Johnny Gray fired up for 2013 campaign

Service Central Funny Car driver Johnny Gray has had one heck of a season. The patriarch of the motorsports-loving Gray family has blazed a trail through the 2012 season of Full Throttle Series Drag Racing, making his way to four final rounds and bringing home the coveted Wally trophy twice (Englishtown and Sonoma), racing to the top of the field for a pair of Low Qualifier Awards (Phoenix and Norwalk), and blasting into the top 10 to earn a spot in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs and a viable shot at the world title.

Johnny Gray
Johnny Gray

Photo by: NHRA

Gray came to Auto Club Raceway at Pomona for the Auto Club of Southern California NHRA Finals positioned fourth in the series standings and looking for a strong finish to a very good year. The Artesia, N.M.-based driver had a team behind him that rallied during qualifying to help him earn a start from the top half of the field - eighth - and they all collectively worked to establish a great raceday set up. Unfortunately, the season came to a too-early conclusion for the Service Central branch of the Don Schumacher Racing stable when Gray was on the bad side of an opening round pedalfest with Robert Hight.

"The car left real good, but it was just absolutely trying to run too hard for the track conditions," said Gray. "It just kept getting faster and faster and faster and finally just came loose down there. When it did, I pedaled it - and normally it doesn't drop that many cylinders, but it dropped four, ran just a little more, and dropped two more. It was running on two cylinders by the time it got to the finish line."

Crew chief Rob Wendland explained that the plan for round one was to put a run on the scoreboard that was at least as fast as their qualifying best, a 4.046 at 311.20 mph. But as the No. 8 qualified car, the team was relegated to the last pair to go down the track in the opening round.

"We felt pretty confident with what we could do after our teammate, Jack Beckman, ran that 4.03 [in his first-round victory], but the track started going downhill," said Wendland. "There haven't been very many times this year that we've run in the very back of the pack, and I should have been better at reading what was happening to the track [as the round progressed]. Our car was just too aggressive for the track conditions. It was on two cylinders down there, and it needed one more. That's all it needed."

The outcome of the event moved Gray down two notches to finish a career-best sixth in the Full Throttle Funny Car points. Gray's previous best ending to any season of professional NHRA competition was in 2009 when he closed out the year ninth in the Pro Stock points. This year was the fourth time that the seasoned driver has finished in the top 10; he was 10th in 2002 (Funny Car) and again in 2010 (Pro Stock).

"Naturally, I'm a little bit disappointed right now with how things came out, but all in all, it's been a great year," said Gray. "My crew chiefs, Rob Wendland and Rip Reynolds, and the whole Service Central team did a great job, and we've learned so much. We've proved that we can run with the best of them. Next year we'll start the season and come out bull-bore to get that No. 1 on our car."

Don Schumacher Racing