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NHRA’s Gray’s Career About To Make A Left Turn

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, September 27 2018

Tanner Gray is heading to NASCAR next season.

NHRA Championship Drag Racing will lose one of its rising stars to NASCAR at season’s end, perhaps as a one-and-done world champion.

Pro Stock point-leader Tanner Gray _ who proudly brandishes a stock car-style No. 15 on his Chevrolet Camaro SS _ will transition to the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East fulltime in 2019 with DGR-Crosley. Gray, 19, reportedly also will run select K&N Pro Series West and ARCA Racing Series events next season.

A third-generation racer, Gray replaced father Shane behind the wheel of the family’s Pro Stock entry in 2017 and became the youngest winner in NHRA history at age 17. Gray subsequently won the 2017 Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award as NHRA’s Rookie of the Year.

Gray’s two-year tenure in Pro Stock has produced 11 national event victories thus far in 44 professional starts with the Valvoline/Gray Manufacturing Technologies team led by crew chief Dave Connolly, a former Pro Stock and Top Fuel driver. Gray notched his sixth win of the season last Sunday, defeating Drew Skillman in the final of the seventh annual NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Ill., near St. Louis. The race was the second of six comprising the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship.

“I’m excited to get back to what I grew up doing,” said Gray, a resident of Mooresville, N.C. “Everyone wants to know why I am transitioning to stock cars, but really, drag racing is newer to me than stock car racing. I grew up racing Micro Sprints, then Outlaw Karts at Millbridge (Speedway) and some Late Model stuff with LFR. Stock car racing was the plan all along for me.

“Overall, I feel like NASCAR provides more of a future for younger people, and that was the main reason for my decision. I love racing and with the NHRA, you show up for three days and you’re guaranteed four runs for six seconds. That’s not a lot of seat time. I wanted something that had more dependency on the driver and something that provided more time behind the wheel. I toured the shop with (team co-owner) David Gilliland and we just felt like their program was the right choice for both (younger brother) Taylor and I.”

Gray told NHRA.com his ultimate goal is competing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. “Some people may see that as far-fetched, but I believe I can do it,” Gray told the website. “I have a lot of great people behind me. My dad and grandpa are supporting me, and if I can do it, that’s great. And if not, then it wasn’t meant to be. I’m ready to see how it turns out.” 

In addition to the NASCAR K&N Pro East and ARCA series, DGR-Crosley also competes in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Co-owned by Gilliland and Bo LeMastus, the team is based in Mooresville, N.C.

As noted, the deal with DGR-Crosley also will see Taylor Gray race fulltime in the Late Model division in 2019. Taylor Gray, 13, made his stock car debut earlier this year at famed Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway.

“We’re super-excited to have Tanner and Taylor on-board for next year,” Gilliland said. “They come from a great racing background and both boys have shown they have the natural talent and ability to achieve success in motorsports for many years to come. We started our driver development program for situations exactly like this.”

Tanner Gray has qualified on-pole in six NHRA events, including two this season.  Gray leads the “Factory Hot Rod” class by 52 points over Vincent Nobile after the first two rounds of the playoffs. Gray is bidding to become the youngest professional champion in NHRA history and first in his family, which includes grandfather and retired NHRA competitor Johnny Gray, a seven-time winner in Funny Car.

The Countdown will resume with the 33rd annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals at Texas Motorplex in Ennis from Oct. 4-7. 

Professional point standings (top-10) following the seventh annual AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Ill. The race was the 20th of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and second of six comprising the Countdown to the Championship playoffs:

Top Fuel _1. Steve Torrence, 2,346; 2. Clay Millican, 2,276; 3. Tony Schumacher, 2,225; 4. Leah Pritchett, 2,192; 5. Antron Brown, 2,169; 6. Doug Kalitta, 2,135; 7. Mike Salinas, 2,119; 8.Terry McMillen, 2,093; 9. (tie) Brittany Force, 2,085; Scott Palmer, 2,085.

Funny Car _1. Robert Hight, 2,270; 2. J.R. Todd, 2,240; 3. Courtney Force, 2,200; 4. Tim Wilkerson, 2,196; 5. Ron Capps, 2,182; 6. Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,166; 7. Matt Hagan, 2,144; 8. John Force, 2,116; 9. Jack Beckman, 2,113; 10. Shawn Langdon, 2,086.

