Jonathan Gray plans to enjoy every moment of being in the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service championship mix during the rest of the 2020 season. But he’s not going to let the moment overwhelm him.
Gray is just three points back of reigning world champion Stevie “Fast” Jackson as the series closes in on its annual St. Louis stop, the Mopar Express Lane NHRA Midwest Nationals presented by Pennzoil at World Wide Technology Raceway on Oct. 2-4. It’s an exciting time for Gray, who returned to the class this year after a two-year absence and already has one victory during the 2020 campaign driving for multi-time class champion Rickie Smith.
“You just have to race each event hard and if it’s your day, it’s your day, but as far as the championship is concerned, I’m not going to worry about it,” Gray said. “You just can’t worry about it. Rickie has been as good to me as anybody I could ask for. What’s made it better this year is, as I’ve gotten more runs and more laps in a nitrous car and spent more time with him, he’s been able to teach me more. He’s always watching to try to make me better.”
The race is the fifth event of the 2020 E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series season and will be shown on Fox Sports 2 (FS2). Smith is the defending race winner at St. Louis, possibly giving Gray even more momentum in his nitrous-powered Camaro.
He looked impressive in winning the second NHRA Pro Mod race at Indy a month ago before Jackson moved into the points lead with his U.S. Nationals victory. Still, Gray is right in contention, as the top six drivers in the class - Jackson, Gray, Kris Thorne, Chad Green, Mike Janis and Jason Scruggs - are separated by less than two rounds. That makes for a hectic finish, but with Smith in his corner Gray is confident he can compete for a championship.
“I feel good and I sure wouldn’t want to be going into this stretch with anyone else,” Gray said. “As long as I can drive the car decent, I know it’s going to go to the other end. When you have Rickie Smith in your back pocket like that, know you’re going to the other end consistently. None of these other guys have that luxury.”
It also means Gray has to hold up his end of the bargain, and he’s been a standout in that regard as well. He ousted Bo Butner in the final round to win his first NHRA Pro Mod race in three years and Gray has been consistently regarded as one of the best on the starting line in the talent-filled class. Knowing he’ll have a championship-caliber car for the final stretch of the seven-race 2020 season, Gray is fine with having the onus on him to perform when it counts.
“Here’s the deal: as long as I can drive the car and cut a decent light, I’ve got as good a chance as anybody out there,” Gray said. “I’ve got a good chance anywhere I go and that’s just the luxury of driving for Rickie Smith. I have total confidence in him and I believe in him 110 percent. It’s up to me and I’m good with that, and that’s perfect.”
Featuring the world’s fastest doorslammer race cars, the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service offers something for every kind of hot-rodding enthusiast. The class is highlighted by historic muscle cars, as well as a variety of late model American muscle cars.
The first of two E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service qualifying sessions takes place at 8:15 p.m. CT on Friday, Oct. 2, with the final session taking place at 3:10 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 3. The first round of Pro Mod eliminations is scheduled for 12:40 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 4.
A limited number of tickets are on sale now for the Mopar Express Lane NHRA Midwest Nationals presented by Pennzoil. Tickets may be purchased by visiting the track website or calling 800-884-NHRA.