It will be a family affair for Pro Stock driver Shane Gray and his dad, Johnny, at this weekend's Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals presented by NAPAFilters.com.
Pro Stock driver Shane Gray and his dad, Johnny, who competes in the Funny Car class (LEFT), are one of many father-son tandems who have competed side by side in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series over the years.
It was the sport's history of strong family ties and the passing of the racing torch through generations that led NHRA to launch its Nitro Generation celebration this season. The Gray family epitomizes NHRA's Nitro Generation theme, as they have demonstrated the Nitro Gene is alive and well and they fully embrace the NHRA lifestyle.
Both drivers hope to end their weekend at the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals presented by NAPAFilters.com, March 8-11 at historic Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville with a family photo in the winner's circle. If they are both holding Wally trophies, it would be even better.
The 2011 winners of the tradition-rich NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event were Del Worsham (Top Fuel), Mike Neff (Funny Car), Jason Line (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle). The race will be televised by ESPN2HD.
Although both are New Mexico natives, Johnny recently bought a home in Florida and expects to be plenty busy during the weekend hosting family and friends and helping Shane tune his 200mph Tire Kingdom-sponsored Pro Stock car. Oh, and if that's not enough to keep him busy, he also has to work some time into his schedule to drive his 7,000-horsepower Service Central Dodge Charger in the Funny Car class.
“Yeah, it's a little hectic getting ready for Gatornationals,” the elder Gray said. “But it will be great to have all our family there and represent Service Central and Tire Kingdom. We'll be burning up some gasoline in the scooter going from pit to pit. We're just all coming down to have a big time and put on the best show we can for the fans and our sponsors.”
For Shane, who finished in the top 10 the last two seasons in the Pro Stock division and has earned two victories, he is looking forward to the competition and the bonding time.
“I enjoy racing with my dad,” the younger Gray said. “It's a lot of fun sharing the experience, and the best part is that this is family time for us. Amber (wife) and the boys are with us at the track, my mom is there. It's just a great way for us to all spend time together, and the bottom line is that family is what matters.”
Both drivers enter the event holding down positions in the Full Throttle Top 10. Johnny, who had one of the strongest performing cars during the last six races of the 2011 season, is eighth overall in Funny Car after racing to the No. 1 qualifying position in Phoenix two weeks ago. Shane is tied for ninth in Pro Stock after a couple of disappointing early round losses in Pomona and Phoenix. Shane hopes to increase his position in the standings with a strong performance at his sponsor's race.
“I'm really looking forward to racing in Gainesville because it's such a good track,” Gray said. “It's going to be fast down there, and that always makes it a lot of fun… I'm always looking forward to going to a track where we have good air, a good surface and good barometer. All the fans at the Tire Kingdom Gatornationals should expect to see a good race.
“It's also a race backed by our primary sponsor,” Gray continued. “Service Central and their people have been very good to us, and we're happy to represent them by wearing the Tire Kingdom colors at the event. It's also nice to get a little extra attention and have the opportunity to really interact with the fans. They make this whole thing worthwhile.”
Shane will be challenged by a host of talented Pro Stock drivers, led by series leader and four-time world champ Greg Anderson, a two-time Gatornationals winner, and his teammate, Line, the defending Pro Stock world champ who has won the last three Gatornationals titles and four overall. Jeg Coughlin, Vincent Nobile, Erica Enders, Allen Johnson, Greg Stanfield and Rodger Brogdon are also drivers to watch in the factory hot rod category.
In Funny Car, rookie sensations Courtney Force and Alexis DeJoria have been stealing the headlines, but Mike Neff, Robert Hight and John Force are the trio which sits atop the points order. Jack Beckman, Ron Capps, Cruz Pedregon, Jeff Arend, and surprise rookie challenger Todd Lesenko are all among a strong contingent of pre-race favorites. Defending world champ Matt Hagan is currently outside the top 10 and the Virginia cattle rancher will try to move back into title contention with a strong showing this weekend.
Antron Brown leads the way in Top Fuel in his Matco Tools dragster, while seven-time world champ and four-time Gatornationals winner Tony Schumacher will be looking for more success at the Swamp. A strong group of drivers will provide a solid challenge to Brown and Schumacher, including Spencer Massey, Morgan Lucas, Shawn Langdon, Doug Kalitta, Bob Vandergriff and Brandon Bernstein.
The Pro Stock Motorcycle category opens its 16-race season and defending series champ Krawiec, rider of the Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson, will try to add his third consecutive Gatornationals victory to his resume and begin the process of defending his series crown. Krawiec, who increased the national record to 199.26mph here last year also will try to become the first rider to break the 200mph barrier in the two-wheel category. All of the usual suspects in the two-wheel category are entered in the field, including three-time world champ Andrew Hines, last season's rookie of the year Hector Arana Jr., past world champs Matt Smith and Hector Arana Sr., veterans Karen Stoffer, Steve Johnson and Michael Phillips, and a few notable rookies, including Anne Hansen, Scotty Pollacheck and John Hall.