Pro Stock _1. Tanner Gray, 2,296; 2. Vincent Nobile, 2,244; 3. Drew Skillman, 2,222; 4. Jeg Coughlin Jr., 2,215; 5. Greg Anderson, 2,206; 6. Erica Enders, 2,192; 7. Jason Line, 2,133; 8. Bo Butner, 2,120; 9. Deric Kramer, 2,104; 10. Chris McGaha, 2,064.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _1. Matt Smith, 2,263; 2. LE Tonglet, 2,242; 3. Eddie Krawiec, 2,222; 4. Hector Arana Jr., 2,214; 5. Andrew Hines, 2,201; 6. Jerry Savoie, 2,154; 7. Angie Smith, 2,115; 8. Steve Johnson, 2,108; 9. Scotty Pollacheck, 2,094; 10. Angelle Sampey, 2,085.

NHRA officials have confirmed a 24-race 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule, featuring the 50th annual Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Florida’s Gainesville Raceway March 14-17. To commemorate the historic occasion, some of NHRA’s most beloved figures will gather to mark the culmination of the year-long NHRA Legends Tour.

All locations on the series schedule are set for 2019 with only a few stops changing dates. The NHRA SpringNationals in Baytown, Texas, near Houston, move up one weekend to April 12-14. Also moving up is the Virginia NHRA Nationals from May 17-19 in Richmond, Va. Conversely, the Menards NHRA Heartland Nationals presented by Minties at Heartland Motorsports Park in Topeka, Kan., has moved to June 7-9. The AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals in Madison, Ill., near St. Louis, will shift down the calendar to Sept. 27-29.

As in years past, the 2019 season will begin at historic Auto Club Raceway at Pomona in Southern California with the 59th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals, Feb. 7-10, and conclude at the same facility with the 55th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals, Nov. 7-10.

All 24 events will be aired exclusively on FOX Sports with select events carried on FOX broadcast network. The over 575 hours of programming will include Friday and Saturday qualifying as well as Sunday finals.

2019 NHRA MELLO YELLO DRAG RACING SERIES SCHEDULE

NHRA MELLO YELLO SERIES REGULAR SEASON

Feb. 7-10 _Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals, Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Calif.

Feb. 22-24 _ NHRA Arizona Nationals, Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, Chandler, Ariz.

March 14-17 _Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals, Gainesville (Fla.) Raceway

April 5-7 _DENSO Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals, The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

April 12-14 _NHRA SpringNationals, Houston Raceway, Baytown, Texas

April 26-28 _NGK Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals, zMAX Dragway, Concord, N.C.

May 3-5 _ NHRA Southern Nationals, Atlanta Dragway, Commerce, Ga.

May 17-19 _Virginia NHRA Nationals, Virginia Motorsports Park, Richmond, Va.

May 30-June 2 _ Route 66 NHRA Nationals, Route 66 Raceway, Joliet, Ill.

June 7-9 _ Menards NHRA Heartland Nationals, Heartland Park Topeka, Kan.

June 14-16 _Fitzgerald NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals, Bristol (Tenn.) Dragway

June 20-23 _Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals, Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park, Norwalk, Ohio

July 5-7 _ NHRA New England Nationals, New England Dragway, Epping, N.H.

July 19-21 _Dodge Mile-High NHRA Nationals, Bandimere Speedway, Morrison, Colo.

July 26-28 _NHRA Sonoma Nationals, Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway

Aug. 2-4 _NHRA Northwest Nationals, Pacific Raceways, Kent, Wash.

Aug. 15-18 _Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals, Brainerd (Minn.) International Raceway

Aug. 28-Sept. 2 _Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, Clermont, Ind.

NHRA MELLO YELLO COUNTDOWN TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP

Sept. 12-15 _Dodge NHRA Nationals, Maple Grove Raceway, Reading, Pa.

Sept. 27-29 _AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals, Gateway Motorsports Park, Madison, Ill.

Oct. 3-6 _AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals, Texas Motorplex, Ennis

Oct. 11-13 _NHRA Carolina Nationals, zMAX Dragway, Concord, N.C.

Oct. 24-27 _NHRA Nevada Nationals, The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Nov. 7-10 _Auto Club NHRA Finals, Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Calif.

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, September 27 2018
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