Mar 13, 2014, 6:17 PM EDT
The passing of the torch began at the end of last season and still continues in drag racing’s Gray family.
Last season, team patriarch Johnny Gray won an individual single-season high four of his seven career NHRA Funny Car national events, including the NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla.
And while the Carlsbad, N.M. driver ultimately didn’t win his hoped-for first Funny Car championship, he was able to retire from racing at season’s end knowing he had one of the best campaigns of his lengthy and versatile (competed in seven different classes in his NHRA tenure) drag racing career.
A two-time former divisional Top Alcohol Funny Car champ in 1997 and 1998, Gray became the first driver in NHRA annals to exceed 200 mph in a gas-powered car.
Now, the elder Gray will watch from the Gainesville sidelines as sons Shane and Jonathan carry on their father’s legacy.
Shane debuts a brand new 2014 Chevrolet Camaro during the opening round of qualifying Friday at this weekend’s Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Auto-Plus Raceway in Gainesville.
And even though Shane races in a different NHRA car class than his father, he still recalls the excitement when Johnny won last year at Gainesville.
“It was really cool seeing him win last year,” Shane Gray, sixth in the 2014 Pro Stock standings, said of his father’s Gatornationals win. “He certainly paid his dues, so anytime he won, it was real important to me. Last year was special, and it all kind of started at this race for his team. Hopefully this year we’ll go to Gainesville and make him proud.”
Meanwhile, brother Jonathan will also begin his bid to carry on the family racing tradition, making his Pro Stock career debut in this weekend’s race as well. The ink on the younger Gray’s PS license is literally still wet: he just earned his competition license for the class this past Monday in a test session in Florida.
“It’s tons different than my old Comp car,” said Jonathan Gray, who previously raced a Pontiac GTO in NHRA’s Comp eliminator class in 2012. “There is a lot more going on.
“You have to think about throttle control a whole lot more, changing gears, keeping it straight. There is just a whole lot more to worry about in the Pro Stock car than the automatic car, that’s for sure. It was a big sense of relief getting the first burnout out of the way. I know I can do it now, but we’ll see. We’ll see what happens.”
While he’ll likely lean on big brother Shane and dad Johnny for advice and tips, Jonathan is as ready as he can be to make his Pro Stock debut.
“I’m as comfortable as I know how to be in the car right now, and I’m just going to keep chipping away at it, keep getting runs and getting more comfortable,” Jonathan said. “Really and truly, not a whole lot excites me. I’m pretty even. But this does. This excites me.”
Follow me @JerryBonkowski
- IndyCar’s championship contenders ready their thoughts, minds for Sonoma finale 0
- Here are your NBCSN TV times, weekend coverage plan for IndyCar’s Sonoma season finale 0
- Preview: IndyCar will race to honor Wilson, and to close its season, at Sonoma 1
- Andretti to field No. 25 car at Sonoma; Oriol Servia to drive Wilson tribute car 4
- IndyCars cross the Golden Gate Bridge; pay tribute to Justin Wilson (PHOTOS, VIDEO) 5
- Fast Facts: GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma 6
- NHRA: Pro Stock driver Erica Enders hitting on all cylinders heading into U.S. Nationals 3