Photos courtesy Gray Motorsports

Johnny, Shane and Tanner Gray will make NHRA history at this weekend’s U.S. Nationals

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BROWNSBURG, Indiana – Like father, like son, like grandfather. That’s going to be one of the big storylines at this weekend’s Chevrolet Performance NHRA U.S. Nationals.

For the first time in NHRA history, three generations of drag racers will compete in the same racing class in a national event. And it comes in the annual biggest race of the season, at Lucas Oil Raceway, just outside Indianapolis.

You might call it three shades of Gray, as veteran racer Johnny Gray will lead a family onslaught in Pro Stock along with son Shane and grandson Tanner.

“I am one proud grandpa and father,” Johnny Gray said. “Being a part of the first three generations to race professionally together is neat, but I see it as racing the biggest race of the year with the closest people to you and may one of us get the win.”

A veteran Funny Car driver, Johnny Gray, 64, retired after the 2013 season and didn’t plan to get back behind the wheel of another race car ever again.

But when the unique opportunity arose for the eldest Gray to race with – and against – his son and grandson in the NHRA’s marquee race, the competitive juices started flowing again and he pulled down the his helmet from his closet and threw it into the ring once again.

Tanner Gray (photo courtesy NHRA)

“I’m really looking forward to it and everybody else is, too,” Tanner Gray said. “The main thing is for all of us to stay calm and focused on what we have to do.

“I wouldn’t be here without my grandpa or my dad.”

Shane Gray, 45, decided to take a hiatus from racing after last season, turning over the keys to the family’s Pro Stock Chevrolet Camaro in 2017 to son Tanner, who turned 18 in April.

The Gray talent is obviously in Tanner’s genes, not to mention he’s been around drag racing with his father and grandfather his entire life.

That’s why he was Shane’s hand-picked replacement.

“Getting the opportunity to race alongside my grandpa and dad at an event like the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals is pretty special,” Tanner Gray said. “Having an opportunity to make more history by being the first three generations of one family to compete professionally in the same class makes this rookie season I am having even more awesome.”

The youngest racing Gray has been one of the most pleasant surprises in both Pro Stock and overall NHRA racing this season, racking up a series-leading four wins already in the first 23 national events. At 18, he became the youngest winner in an NHRA national event in all pro series.

“If you told me I’d have four wins at this point of the season, I’d have told you you were crazy,” Tanner Gray said. “I’m just enjoying myself and having a real fun time – and hopefully, we can keep it up.”

Tanner Gray is currently No. 2 in the Pro Stock standings and is locked in to the upcoming six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

“I cannot praise my Gray Motorsports guys enough,” Tanner Gray said. “They are the ones who are making me look good and making my job easy.

“My guys really have this car dialed in. Dave (crew chief Dave Connolly) has it figured out. We have some great equipment. I am very blessed to be in this position. I have done a small part and have to give all of the glory to my guys.”

All three Grays will drive Chevy Camaros with Valvoline sponsorship and logos from different eras.

Johnny’s Camaro SS will carry a Valvoline logo from the 1950s. The company has sponsored Johnny Gray for many years.

Shane will drive a Camaro SS with a Valvoline logo from the 1970s.

When he saw all the fun his son was having, Shane decided to return to the circuit early on this season on a part-time basis, capturing the Gatornationals in Gainesville, Florida.

“Racing alongside my dad and Tanner at Indy with each of us carrying the Valvoline logos from different eras will be a lot of fun and I am looking forward to it.”

Tanner will drive a Camaro SS with a Valvoline logo from 2000.

As for his hopes this weekend, Tanner, who won the two weeks ago at Brainerd, Minnesota, wants to win — even if it means potentially beating his father and grandfather in the process.

“Winning at Indy would be awesome,” Tanner Gray said. “My dad has won here back in 2014 and I remember how big of a deal it was. Racing with my Dad and Grandpa this weekend would also add to the win.

“If I can do my job as a driver, we should see the final round on Sunday. Hopefully my dad or grandpa is lined up against me on the other side.”

All three Grays did some fine tuning on Monday and Tuesday, testing at zMax Dragway in Concord, N.C., — about 20 miles from the team’s Denver, N.C. headquarters – before heading out for the 500-mile trek to Indianapolis for this weekend’s race.

