JOHNNY GRAY CRACKS FIELD FOR 31ST ANNUAL SOUTHERN NATIONALS
COMMERCE, Ga., – Johnny Gray, battling challenging weather and track conditions throughout four-rounds of qualifying, tucked the Service Central Racing Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car into the 15th starting position for tomorrow’s 31st annual NHRA Southern Nationals here at Atlanta Dragway.
According to the Don Schumacher Racing driver, heat, humidity and rain – including a downpour that halted his third-round qualifying attempt as he staged – made driving and tuning an issue on Friday and today for every team on the property.
“It was tough,” said the 58-year-old Artesia, N.M. native and resident. “But Lee Beard (crew chief), Rob Wendland (assistant crew chief) and the guys really answered the call, especially in today’s third round.”
Friday’s qualifying ended with Gray outside the top 12 which meant he received no official time or qualifying position, so it was critical to make the most of Saturday’s sessions, a challenge further intensified by a last-minute intrusion by Mother Nature.
“We weren’t in the field going into the round and the weather was threatening,” he said. “We began the staging process and the rain came, shutting us down. Our guys rushed the car back to the pits, serviced it, did a start-up and got me back to the line in time to make a run before the round ended.
“As it turned out, that was the run (4.244 seconds at 279.32 miles per hour) which got us into the field for the race.”
Gray’s does not see his 15th qualifying position, which earned him a first-round match with Bob Tasca III, as an issue for Sunday.
“Anything can happen on race day,” he said. “Just because we qualified in the bottom-half of the field doesn’t mean we are conceding anything. We will go up to the line in the first round with every intention of winning.”
Gray enters Sunday’s race holding 10th place in the 2011 NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car championship standings. His results this season include a final-round appearance last month in Las Vegas.
“We’ve been to a final round, so anyone who takes us lightly, regardless of our starting position, is foolish,” said the Don Schumacher Racing driver. “We’ve been working on developing consistency all season with the Service Central car. We’ve been making a lot of changes, but we know when we get it right, this is a fast race car.”