GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Johnny Gray set some goals at the beginning of the 2013 season, and this weekend he is thrilled to be able to check one of those goals off the list: winning the Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals.
Gray got the deed done on Sunday at Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville and earned the fourth Funny Car win of his career and first of the year to tie Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps for the top spot in the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series standings.
In the second round, his 4.08 at 312 topped Alexis DeJoria and sent him ahead to the semifinals for the second time this season, where he slowed to a 4.14 but still got the win light over troubled DSR teammate Jack Beckman.
The final round pitted Gray against Del Worsham, his Checker-Schuck's-Kragen teammate in the 2002 and 2003 seasons.
The pair put on an awesome show; Gray was first off the starting line with a .073 reaction to Worsham's .095 and kept his lead in the Pitch Energy Dodge for a 4.05 to 4.10 win.
For Gray, who will celebrate his 60th birthday on Wednesday, his booming 315.49 mph speed in the final run of the day was the icing on the cake.
The victory was even more treasured as Gray and his sister, Terry Chandler, are funding the Pitch Energy Dodge in honor of their late father, John R. Gray, in what will be Gray's final full-time season in a Funny Car.
The gorgeous paint scheme on the car includes an image of John R. in a cowboy hat next to his old pick-up, and two weeks ago at the race in Phoenix, Gray had troubles on the racetrack and bumped the guard wall, scratching the paint.
"My dad has been a little bit [grumpy] these last few weeks, but we got his hat painted back on, and I think he's in a pretty good mood today," joked Gray.
"But seriously, there is nothing like what happened here today. I have to thank my wife Terry and my sister Terry Chandler, and I'm just so grateful to my crew chiefs Rob Wendland and Rip Reynolds and the whole team.
I've got a great family and the best team out here, and I'm having the best time racing with these guys."
Last year, Gray was a finalist on Monday at the rain-delayed Gatornationals but lost out on the victory when he ended up on the wrong side of a pedalfest with Robert Hight.
The win in Gainesville was special for so many reasons, but there is no denying that part of the joy in the experience is that it soothes the sting of what happened at Auto-Plus Raceway last year.
"Being that this is my last year racing, this is just so great," said Gray. "I was pretty disappointed last year - we had a good racecar, and we should have won it. But we definitely got our redemption this year.
Everyone knows that this is such a historic race, and to finally win this prestigious race with the fans just packed in and everyone just cheering you on like that, well it's awesome. Just awesome."
The victory was a momentous achievement, not just for Gray and his Pitch Energy team, but also for Don Schumacher Racing. 40 years ago, pioneering Funny Car driver and owner Don Schumacher won his first NHRA national event trophy at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, and today's victories by Don Schumacher Racing drivers Gray and Antron Brown (Top Fuel), were wins No. 199 and 200.
"It was awesome to be part of this," said Gray, of the monumental feat. "Don has been absolutely great to me. It's an awesome feeling for Antron and I both, but it's also an awesome feeling for Ron Capps, who won the last race, and everybody back down the line who contributed to this, starting with Don winning his first. Just to be a part of it, to be part of his organization is really unbelievable."
With the win, Gray qualified for the Traxxas Nitro Shootout bonus race that will take place later this year at the U.S. Nationals.
"We're thrilled to death to win this race early and get in the Traxxas deal," said Gray. "We're just thrilled to death, period, and we sure plan on winning more this year. This is just fun."
Don Schumacher Racing