POMONA, Calif. – The 2012 season of NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing has been a strenuous challenge beyond Pro Stock driver Shane Gray's wildest imagination.
For third-year driver Gray, the Auto Club of Southern California NHRA Finals signified the last page of a book he is eager to shelve so that he and his Gray Motorsports team can crack open a volume with a much happier ending.
Even so, when the always-motivated Service Central-backed team pulled into Auto Club Raceway at Pomona with their Big O Tires Pontiac to write the last chapter of the season, they had hope.
Pre-eliminations passes stoked the fire of their determination as the team improved upon their initial 6.614-second, 208.81 mph hit with a 6.58 at 209 and then an even better 6.573 at 210.05 before closing out qualifying with a 6.590, 209.92.
Gray earned a start from the No. 12 position and a first-round meeting with Erica Enders, who was awarded the win after Gray's Pontiac GXP stumbled off the starting line.
"It just shook and washed out, and it was over with," said Gray. "But you know what? It's okay. I reached up, shut the motor off, and I told myself, 'Whew, it's over.
I'm glad it's over.' Now we'll go back to the shop and get to working on next year. This has been a really, really tough year, and I'm ready to put it behind us."
Gray has surrounded himself by motivated and determined individuals all season long, including crew chief Justin Elkes, who explained that in their last run of the season they had taken an aggressive approach to a racing surface that was unable to accept what they brought to the table.
"We weren't leaving anything on the table, but I didn't think we were so aggressive that it would cause [the tires to shake]," said Elkes. "The track wasn't as good as a lot of us thought, and as the session went on, it got better.
But we did what we had to do, and even if we would have gone out there and run a 6.55, we still would have gone home.
"I think the positive is that this team is willing to make changes, and that the change of direction we've already made is showing promise. I think we're seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, and when we show up next year, we'll be better.
Shane's right, this has been a tough season. But we're going to go test here in a couple of weeks with some new things and we plan to be back out here next year with a new car, a new engine package, and a better outcome at the end of the season."