BROWNSBURG, Ind. (Aug. 28, 2012) – Funny Car pilot Johnny Gray recalls a day not so long ago when he nearly achieved a goal that sits near the top of every serious drag racer's wish list: winning the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at the esteemed Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis. This weekend, Gray will have the opportunity to race once again for the title at the 58th annual running of the event.
In 2003, Gray slashed through the competition at the U.S. Nationals, trailering Phil Burkart, John Force, and Gary Densham before coming head-to-head with Funny Car rival Tim Wilkerson in the Indy final round. Gray was first to launch but Wilkerson nabbed the lead – and the win light – to take the title in the 500th Funny Car race in the history of NHRA.
"I'm tempted to say that Indy is just another race, but really, it's not," said Gray. "Indy is The Big Go, and everybody wants to win there. That runner-up to Wilkerson has haunted me, and I'm going for revenge. Naturally, I want to win. To do it there would mean fulfillment."
A test session at Lucas Oil Raceway just last week yielded positive results – Gray was second quickest of the nitro Funny Cars in attendance as he and his Service Central-backed team worked their magic with a fairly new chassis.
"We thought the car was good, but we only had eight runs on it and wanted to get a few more," said Gray, whose best time during the session was a 4.09 at just over 301 mph. "Right now, it's acting very nice, and if it shows [at the U.S. Nationals] to be as good as we think it is, well, we'll run it through the Countdown."
Gray's forward-thinking admission alludes to what everyone has on their mind at this point in the season: the launch of the Countdown to the Championship playoffs that begin once the books have closed on the extended Indy event.
Artesia, N.M.-based Gray, who secured his position to run for the coveted season title when he made his first qualifying pass two weeks ago at Brainerd's Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals, is currently fourth in the Full Throttle Series standings and trails his Don Schumacher Racing teammate Jack Beckman, occupier of the No. 3 spot, by just 69 marks.
"We're keeping sight of the bigger picture," said Gray. "But for right now, we've got important matters at hand and one of the biggest races of the year for our NTB/Big O Tires Dodge.
"I'm really looking forward to visiting with the kids at Riley Hospital for Children on Wednesday, and the open house at Don Schumacher Racing on Friday that one of our great sponsors, Big O Tires, helps put on to benefit Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health and Camp Riley is just awesome. It's a great way to start the weekend, it's free to the public, and everyone is invited."
On Sunday, Gray will participate in the highly anticipated Traxxas Nitro Shootout, a special race-within-a-race bonus event that will reward the ultimate victor with a $100,000 purse, and following five rounds of qualifying throughout the weekend, Gray will go to battle for the prestigious Mac Tools U.S. Nationals trophy.
"I'd love to win that Traxxas Shootout, and I'd really love to double up," said Gray, who has collected two victories in three final rounds so far this season. "This Service Central team has every intention of going after that Traxxas Shootout win on Sunday, and you better believe that we're going after the Wally on Monday."
JOHNNY GRAY, NTB/Big O Tires Dodge Charger R/T
Pts Races Wins Rup Poles DNQ Win/Loss
2012 4th 16 2 1 2 0 21-14
Career 197 3 11 3 40 122-154
NHRA FULL THROTTLE FUNNY CAR STANDINGS
(Unofficial through Aug. 19, Brainerd, Minn.; 16 of 23 events; DSR drivers in CAPS)
1. RON CAPPS, 1,228
2. Robert Hight, 1,175
3. JACK BECKMAN, 1,068
4. JOHNNY GRAY, 999
5. Mike Neff, 988
6. Courtney Force, 883
7. Cruz Pedregon, 861
8. John Force, 842
9. Jeff Arend, 781
10. Bob Tasca III, 770
11. MATT HAGAN, 751
TRAXXAS NITRO SHOOTOUT - FUNNY CAR
Sunday (12:30 p.m., 3:30 p.m., 4:30 p.m.)
First-round pairings: 1. RON CAPPS vs. No. 8 fan vote/lottery; 2. Robert Hight vs. No. 7 Jeff Arend; 3. JACK BECKMAN vs. No. 6 John Force; 4. JOHNNY GRAY vs. No. 5 Mike Neff
U.S. NATIONALS FULL THROTTLE NITRO SCHEDULE (all times ET)
WEDNESDAY: NHRA Fanfest, public press conference and autograph session, 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., Monument Circle, Downtown Indianapolis
FRIDAY (Aug. 31): Big O Tires Don Schumacher Racing Open House for Riley Hospital, 10 a.m. - 3 p.m.; Nitro qualifying, 7 p.m.
SATURDAY (Sept. 1): Nitro qualifying, 3:30 p.m., 7 p.m.
SUNDAY (Sept. 2): Nitro qualifying, 12:30 p.m., 3:30 p.m.
MONDAY (Sept. 3): Eliminations, 11 a.m.
Sunday: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. (ET), delayed
Sunday: 5-7 p.m. (ET), delayed
Monday: 12-6 p.m. (ET)
THIS FRIDAY - DON SCHUMACHER RACING OPEN HOUSE
The seventh annual Big O Tires presents the Don Schumacher Racing Open House is Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and will feature each of the seven DSR drivers, an indoor car and bike show, Cacklefest with the legendary "Jungle Jim" Funny car, "330-mph Art & Technology" exhibits and Silent Auction to benefit Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health and Camp Riley.
The annual Open House and other DSR functions have raised more than $175,000 for Riley Hospital.
The event is free to the public.
Silent auction items range from 50-inch HD, flat panel television provided by Aaron's to the actual front end from Matt Hagan's Aaron's Funny Car that was featured worldwide on the Internet and television news programs after the car exploded earlier this season at Charlotte Motor Speedway's zMAX Dragway.
The technology aspect of the Open House will allow visitors for the first time to tour the DSR CNC Machine Shop that includes high-tech machinery used to manufacture more than 200 components used on DSR Top Fuel Dragsters and Funny Cars.
The DSR 8,000-horsepower supercharger dynometer also will be operated at various times throughout the day.
DSR is located at 1681 E. Northfield Drive in Brownsburg about 4 miles west of Lucas Oil Raceway.
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