CHEVROLET RACING IN NATIONAL HOT ROD ASSOCIATION
DENSO SPARK PLUGS NHRA NATIONALS
THE STRIP AT LAS VEGAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY, LAS VEGAS, NEVADA
SUNDAY, APRIL 2, 2017
Chevrolet Rolls to Fourth Pro Stock Victory with First-Time Winner
• Tanner Gray becomes youngest race winner in 65-year history of NHRA
• The 17-year-old joins father and grandfather with a Wally
• John Force reaches Funny Car semifinals in the event following 148th win
• No. 4 qualifier Brittany Force advances to Top Fuel quarterfinals
LAS VEGAS, Nev. (April 2, 2017) – Tanner Gray was a longshot to win the ultra-competitive Pro Stock class at the DENSO Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
After all, the youngster from Mooresville, North Carolina, was competing in only his fourth National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event and was the No. 5 qualifier on a tricky, heat-soaked racetrack.
But he believed in the consistency the Valvoline Chevrolet Camaro SS had shown throughout the race weekend, in his ability and never questions his competitiveness. After sweeping aside all three KB Racing cars – driven by veterans with a combined seven Pro Stock championships and 133 wins in 765 races – Gray quickly converted non-believers.
Gray, who turns 18 on April 15, defeated Bo Butner on a holeshot to become the 64th different winner in Pro Stock and the youngest pro winner in the 65-year history of NHRA. Alex Laughlin was the last first-time Pro Stock winner, defeating Butner at St. Louis in 2016.
“I was pretty nervous coming up (for the final),” said Gray, who recorded a run of 6.681 seconds at 206.61 mph to Butner’s 6.678. “This is something I wanted to do since I was really young and I finally got the opportunity to do it. When I started this deal, I told my dad I wanted to be the youngest Pro Stock winner. To be able to do that feels really cool. The cards fell our way.
“I can’t thank everybody enough. They are definitely the reason I am standing here. I do a small part.”
The tree was the difference in the four elimination rounds as Gray’s reaction time in the final was .010 of a second to Butner’s .088 in the Jim Butner Auto Chevrolet Camaro SS. Gray also posted a .037 of a second reaction time in the semifinals in taking down reigning Pro Stock champion Jason Line (Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro SS), .001 in a quarterfinal win over five-time Las Vegas spring event winner Greg Anderson (Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro SS), and .023 in an opening-round win.
“I’ve never seen natural talent like this kid has and it didn’t take him long to prove it,” said crew chief Dave Connolly, a former racer. “To go up in his first final round and perform like that, I’m really proud of him.”
Gray joins his father, Shane, and grandfather, Johnny, as national event winners – an NHRA first. Shane Gray (Valvoline Chevrolet Camaro SS) won the Gatornationals two weeks ago for his sixth Pro Stock victory, and won the fall 2016 Las Vegas race in the Gray Motorsports car that his son drives.
Tanner Gray, who advanced to the semifinals as the No. 3 qualifier in his second event, is the fourth different Pro Stock winner in as many NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series races – all by a Chevrolet driver – and Chevrolet extended its streak of winning every elimination round this season.
Butner, the No. 3 qualifier, bounced No. 2 qualifier Jeg Coughlin Jr. (JEGS.com Elite Chevrolet Camaro SS) in the other semifinal to reach his seventh final. First-round winners included Erica Enders (Elite Chevrolet Camaro SS), and Chris McGaha (Harlow Sammons of Odessa Chevrolet Camaro SS).
John Force, who claimed his 148th career Funny Car victory two weeks earlier at Gainesville, Florida, advanced to the semifinals for the third time in the four NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series races in the PEAK Coolant & Motor Oil Chevrolet Camaro SS. Force, the No. 7 qualifier, is a six-time winner at Las Vegas.
John Force Racing teammate Robert Hight, driving the Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro SS, fell in the Funny Car quarterfinals.
Upsets ruled the first round of Funny Car eliminations as No. 1 qualifier Courtney Force and the Nos. 3 and 4 qualifiers stumbled. Force, who reset the track elapsed time record in the Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro SS on the way to recording her 11th career top seed, also was the No. 1 qualifier at the 2014 spring Las Vegas event.
“Our Advance Auto Parts team has had some great runs, and we know the car is capable of running some stellar numbers,” said Force, who has qualified in the top four in each event. “We’re having a hard time finding some consistency with it, especially being able run it in the heat. So we’ll be back out here tomorrow testing all day in the heat to see if we can get the right tune-up going into the next race.”
Brittany Force, who was the No. 4 qualifier for the third time in four Top Fuel races in the Monster Energy Chevrolet dragster, won her first-round elimination race but fell in the quarterfinals.
Al Corda of Elk Mound, Wisconsin, was the No. 5 qualifier in the Scoggin-Dickey Parts Center Chevrolet COPO Camaro of 64 entrants in Stock Eliminator. He won two rounds of eliminations. Thomas Fletcher of Churchville, New York, in the PEAK/K&N/ATI Chevrolet COPO Camaro, also advanced to the third round.
In Super Stock, Roy Cracraft of Mesa, Arizona, reached the third round of eliminations in the Indicom Electric Company Chevrolet COPO Camaro.
The next stop on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule is the NHRA Spring Nationals on April 21-23 Royal Purple Raceway in Baytown, Texas. Courtney Force (Funny Car) and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) were Chevrolet drivers who won their classes. FS1 will telecast eliminations and finals at 5:30p.m. ET April 23.
ROGER ALLEN, CHEVROLET RACING NHRA PROGAM MANAGER: “What an exciting day for Tanner Gray, the Gray Motorsports team and Chevrolet Racing as Tanner earned his first Pro Stock victory and became the youngest winner in Mello Yello history. It is quite an accomplishment against a stout lineup in the class. Congratulations also are in order to John Force for advancing to the Funny Car semifinals two weeks after winning in his Chevy Camaro SS at Gainesville Raceway, and to Courtney Force for setting the track elapsed time record in her Chevrolet Camaro and securing her 11th career No. 1 qualifier honor. After a brief break, the action heats up again with successive weekends of racing at Houston and Charlotte.”
An interview with Pro Stock winner TANNER GRAY, GRAY MOTORSPORTS, VALVOLINE CHEVROLET CAMARO SS:
Q: WALK US THROUGH YOUR WEEKEND
TANNER GRAY: “It started off really good. (Crew chief) Dave Connolly made some good calls during qualifying and we ended up qualifying fifth. I made a few mistakes on Friday when it counted and I think we had a little more in the car. But I think it showed out here today. I think we were first or second in the session on every run. I can’t thank everybody enough. They are definitely the reason I am standing here. I do a small part. It feels really cool.”
Q: TELL US ABOUT GETTING YOUR HEAD RIGHT BEFORE THE FINAL
TANNER GRAY: “I was pretty nervous coming up. This is something I wanted to do since I was really young and I finally got the opportunity to do it. When I started this deal, I told my dad I wanted to be the youngest Pro Stock winner. To be able to do that feels really cool.”
Q: IS IT SPECIAL TO BE THE YOUNGEST WINNER?
TANNER GRAY: “I’ve made a lot of statements that I wanted to win my first race ever, but obviously that didn’t happen. It’s just as cool even though it’s only by a month to go out here and be the youngest one ever.”
Q: THE TRACK WAS SO UNPREDICTABLE ALL WEEKEND. HOW DID YOU KEEP YOUR HEAD DAY BY DAY?
TANNER GRAY: “I just focus on my job as driving. I let Dave and his guys make the calls and trust those guys that they are going to give me a good race car, and I think they trust me that I’m going to do my job. You just have to focus on your own job and leave the rest to them.”
Q: WHAT’S THE FEELING OF GETTING THAT FIRST BIG WIN AND DOING IT HERE IN LAS VEGAS?
TANNER GRAY: “It’s indescribable. It’s really cool, especially since my dad did it here last year. And it’s the same car he won in. I think this car works really well with this track. It’s a really cool feeling. There’s nothing quite like it.”
Q: ARE YOU DONE WITH HIGH SCHOOL YET?
TANNER GRAY: “I do online classes. I have two months left.”
Q: YOU HAD A ROOKIE MISTAKE AT GAINESVILLE. DID YOU DAD TALK TO YOU ABOUT CLEARING IT OUT OF YOUR HEAD?
TANNER GRAY: “I was probably harder on myself than he was on me. It was one of those deals where he said get it out of your head and don’t worry about it. We tested the next day and I think that helped a lot. I think if I would have come here not testing it still would have been in my head. But I got to make six or eight runs testing and they all went smoothly. I think that helped a bunch and that’s why I’m here.”
Q: WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE MENTALLY BETWEEN RACING PRO STOCK AND THE OTHER CARS AND KARTS YOU’VE RACED?
TANNER GRAY: “You have that one focus and that’s to win. It’s a different kind of racing, obviously, and this racing is just more intense for a short amount of time. That (circle track) racing you try to stay calm and have more of a strategy to it than this. Here you try to crack the tree the best you can, and if the cards fall your way they fall your way.”