ARTESIA, N.M. (March 12, 2013) - In 2012, Don Schumacher Racing Funny Car driver Johnny Gray wheeled his Dodge Charger R/T to the final round on Monday at the rain-delayed event at Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville, but he was turned away empty handed when it came down to the wire. This year, Gray plans to finish what he started and turn on four win lights on raceday in the Pitch Energy Dodge at the 44th annual Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals, the third event of 24 on the 2013 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.
The Artesia, N.M.-based driver should have everything he needs to get the job done. Gray had the quickest Funny Car on the property just two weeks ago in Phoenix to earn the fourth No. 1 qualifier award of his career, and he and his team, including crew chief Rob Wendland and assistant crew chief Rip Reynolds, have been hunters and gatherers over the past couple of seasons as they built a logbook bursting with data for varying racing surfaces and air conditions.
For Gray, a three-time Funny Car winner, the runner-up finish to Robert Hight in the Gatornationals money round last season was one of 12 times that he has just missed scoring an event title. Currently fifth in the Mello Yello Funny Car standings, Gray is fired up to alter the balance of his career statistics and finish the year - his final full season as a professional competitor - in a better position than ever before.
"I definitely believe we could take our Pitch Energy Dodge one step further this year," said Gray. "Rob and Rip are really coming into their own, and just the whole team is having a real large time. Everybody is in a good mood, and you know what? A good mood produces good performance. I think we have the upper hand going into Gainesville, for sure."
At the most recent event in Phoenix, the NHRA Arizona Nationals, Gray qualified in stellar fashion but got into trouble in the first round of eliminations when the tires of his Pitch Energy Dodge disagreed with the racing surface and the car jumped out of the groove. Gray was on and off the throttle attempting to regain a straight and steady charge towards the finish line, but his efforts were unsuccessful and ultimately resulted in a brief run-in with the guard wall that scratched the painted image of his father, the late John R. Gray, located on the right quarter panel.
"Yeah, we kind of stepped on ourselves there in Phoenix, and I tried to pedal it, but I guess I pedaled it one too many times," said Gray. "The saying goes, 'You can't fix stupid,' and most drivers, we're just kind of stupid. I stepped right up there with the best of them when I did that - but sometimes the desire to win overcomes common sense, and you just try a little too hard.
"But we're ready for Gainesville, the car is ready, we got the old man's hat put back on and he looks happy. I've got a birthday coming up just after Gainesville - I'm turning 60 on March 20th - and at this point in time, I plan on celebrating that milestone with a Wally [trophy]."
Don Schumacher Racing