 Houston event at 19 years of age. Nobile won his first in incredible fashion, narrowly defeating Rodger Brogdon, who was also seeking his first victory, by just .0016-second. Nobile also stopped Kurt Johnson, Jason Line, and Greg Stanfield on his way to the emotional win.