“I am out here to have a good time racing with my son Tanner,” Shane Gray said. “Making consistent runs to collect as much data as we can to elevate our Gray Motorsports program in preparation for the Countdown is our primary focus.”

Added Johnny Gray, “I am probably the most excited out of the three of us to race this weekend. The trash talk has begun and after testing this week, Tanner and Shane better not underestimate my ability at the starting line.”

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IndyCar’s revised schedule gives Tony Kanaan an extra race in 2020

INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibinski
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Tony Kanaan got a bit of good news when the latest revised NTT IndyCar Series schedule was released Monday.

Kanaan’s “Ironman Streak” of 317 consecutive starts would have concluded with the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 15. That race was postponed, and the races that followed have been canceled or rescheduled later in the year. The season tentatively is scheduled to start June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway.

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is the reason for the tentative nature of this year’s 2020 NTT IndyCar Series schedule.

Kanaan, the 2004 IndyCar Series champion and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner, started the season with a limited schedule for A.J. Foyt Racing in the No. 14 Chevrolet. That schedule included all five oval races, including the 104th Indianapolis 500.

A silver lining for Kanaan is that this year’s trip to Iowa Speedway will be a doubleheader, instead of a single oval contest. His schedule has grown from five to six races for 2020, should the season start on time with the June 6 contest at Texas Motor Speedway and the additional race at Iowa.

“I’m really happy that IndyCar has been very proactive about the schedule and keeping us posted with the plans,” Kanaan told NBCSports.com Tuesday afternoon from his home in Indianapolis. “I’m double happy that now with Iowa being a doubleheader, I’m doing six races instead of five.”

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Kanaan’s “Last Lap” is something that many fans and competitors in IndyCar want to celebrate. He has been a fierce foe on the track but also a valued friend outside the car to many of his fellow racers.

He also has been quite popular with fans and likely is the most popular Indianapolis 500 driver of his generation.

Scott Dixon was Kanaan’s teammate at Chip Ganassi Racing from 2013-17. At one time, they were foes but eventually became friends.

“I hope it’s not T.K.’s last 500,” Dixon told NBCSports.com. “I was hoping T.K. would get a full season. That has changed. His first race of what was going to his regular season was going to be the 500. Hopefully, that plays out.

“You have to look at T.K. for who he is, what he has accomplished and what he has done for the sport. He has been massive for the Indianapolis 500, for the city of Indianapolis to the whole culture of the sport. He is a legend of the sport.

“We had our differences early in our career and had problems in 2002 and 2003 and 2004 when we were battling for championships. We fought for race wins and championships in the 2000s. I’ve been on both sides, where he was fighting against me in a championship or where he was fighting with me to go for a championship. He is a hell of a competitor; a fantastic person.

“I hope it’s not his last, but if it is, I hope it’s an extremely successful one for him this season.”

Even before Kanaan joined Chip Ganassi Racing, Dixon admitted he couldn’t help but be drawn to Kanaan’s personality.

“T.K. is a very likable person,” Dixon said. “You just have to go to dinner with the guy once, and you understand why that is. The ups and downs were a competitive scenario where he was helping you for a win or helping someone else for a win. There was never a dislike or distrust. We always got along very well.

“We are very tight right now and really close. He is a funny-ass dude. He has always been a really good friend for me, that’s for sure.”

Back in 2003 when both had come to the old Indy Racing League after beginning their careers in CART, the two drivers were racing hard for the lead at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan on April 13, 2003. They were involved in a hard crash in Turn 2 that left Kanaan broken up with injuries. IRL officials penalized Dixon for “aggressive driving.” Dixon had to sit out the first three days of practice for the next race – the 2003 Indianapolis 500.

Kanaan recovered in time and did not miss any racing. He started second and finished third in that year’s Indy 500.

“We were racing hard and going for the win,” Dixon recalled of the Motegi race. “It was a crucial part of the season. Everybody has to be aggressive. I respect Tony for that. He was not letting up. That is what I always saw with Tony, how hard the guy will push. He will go to the absolute limit, and that is why he was inspiring and why he was a successful driver.

“Those moments are blips. You might not talk to the guy for a week, but then you are back on track. T.K. is very close with our family and we are with his.”

This season, because of highly unusual circumstances, T.K.’s IndyCar career will last for one more race than previously scheduled.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500