By Don Schumacher Racing
ARTESIA, N.M. – So far this season, Don Schumacher Racing Funny Car driver Johnny Gray has enjoyed a fair amount of success behind the wheel of the striking Pitch Energy Dodge that bears the likeness of his father, the late John R. Gray. This weekend, at the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals near Denver, Colo., the look of the car will change but the determination of Gray and a fine-tuned crew, with the support of Gray’s wife Terry and sister Terry Chandler, will be even stronger as they race with a very special, eye-catching paint scheme designed to raise awareness and funds for the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation’s effort to find a cure for children’s cancer, and the Darrell Gwynn Foundation, which offers support for people with paralysis and works to prevent spinal cord injuries.
“It’s real special to get to go to Bandimere with the Alex’s Lemonade Stand/Darrell Gwynn Foundation Dodge,” said Gray, who most recently raced the bright yellow, lemon-themed Funny Car body in Reading last season, where he went all the way to the final. “We’ve had Alex’s Lemonade Stand on the car in Denver a couple of years, and it’s always received with open arms. The people in Denver really love that car and what it stands for, they get behind it, and it just brings a lot of excitement to the plate for all of us.”
Now in the midst of what is arguably the best season of his career – and what 60-year-old Gray has proclaimed will be his last as a full-time competitor chasing the championship – the driver who calls nearby Artesia, N.M., home is currently positioned as the No. 2 man in the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Funny Car standings. Winning the most recent event on the tour, the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals in Norwalk, has certainly and rightfully heightened the bonded team’s expectations heading into Denver, and this weekend they will be looking for their fifth event trophy of the year – and Gray’s eighth as a professional Funny Car driver.
No stranger to success on the mountain, Gray earned the first national event win of his career at Bandimere Speedway in 1996 driving a Top Alcohol Dragster, and in 1998 he scored a victory in an alcohol Funny Car. While past successes in Denver and the current performance level of his Rob Wendland-tuned nitro-powered Funny Car infuses the team with confidence, Gray is realistic as he returns to the high-altitude facility that demands a different combination than anywhere else on the tour.
“You always feel pretty good when you get to the next track after you’ve had a win,” said Gray. “But this is a very tough sport, and there are always cars out there that win one weekend and can’t hardly qualify the next. So we’re just going to go out there, hold our heads up, and see if the same car shows up in Denver that we had two weeks ago in Norwalk. I have a lot of faith in this team, but that’s the thing about drag racing – you just never know.”
The day before the highly anticipated event at Bandimere Speedway gets started, Gray will have the honor of visiting Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora and spending time with the kids staying there.
“It’s a two-fold deal,” said Gray. “Hopefully, it brings a little happiness to their day, and I know it brings a tremendous amount of joy to mine. On the same token, seeing what these kids are going through, it makes me stop and think about how important drag racing is. We take it so seriously, and we should, but in the scheme of things it’s not very important how you do or how you play the game. It’s very humbling to see these kids and their families going through the stress that they go through, the hardships. To know that my biggest problem of the day may be that I don’t like where I qualify really puts things into perspective.
“It’s an honor to have the opportunity to support Alex’s Lemonade Stand and the Darrell Gwynn Foundation with our Dodge Funny Car, and we intend to go to Denver and put on a good show. Hopefully, we can really raise awareness of what others are going through and the work that these organizations are doing to try to help.”
MOPAR BLOCK PARTY
Gray and other DSR drivers will be at the annual Mopar Block Party from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday in Downtown Golden, Colo., about 18 miles west of Denver off Colorado 58 West.
A Mopar drivers 6:30-7:30 p.m. autograph session will include DSR’s Gray, Jack Beckman, Matt Hagan, Tony Schumacher and Spencer Massey, along with reigning Pro Stock world champion Allen Johnson, Vincent Nobile, V. Gaines, Roy Johnson, Judy Lilly and SCCA road-racing star Cindi Lux.
JOHNNY GRAY, ALEX’S LEMONADE STAND/DARRELL GWYNN FOUNDATION DODGE CHARGER R/T
Last event (July 7, Norwalk, Ohio): Qualified No. 4; won the event.
A year ago at Denver: Qualified No. 11; lost in first round to Mike Neff.
Career at Denver: Wins 2 (1996 in Top Alcohol Dragster, 1998 in Top Alcohol Funny Car; Runner-ups 0; Poles 0
NHRA MELLO YELLO DRAG RACING SERIES STANDINGS
(After 13 of 24 events; through Norwalk, Ohio; DSR drivers in CAPS)
1. MATT HAGAN, 959
2. JOHNNY GRAY, 858
3 Cruz Pedregon, 833
4. RON CAPPS, 832
5. John Force, 823
6. JACK BECKMAN, 792
7. Courtney Force, 784
8. Tim Wilkerson, 713
9. Del Worsham, 696
10. Bob Tasca III, 651
2013 WINNERS: C. Force, CAPPS, GRAY, C. Pedregon, HAGAN, C. Pedregon, GRAY, GRAY, HAGAN, J. Force, C. Force, HAGAN, GRAY.
Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals
Thursday: 6-10 p.m., Mopar Block Party, Golden, Colo.,
Friday: 6 p.m., 8 p.m., nitro qualifying
Saturday: 2:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m., nitro qualifying
Sunday: 11 a.m., championship eliminations
WEATHER.COM FORECAST FOR BANDIMERE SPEEDWAY, MORRISON, COLO.
Friday: High 77; 30 percent chance of isolated thunderstorms
Saturday: High 78; 40 percent chance of scattered thunderstorms
Sunday: High 83; 10 percent chance of rain
TELEVISED ON ESPN2 (all times Eastern)
Qualifying on Saturday, 7/20: 10pm – 12am ET
Final eliminations on Sunday, 7/21: 6pm – 9pm ET