Pomona: Jerry Gracia preview

Pomona, Calif. - - Both Jeff Gracia, 34, from Ontario, Calif., and his teammate Bob Panella, Jr., 29, from Stockton, Calif., will be starting off 2001 with something new. Panella and his wife Tiffanie became parents for the first time when ...

Pomona, Calif. - - Both Jeff Gracia, 34, from Ontario, Calif., and his teammate Bob Panella, Jr., 29, from Stockton, Calif., will be starting off 2001 with something new. Panella and his wife Tiffanie became parents for the first time when Alexander Riley Panella was born December 12, 2000. The AutoZone Winternationals, which unfolds this weekend at Pomona Dragway in Pomona, Calif., will mark the first drag race for young Alex. It will also mark the first race for the new GMC Pro Stock Truck which Gracia will drive.

"Last year, because we ran chassis built by two different builders, it was difficult to share much data between Bob (Panella) and myself," said Gracia, a former Stock and Super Stock driver who moved to Pro Stock Truck at the Finals in 1999. "This year should be different. Both Panella's Chevy S-10 and my GMC were built by Jerry Haas and use the same basic chassis. We've already seen positive results from our testing. If something works on one truck, we can take it to the other truck and expect nearly the same results."

Racing for the entire season in 2000, Gracia finished seventh in the Winston Pro Stock Truck point battle. He reached the semi-finals three times, including the season-ending AAA Auto Club Finals held on the Pomona Raceway quarter-mile. He also reached the second round at the AutoZone Winternationals held here last February.

"I like racing here because it's my home track and many of my friends and family have an opportunity to come out and visit. With the series crisscrossing the country and lasting from February to November, it seems that you don't have enough time for friends," reflected Gracia.

Panella, the two-time Winston Pro Stock Truck Champion feels that teammate Gracia will add to the total Bob Panella Motorsports program. "Every engine we've got for this season is as good as I can build, so neither of us will suffer in the power department. Plus, Jeff's got a year's experience behind him now and that's going to help. He's done an awesome job driving. I couldn't ask for anymore from his ability. He's not a variable in the performance of the truck at all," said Panella.

"I think you'll see Jeff finish higher in the points in 2001. With a little luck and reversing some bad decisions on my part, he could have finished higher this past year. I see Jeff putting that GMC truck in the top five in points this season and he definitely has the opportunity to win a race or two, " smiled Panella.

Gracia agrees with his teammate's assessment. "We struggled some with the old chassis last year. This year, with the new chassis, a top five isn't out of the question. Right now, I would like to start the season out on a high note. A Panella versus Gracia final here at Pomona would be nice," said Gracia, as his thoughts turned toward the AutoZone Winternationals.

-Mickey Schultz

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Bob Panella , Jeff Gracia , Jerry Haas