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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Title contenders stumble on the streets of Toronto

Photo: IndyCar
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The championship picture of the Verizon IndyCar Series saw a massive shakeup after Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto. While points leader Scott Dixon ended up in victory lane, his third win on the streets of Toronto and his third win of the 2018 season, all of his championship rivals stumbled.

Josef Newgarden, the pole sitter and second-place man in championship – he trailed Dixon by 33 points entering Sunday – led from the pole and looked to be a contender for the win, but a Lap 34 restart saw his day come apart.

Newgarden ran wide exiting the final corner coming to the green flag and smacked the outside wall. He plummeted through the field and pitted under caution – for a Turn 1 pileup involving Graham Rahal, Max Chilton, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Will Power, and Sebastien Bourdais – to allow the No. 1 Hitachi Chevrolet Team Penske group to examine the car for damage.

Newgarden continued on, but was never a contender the rest of the day, ultimately finishing ninth.

“I knew it would be low grip, but not zero grip. I just lost the front end completely,” Newgarden said in describing how the wall contact happened. “I feel terrible, it’s not fun to make a mistake.”

Alexander Rossi, who sits third in the championship, ran a steady sixth in the first stint until Lap 27, when contact with Will Power damaged his front wing. Rossi was then caught up in the melee on the Lap 34 restart, getting airborne over the left-front of his Andretti Autosport teammate Hunter-Reay.

Rossi again pitted for a new front wing – he had six stops in total – and ended up eighth on a day when he felt like a podium beckoned.

“It’s a pretty disappointing result. I don’t think we had the car to beat Scott (Dixon), but for sure with the problems that everyone had, we could’ve finished second. It’s been a difficult string of races,” Rossi said afterward.

Hunter-Reay, too, had a day forget. After going from sixth to third on the start, he spun his No. 28 DHL Honda into the Turn 3 Barrier on Lap 27. And like Rossi, he was caught up in the Lap 34 pileup, falling off the lead lap in the process.

Hunter-Reay languished in 16th at the checkered flag.

“It was a very unfortunate day and a big loss for us in points,” Hunter-Reay lamented. “The DHL Honda was running comfortable in third and pushing hard, but I had too much front brake lock and found the tire barrier – that’s my fault. Then after that, we got caught up in a wreck, which put us a lap down. From there we just fought to stay in front of the leader.”

Power, too, hit his struggles after the first stint, when contact with the Turn 11 wall, an incident similar to the one that his Team Penske teammate Newgarden had, bent the right-rear suspension of his No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet. He also had contact with Rossi later that lap.

Power lost two laps in the pits as the team made repairs, and he took the checkered flag in 18th.

“In the last corner, I brushed the wall and bent a rear toe link, so the car was a little bit out of whack. I didn’t even know that (Alexander) Rossi and I touched. I was just kind of trying to hang on until we got a yellow and could pit,” Power explained. “I’ve never had so many DNFs; not DNF for this race, but like a DNF in a season. Still, it’s kind of how this sport can go.”

All told, their struggles mean that Dixon leads the championship by 62 points over Newgarden. Rossi sits third, 70 points of the lead, followed by Hunter-Reay and Power, who sit 91 and 93 points out of the lead respectively.

And the next race, the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio (July 29 on NBCSN) won’t make it easy for them to make up ground, as Dixon’s record there is astoundingly strong. The four-time IndyCar champion has five wins at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, his most recent triumph coming in 2014, a race in which he famously came from last on the grid (22nd) to win.

Conversely, Newgarden, Rossi, Hunter-Reay, and Power have a combined one win at Mid-Ohio (Newgarden, last year).

However, the likes of Newgarden and Rossi still appear confident that they can make up for their Toronto struggles.

“We have to move on now and try to pick it back up. With the championship battle, we’ve got a long way to go. This doesn’t help but look, we have plenty of racing (left),” said Newgarden. “We need to keep our head up here. We’re going to be just fine, we’ve got fast cars and the best in the business. If we get our mistakes sorted out, we’re going to be just fine.”

Rossi, who finished sixth at Mid-Ohio last year, echoed similar sentiment, and thinks Mid-Ohio presents an opportunity to get back on track.

“We’re very good at Mid-Ohio, we’re kind of circling Toronto and Mid-Ohio as two races we were going to be pretty good at, so we got to reset, man, and just execute,” Rossi explained afterward. “We’re fast. We’re there every weekend. That’s the important thing. It’s a lot harder to be outside the top 10 and looking for answers. We’re fighting for pole every weekend. We’re in the Fast Six virtually every weekend, so you’re putting yourself in position to have a good result, it hasn’t come really since Texas.”

The 2018 championship is far from over – the season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma being a double-points event helps ensure as much. But, if Dixon does claim the 2018 title, Toronto may be the race that serves as the turning point.

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