BRAINERD, Minn. (Aug. 15, 2012) - NTB/Service Central Racing Funny Car pilot Johnny Gray is still a thrill-seeker. His eyes are still wide with anticipation, his veins still crave the rush of natural adrenaline, and he still walks along the road of life kicking over rocks in search of fun.
None of that has changed in the past year since the Artesia, New Mexico-based driver won his first nitro Funny Car national event title at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals in Brainerd, but boy, has Gray's program picked up, and that should be bad news for his fellow Funny Car competitors at this season's rendition of the annual event held at Brainerd Int'l Raceway.
In 2011, Gray qualified his Service Central-backed Dodge Charger in the No. 7 position and eliminated Jeff Arend, Cruz Pedregon and Bob Tasca III before squaring off with Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps in the raceday final. Their match was truly something to see as neither driver was willing to give an inch, and Gray scored a narrow 4.11 to 4.13 victory to take home the first NHRA trophy as a professional fuel Funny Car racer.
"It would be real nice to go up there and repeat, and we've got a hot rod that could do it," said Gray. "Last year was sure special - it would have been a lot more special if my wife, Terry, had been there to share it with me. But we went up there with a pretty good racecar thinking we maybe could have a chance.
"This year we have a totally different mentality; there is just no comparison whatsoever from last year to this year in terms of our program. This is a whole new deal, and we have shown ourselves and everyone else that we absolutely have the capability to put together four good runs and get that win. There's no maybe about it."
Since claiming that first national event title last year, Gray has returned to the final round a remarkable six times, and he has twice more brought home the win with victories earned this season at the SuperNationals in Englishtown and the NHRA Sonoma Nationals. Gray, currently fourth in the Full Throttle Series Funny Car points, only needs to make a qualifying pass in Brainerd to secure a position in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs.
"I don't think anybody was really that afraid to be in the other lane at this time last year, but now they have a different attitude when they see the NTB/Service Central car," said Gray. "They know they better put their best foot forward."
With temperatures throughout the weekend expected to be in the low 70s - the coolest block of days that the Full Throttle Series tour has experienced in some time - Brainerd will provide drivers and crews with a much-needed respite from the blazing heat and should allow them the opportunity to return to the go-fast conditions they so crave.
For Gray, the scenery is ideal to underscore what he and the NTB/Service Central crew have already established: they cannot be taken lightly.
"Oh, we're excited to get there," said Gray. "This should be real interesting."
2012 Pts Races Wins R-Up Poles DNQ Win/Loss
4th 15 2 1 2 0 20-13
Career Races Titles R-Up Poles DNQ Win/Loss
196 3 11 3 40 121-153
NHRA FULL THROTTLE STANDINGS
(Through Kent, Wash., 15 of 23 events; DSR drivers in CAPS; *clinched spots in Countdown)
1. *Robert Hight, 1,143
2. *RON CAPPS, 1,112
3. *JACK BECKMAN, 1,003
4. JOHNNY GRAY, 942
5. Mike Neff, 933
6. Courtney Force, 851
7. Cruz Pedregon, 803
8. Jeff Arend, 749
9. John Force, 746
10. Bob Tasca, 739
11. MATT HAGAN, 677
FULL THROTTLE NITRO SCHEDULE:
Friday: Qualifying, 3 and 6 p.m. (CT)
Saturday: Qualifying, 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. (CT)
Sunday: Eliminations at 11 a.m. (CT)
Saturday: 11 p.m.-1 a.m. (ET), delayed
Sunday: 9-11 p.m. (ET), delayed
Thank you for signing up to receive Shoe’s News.