Lake Norman & Mooresville

Denver’s Gray Motorsports sends 3 drivers to the NHRA Countdown to the Championship

Johnny Gray’s passion for motorsports didn’t begin in drag racing, but Denver-based Gray Motorsports has emerged as a championship contender in NHRA’s Pro Stock category.

For the first time in the young team’s history, Gray Motorsports has three drivers in the six-event NHRA Countdown to the Championship. Dave Connolly entered the championship run seeded fifth, Johnny Gray’s son Shane Gray sixth and his younger brother, Jonathan Gray, in 10th. Johnny Gray, who has raced go-karts, late model, sprint dirt cars, and NHRA Pro Stock and Funny Car, described his team’s accomplishment as “pretty amazing.”

“We’ve come a long way in the last year,” said Johnny Gray, who noted it was the first time his operation had fielded three cars. “We’ve been at this deal for a while and it’s a really tough field to climb with the Pro Stock deal. This year everything just kind of came together.”

Gray Motorsports entered the championship with seven final rounds, two victories and four No. 1 qualifier awards.

Mooresville’s Connolly, a second-generation driver and Erica Enders-Stevens’ crew chief at Cagnazzi Racing in 2011, is competing for a championship for the first time in more than five years.

Shane Gray, also a Mooresville resident, is in contention for the title for the second consecutive year, and Jonathan Gray is a rookie, having made his Pro Stock debut earlier this year in Gainesville, Fla. Jonathan Gray recently moved back to his hometown of Artesia, N.M., from Mooresville.

“To have all three cars in the top 10 is pretty outstanding for a team as young as this one,” said Johnny Gray, 61, who also owns Gray Manufacturing Technologies, an aerospace machine shop.

Groundwork for Gray Motorsports’ 24,000-square-foot facility was laid in September 2009 when Johnny Gray acquired the building that once housed Dennis Fischer’s engine company. In 2010, he launched a two-car team for himself and Shane Gray. Both made the Countdown to the Championship that year with Shane Gray finishing fourth and his father 10th.

Johnny Gray returned to Funny Car competition in 2011 while Shane Gray continued in Pro Stock. At the end of last season, Gray Motorsports merged with Mooresville’s Cagnazzi Racing. Victor Cagnazzi is now Gray Motorsports’ managing director. Paul Hoskins is the team’s head engine builder and Justin Elkes oversees the crew chiefs.

“We are super proud of Paul Hoskins and the entire engine department,” Johnny said. “Justin Elkes has done a wonderful job. I’m super proud of both my boys and Dave, who has become like one of my kids.”

This season is the first with the Gray brothers and Connolly as teammates, and there have been situations where they have gone head-to-head. There have been two all-Gray Motorsports final rounds. The first occurred in June at Epping, N.H., when Connolly defeated the 33-year-old Jonathan Gray. The other one came during the regular season at the U.S. Nationals when Shane Gray defeated Connolly. That Indianapolis event also marked the first time all three drivers made the semifinals.

Connolly, 31, said when the U.S. Nationals became a Gray Motorsports final he felt less pressure, but Shane Gray admitted when it’s a family member in the other lane it can be tough.

“In 2010, I had to race my dad,” said Shane Gray, 42. “It’s fun, but it’s not fun. I thought after 2010 that was over with, but then Jonathan came along and it’s fun, but it’s not fun.”

Johnny Gray, who now lives in Jupiter, Fla., considered competing in the Countdown’s opening Pro Stock event, which was originally scheduled for zMax Dragway before rain intervened. However, he decided against it.

“One of the main reasons I decided against it was I didn’t want my guys to be distracted by putting another car out there and messing with it just for me to go out and play around for a race or two,” Johnny said.

The other reason came from his wife, Terry.

“She looked across the table at me and said, ‘Now, if you’re going to go run a Pro Stock car in the Countdown a little bit and you are running one of our kids and you look over there and you’re ahead of him, are you going to push the clutch in and let him win because he’s in the Countdown and you’re not?’ And I said, ‘Well, no. I can’t do that.’ And she said, ‘Well, let me explain something to you. If you go out there and happen to outrun one of our boys and take his chances of winning the championship away, it’s going to be a real cold winter at our house.’”

Johnny decided he’d wait until the 2015 season to return to competition.

Brimecombe leads standings

Concord’s Joshua Brimecombe is battling for two more championships this year in the Legend Semi-Pro asphalt division. Brimecombe has a 42-point lead over Connecticut’s John O’Sullivan III in the division’s national standings. On the local level, he owns a 498-point advantage over Casey Brown at Concord Speedway. Earlier this year Brimecombe won the Legend Semi-Pro championship in Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Summer Shootout Series.

Furr, Wilkins vying for NHRA titles

Sportsman drag racers Steven Furr and Sandy Wilkins Jr. are locked in tight point battles in their respective classes as drag racing enters its final segment of the 2014 season.

Furr, from Harrisburg, leads the Super Gas standings by 22 points over Cameron Manuel. In Top Dragster, he trails Jeff Strickland by only 10 points.

Wilkins, a Mt. Ulla resident who works for Roush Yates Engines in Mooresville, has a 21-point advantage over Jeffrey Barker in Top Sportsman.

Carolina Speedway names grand marshal

Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame member Freddy Smith will be the grand marshal for the Oct. 16-18 King of the Carolinas at Carolina Speedway. Smith, winner of the Dirt Track World Championships, will be available for autographs Oct. 18.

The King of the Carolinas is a three-day event that includes the Bill Hendren Memorial for SECA Crate Late Models and the Carolina Clash Bash. Posted awards for the event will exceed $65,000, making it one of the richest in the Southeast. Also on the schedule for that weekend are races for UMP Modified, street stock, renegade, four-cylinder, front-wheel drive and Thunder Sportsman.

East Lincoln finale set for Oct. 4

East Lincoln Speedway officials will wave the checkered flag on their 2014 season Oct. 4. The six divisions racing that night will be open wheel modified, limited sportsman, stock 4, super stock 4, renegade and front-wheel drive. The latter event will be a dual front-wheel drive free for all.

Quarter Midget Fall Nationals set for November

The North Carolina Quarter Midget Association has scheduled its Carolina Fall Nationals for Nov. 25-29. The NCQMA facility is in Salisbury.