Las Vegas, Nevada (April 3) - 13 days before his 18th birthday rookie Tanner Gray earned his first wally in Pro Stock at the 18th Annual Denso Spark Plug NHRA Nationals and becomes the youngest professional driver in NHRA history to win a national event.
Tanner defeated Deric Kramer in the opening round of eliminations Sunday, current point’s leader Greg Anderson in the quarterfinals, and the 2016 World Champion Jason Line in the semi-finals before taking a huge starting line advantage in the final against Bo Butner.
Tanner moved “all-in” in each of the 4 rounds Sunday, with an average reaction time of .017 seconds including a near perfect .001 in the quarter finals against Anderson. “It is my job as a driver to perform on the tree. I let Dave (Connolly) and his guys make the calls and trust that they have given me a good race car.”
“Dave (Connolly) has this car running really well and we saw that all weekend.” Tanner continues, “In qualifying he was able to make some adjustments that really paid off today.”
Tanner Gray’s teammate, and father, Shane Gray also had a successful weekend. Gray runnered up in Saturday’s Pro Stock specialty race: the K&N Horsepower Challenge and nearly missed an opportunity to face son Tanner in the semifinals on Sunday. Gray’s race day ended when he met Jason Line in the quarter finals and ran an ET of 6.732 seconds at 205.91 mph to Line’s ET of 6.695 seconds at 206.10 mph.
Running two Gray Motorsports Valvoline Chevy Camaro’s help’s crew chief Dave Connolly collect additional data to equip both drivers with the best race car possible.
“We knew the track was going to be hot Saturday and we just tried to race smart,” Connolly said. “With Shane’s (Gray) 3 runs on Saturday, we capitalized on seeing what kind of track conditions we were going to have on Sunday, or at least something similar. I felt like we had the upper hand going into eliminations. With the sun being out and the track getting hotter and hotter, we knew it was going to be tricky but felt comfortable with what we learned from Saturday that led into Sunday’s results.”
There was a true optimism that circled the Gray Motorsports pit all weekend long. Connolly spoke about this optimism, “There are times when you are able to produce impressive ET’s with a pro stock car, but you know things are not right. You know the car is not happy. After Gainesville, we stayed and tested and learned a lot. I felt very comfortable coming into race day, especially with the run we made Q4. The track was 120 plus degrees, and we made great run with what we figured would be our race day set up. Take that confidence and combine it with a driver who we have all the faith in the world in come race day, and these are the results we work towards. Tanner did his job all afternoon and earned this win”
Tanner Gray has always been a spectator at the Denso Spark Plug NHRA nationals until given the opportunity by grandfather, Johnny Gray, at the beginning of the 2017 NHRA season.
“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,” Tanner said.
When asked about being a part of Tanner Gray’s historical moment, Crew Chief Connolly said, “It’s crazy and gratifying all at once. I’ve said this over and over, this is more gratifying standing behind a car watching Tanner (Gray) who is like a brother to me , 17 years old doing what he’s doing. I don’t know if there is anything else that could put a bigger smile on my face. I knew I was going to be excited about this year. Watching him (Tanner Gray) win, along with the reactions of Shane (Gray), Amber (Gray), Johnny (Gray) and Terry (Gray) really meant a lot. We’re a huge family and we care about each other.”
The Gray Motorsports team will be back in action at the 30th annual NHRA Springnationals, which will be held April 21-23 at Royal Purple Raceway in Baytown, Texas.