In fact, one driver said the 18-year-old Gray was a “cocky little puke.”
He’s also fast – and a winner.
Two weeks ago, Gray won the Countdown playoff opener at his home track in North Carolina for his fifth Pro Stock victory of the season. That gave him the points lead, though he dropped to third behind Bo Butner and Greg Anderson last week in Pennsylvania. The young star has a chance to get back on top Sunday with a victory in the NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park.
“He’s an instant success story,” Anderson said Friday. “When he told the world he’s going to contend for the championship in the first year, a lot of people thought he was crazy. But he’s proved he was right. He’s got a great chance to win it.”
Tanner’s father, Shane, and grandfather, Johnny, are racers. In fact, the three of them raced together at the U.S. Nationals in Indiana over the Labor Day weekend.
Gray has been able to back up his talk with his performance on the track.
He was put in a car that was competitive from the beginning in the opener in Pomona, California. Although he qualified ninth and was eliminated in the second round at Pomona, he made a statement.
At Las Vegas, Gray became the youngest champion ever at 17 years, 11 months, 18 days. He also won at Topeka, Kansas; Sonoma, California; Brainerd, Minnesota; and Concord, North Carolina.
“Some people say he was put in a fast car,” said mother Amber. “Well he was put in a fast car, but you have to have the ability to leave the starting line. He has proven himself to do that.”
The fact that Gray doesn’t have to answer to any sponsors has a lot to do with what comes out of his mouth. Most drivers choose their words carefully when talking to the media for fear of saying the wrong thing, which might cause a team to lose a major sponsor.
But Gray fires away and is not afraid to say what’s on his mind.
“Everybody has their own opinions on things,” he said. “I really don’t care what people think about me. I’m going to go out there and try to drive to the best of my ability and do the best I can.
“That’s really the only reason I’m out here. If we were out here to please everybody, nobody would be any good.”
Amber Gray thinks working with and for family can be problematic in a good way.
“It is a different environment. … But it’s always good to have the family and have the support out here,” she said. “We are blessed that his grandfather is willing to spend the money to be out here.”
The money is being spent wisely because Gray might earn his team and his family a first national title.
One thing is for sure: Gray won’t be afraid to tell people what he thinks and how he feels. He’ll also let his car do most of the talking.
“I’m a pretty confident guy,” he said. “I’m very competitive. I tell people week in and week out, the only reason I come here is to win. It’s been a lot of fun so far. It’s definitely been a learning experience for me.”
It’s been 2 ½ months since Travis Pastrana channeled his inner Evel Knievel in “Evel Live” in Las Vegas on July 8.
The legendary motorcycle stunt rider and rallycross driver successfully replicated three of Knievel’s most infamous career motorcycle jumps, capped off by jumping – some would call it flying – over the fountain at Caesar’s Palace.
All without a scratch or any type of malfunction.
“It was awesome,” Pastrana told NBC Sports’ MotorSportsTalk in an exclusive interview. “Obviously, to do something live, a live stunt which hasn’t been done, is cool.
“And just the nostalgia, to live a day in Evel Knievel’s boots, literally, was awesome. To have the whole Knievel family out there, his three kids, and my mom and dad all out there, it was just a real awesome day.
“And to have the chance to jump the Caeser’s (Palace) fountain, probably the most infamous and iconic stunt location in the world. All that added up to be a really, really great event and I think it came off really well.”
Pastrana spoke at length about the logistics of setting up the three jumps in two different venues, getting from Point A in one part of Las Vegas to Point B (Caesar’s), and dealing with potential weather concerns.
“That’s the greatest part about Nitro Circus (Pastrana’s company) is having an amazing team so that when an idea like this comes up, we can make it turn into fruition and a possibility,” Pastrana said. “The idea came up less than a year before it was pulled off.
“I couldn’t have been more proud of my team and all the guys there. When we called Caesar’s, we thought for sure they were going to say no. Then they said yes.
“Then we talked to the Knievel family and they said, ‘this is going to be great. Go ahead.’ It was like, be careful for what you ask for because it just happened. And then we had a bike just like Evel’s, although a more modern day (version).”
