Lake Norman & Mooresville

Teenager keeping his eye on asphalt-track racing

Tanner Gray, center, has been racing a midget on dirt. Gray is shown with his father, Shane Gray, left, and friend Jared Esh.
Tanner Gray, center, has been racing a midget on dirt. Gray is shown with his father, Shane Gray, left, and friend Jared Esh. Courtesy of the Gray family

For the third consecutive year Pro Stock competitor Shane Gray qualified for the NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship.

But Shane’s 16-year-old son, Tanner Gray, has his eye on oval track racing – not the dragway.

Next year Tanner will make his asphalt racing debut driving a super late model for Mooresville-based LFR Development Group. He tested with the organization in early October at Motor Mile Speedway in Radford, Va. Additional testing will be done at Hickory Motor Speedway before Gray makes his debut in February at the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing at New Smyrna (Fla.) Speedway. By the time the 2016 season concludes, Tanner is expected to have competed in 30 races.

For next year, Gray’s goals are realistic; build a good relationship with the people he’s working with and obtain some good finishes. The time he spends in late models is dependent on his asphalt racing learning curve. That, however, shouldn’t be a steep one as racing comes naturally to the third-generation driver.

Tanner’s father and uncle, Jonathan Gray, compete in the NHRA. Tanner was 8 years old when he stepped into a Junior Dragster. However, he decided two years later to test his skill in other motorsports, just as his father, who once raced dirt modifieds, and his grandfather had done.

“The Junior Dragster kinda got boring for me,” the teenager said. “It was kinda the same thing every time I went out. You just go up there, go straight down the track and you’re done. You had a long wait time. I’ve just always enjoyed more of the extreme sports stuff.”

At age 10, Tanner climbed aboard a dirt bike and then moved into a mini sprint three years later because his family felt it was safer. Recently, he raced Outlaw Karts at Millbridge Speedway and also tested 360 Sprint Cars and Midgets.

“My dad and I have always loved watching the sprint cars,” Tanner said. “They’re so fast. The power-to-weight ratio is unbelievable.”

Tanner’s reason for transitioning from dirt to asphalt was a simple one: Better for his career.

“I’ve always wanted to try it,” he said. “I worked with (former NASCAR driver) Brad Noffsinger for about a year and I tested one of his midgets on asphalt one time. I actually liked it a lot.”

When Tanner tested at Motor Mile Speedway he discovered his dirt track experience allowed him to control the car better on asphalt, especially when it got loose.

Even though Tanner grew up in racing, he did give football a try for about a year, but it didn’t appeal to him.

“I’ve always liked going fast,” says Tanner, who is home schooled. “I just never enjoyed football as much as I did racing. I’ve always loved to drive and I’ve always loved running go-karts and stuff like that. I was a lot better at racing than I was football.”

Timm claims championship

Mooresville’s Cole Timm produced a seventh-place finish in the CARS Tour’s season finale at Hickory Motor Speedway to become the series super late model champion.

After claiming the title, Timm said he’d never been that stressed in his life. In fact, he thought he’d lost the championship midway through the race because the tires “burned off real quick.”

“We didn’t have the best car and this was probably one of our worst finishes all year,” Timm said. “We just rode it out as long as we could.”

Josh Berry, who drives a late model fielded by Dale Earnhardt Jr., won the CAR Tour’s late model season finale, while Kyle Busch Motorsports driver Christopher Bell was victorious in the super late model race.

Winter Heat Series dates set

The Winter Heat Series at Charlotte Motor Speedway will return for 2016.

The tracks used this year will be the new fifth-mile track and the facility’s new road course. The first practice on the fifth-mile is Dec. 4 with a race on Dec. 5.

There also is practice on the fifth-mile track Dec. 11 with a race the following day. The first road course practice will be Jan. 8 with racing Jan. 9-10. The Winter Heat Series continues through January with the championship banquet set for Jan. 30 at the Speedway Club. During Winter Heat, the gates open at noon Friday, 8 a.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. Sunday.

Deb Williams is a freelance writer: