SONOMA, Calif. - Big O Tires/SpeeDee Oil Change & Tune-Up Funny Car pilot Johnny Gray and his Service Central team took Sonoma by storm this weekend at the 25th annual NHRA Sonoma Nationals at the scenic raceway in Sonoma. Gray, the No. 6 qualifier, earned the third victory of his Funny Car career in a final-round match with fellow Don Schumacher Racing teammate Matt Hagan.
Gray's Big O Tires/SpeeDee Dodge was excellent on raceday, guided by crew chief Rob Wendland and assistant crew chief Rip Reynolds with the entire team contributing to the stellar outcome. Gray himself was awesome in the driver's seat, leaving ahead of his challengers in each round of eliminations.
The first round paired Gray with Tim Wilkerson, the driver who had served the Artesia, N.M.-based Gray a loss in the opening act at the first race of the season and then again in Houston. This time, however, it was Gray with the upper hand, as he skirted off the starting line a smidge quicker and hustled to the finish line ahead of his tire-smoking opponent to score the round-win and a quarterfinals meeting with Gary Densham.
Gray was first to launch and first to the final timer on the racetrack there as well, and the disposal of Densham meant that he would face DSR teammate Jack Beckman in the semifinals. It was only the second time this season that Gray and Beckman crossed paths on raceday; Beckman beat Gray in the second round in Chicago just a month ago.
Here in Sonoma, though, Gray sent Beckman away empty-handed when he blasted to a 4.09 to eclipse the 4.11 that flashed on the opposite scoreboard. Young Hagan was waiting in the wings, and their match would mark the 15th all-Don Schumacher Racing Funny Car final in the history of the team.
It would also count as the 17th final round of Gray's diverse career as a racecar driver; his scorecard includes a win in Top Alcohol Dragster, two in Top Alcohol Funny Car, three final-round performances in Pro Stock, and three wins in 11 nitro Funny Car finals.
Gray was on his game to halt a very determined Hagan, the defending Full Throttle Series champion who is in the midst of battling for a position in the top 10 before the Countdown to the Championship playoffs begin. The two were nearly identical leaving the starting line, with Gray taking a slight advantage, but Hagan soon got into trouble and Gray raced ahead to victory.
"I have a great racecar, I really do," said an exuberant Gray. "And I never really had a team behind me like I have now. Don Schumacher and Service Central have handed that to me, and it's just a great feeling to have all these people behind this old man.
"As a driver, you get in there and do the best job you know how to do each time. Sometimes you're the windshield, sometimes you're the bug, but you do the best you can and you just absolutely depend on your crew to give you a good, safe racecar. The beauty of my car is I never have to walk around and look to see if everything is like it's supposed to be. I never even give it any thought. When you crawl in a racecar without having to worry about the quality of parts in there or the quality of people working on it, it frees up your mind to just go get in the car and have a good time.
"We had a good time today, and I can't wait to go out there and do it again."
The Full Throttle Series travels north to Seattle for the next event on the tour, the O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Northwest Nationals, Aug. 3-5.
Johnny Gray Big O Tires/SpeeDee Oil Change & Tune-Up Dodge Charger R/T
Qualifying position: No. 6
Round one: Johnny Gray (4.075-second at 313.00 mph) def. Tim Wilkerson (5.103, 146.81)
Round two: Gray (4.115, 303.91) def. Gary Densham (4.574, 198.93)
Semifinals: Gray (4.092, 307.16) def. Jack Beckman (4.118, 304.19)
Final round: Gray (4.142, 305.15) def. Matt Hagan (5.461, 146.67)
FULL THROTTLE SERIES FUNNY CAR STANDINGS
(Following event 14 of 23)
(Includes events through Sonoma, Calif.)
1. Robert Hight 1112
2. Ron Capps 1031
3. Jack Beckman 943
4. Mike Neff 899
5. Johnny Gray 881
6. Cruz Pedregon 761
7. Courtney Force 740
8. Jeff Arend 717
9. Bob Tasca III 687
10. John Force 674
Source: Don Schumacher Racing