While Pastrana and his team pulled off everything seamlessly, there was a lot of worry and concern, especially on Pastrana’s part, since he was the focal point of the stunt, which was televised live.
“I didn’t sleep at all the night before,” he said. “And then everything just worked out. It’s what you hope for, for sure. But with every race, every event, everything, there’s always something like a $5 part break in a half-million dollar vehicle. Something always goes wrong.
“The fact that everything went as well as it could – I mean, they were calling for 80 percent chance of rain with wind gusts up to 60 mph (on the day of the event).
“And the storm kind of went 20 miles south, it didn’t get that windy, and you have to think to yourself, ‘Man, that was a live event, and representing Evel Knievel, the stunt man of Vegas, you’ve gotta go for it.’”
Pastrana vowed to perform the stunts rain or shine. But if it had rained, he had his doubts that he’d be able to pull it off.
“Successfully, probably not,” the 34-year-old Pastrana said with a laugh. “That was the thing, what I had said coming up to it.
“When Evel got to Wembley Stadium (to do his infamous 13-bus jump in 1975), he said, ‘Look, the busses are bigger than they are in the U.S., I miscalculated the distance, this bike is not going to go as fast as I thought it would go. I’m not going to make it, but I told you guys I was going to put on a show, and I’m going to deliver.’
“That’s why I wanted to be the guy on this particular stunt. I can’t tell someone else when there are bad conditions or the bike is overheating or something else is going wrong to go, but with Nitro Circus and our history, and his family there, it just has to go, no matter what happens. We were just real fortunate and lucky that it all worked out.”
While he certainly enjoyed doing them, the Annapolis, Maryland native said it’s unlikely he’ll have any more Evel-like jumps in his career.
“This was a perfect storm,” he said. “Everything was just lined up on this one. For me, that was not my last hurrah, if you will, but as far as doing a big stunt, I did my biggest stunt I’ve ever done last year with the double back-flip 360 and kind of realized, you know what, I’ve been lucky long enough, let me just focus on my family.
“But then this came up, and I was like, ‘Put me in, coach.’”
Pastrana returns to the track this Saturday and Sunday for the third annual Nitro World Games at the Utah Motorsports Campus (formerly known as Miller Motorsports Park) near Salt Lake City.
Saturday will feature Nitro Rallycross (NRX) Qualifiers and Heat Races, including some of the biggest names in the sport including Pastrana and rival Ken Block having some “unfinished business,” as well as Scott Speed, Tanner Foust, Patrik Sandell, Steve Arpin, Mattias Ekstrom, Chris Atkinson and Timmy Hansen.
On Sunday, the action includes the FMX Best Trick Finals, NRX Semi-Finals and Finals and FMX Quarterpipe Finals.
Among FMX Quarterpipe competitors are Colby Raha, Jarryd McNeil, Axell Hodges, Elijah Aldoff, Corey Creed and Kohl Denney.
And among riders and drivers taking part in the Best Trick Finals are defending champ Harry Bink, along with Pat Bowden, Christian Meyer, Josh Sheehan, William Van den Putte, Blake Williams, and Davi Johnson.
“Having the opportunity to kind of reinvent the sport for the American audience and for the drivers – I mean, we have Talladega-sized berms – right and left turns, dirt and pavement, huge jumps, there’s a triple-crossover,” Pastrana said. “World Games is basically the bigger of international sports. We take the most exciting sports, the biggest air, the least technical … and try to make it even bigger.
“I couldn’t be more excited. I think it’s going to be real exciting for the drivers, lots of options. It’s not a track that’s just built for a one-off event, it’s going to be a permanent place here so people can come out here and practice and keep getting better like European tracks do. So it should be good.”
Pastrana said Nitro Circus does over 70 live shows around the world per year, but he’s also excited about preparing for a lengthy residency in Las Vegas beginning next March.
Given all the things he’s accomplished over his career, Pastrana was asked if there’s anything remaining on his bucket list that he still hopes to do.
“I love racing, I love competing and I feel like I’ve competed in almost everything all over the world,” he said. “But the Daytona 500 is something … and I’ve never done a drag race. So those two would be pretty cool, wouldn’t they?”