SONOMA, Calif. – With four wins in four final round appearances, it may seem as though Johnny Gray has figured out precisely what buttons to push in what has already been a marvelous 2013 season for the Funny Car standout.
But Gray knows how difficult it can be in a rigorous class and he’s been sure not to take any of the success for granted, no matter how many spectacular runs his 8,000-horsepower
Pitch Energy Dodge Charger continues to produce.
Gray, who is third in the Funny Car points standings, is ready for more eye-catching performances as he heads to Sonoma Raceway, July 26-28 for the NHRA Sonoma Nationals. Gray had it all figured out a year ago at the track and enters the second event of the three-race Western Swing as the defending champion.
Joining him as 2012 winners of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event are Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle). The race will be televised on ESPN HD (qualifying Saturday, 7 p.m. ET) and ESPN2 HD (eliminations, Sunday, 8 p.m. ET).
But despite all of the accolades that have gone Gray’s way in 2013, he fully realizes how fickle the sport can be.
“We’re still just taking it one race at a time, one day at a time, one hour at a time,” Gray said. “These cars are so finicky, everybody knows you can be a hero one day and a zero the next. With so many great drivers in this class, it’s always tough.”
At times, Gray has made it look easy during his magical season, which he has termed his final one as a full-time NHRA driver. If that truly is the case, this “retirement” tour has featured plenty of perks, including his most recent win in Norwalk in early July.
Gray and Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps posted identical 4.103-second runs in the final round, but Gray was quicker off the starting line in a thrilling side-by-side duel to capture his fourth victory. Returning to Sonoma, the site of one of his two 2012 victories, Gray continues to feel good about the direction of his team.
“We ran well last year, and I knew this team was definitely capable of doing this,” Gray said. “Now the team just continues to grow, and as you can tell we’re just getting better and better. It’s a good sign and it’s a good feeling and we feel good about where we’re headed.”
The end goal is a championship for Gray, which would obviously be the perfect capper to the season. But nothing will come easy in Funny Car, where things continue to get tighter each weekend. Even with a class-best four wins Gray sits in third, an indicator of how competitive the class has been.
Everyone is chasing 2011 world champion Matt Hagan, who is back in championship form as the series points leader. But he has plenty of tough completion bearing down on him, including includes two-time Sonoma winner Cruz Pedregon, who won last weekend in Denver and has three victories in 2013, seven-time Sonoma winner John Force, Courtney Force, a two-time winner in 2013, and defending world champion Jack Beckman.
Still, Gray feels confident in his chances as the Countdown to the Championship approaches.
“I really believe if we have any luck at all we’re going to be sitting first, second or third when we starting the Countdown (to the Championship),” Gray said. “If we have as good of a car then as we do now, we have as good of a shot as anybody to win the whole thing. That’s the way we have to go after it the rest of the year.”
Gray also knows he has work to do this weekend in Sonoma after a disappointing first-round exit in Denver. Returning to sea level for the race at Sonoma Raceway can be a challenging adjustment, but Gray has always felt at home at a track that annually produces some of the quickest runs in the NHRA.
“I consider it really pretty hard on the guys,” Gray said. “You take all the pistons and stuff you’ve changed, you take it all back out and put all your regular stuff back on. It’s a lot of work for the guys, but racing in places like Denver and Sonoma, it makes it worthwhile.”
In Top Fuel, everybody is chasing points leader Shawn Langdon, who has three event wins in 2013. But there are a slew of talented stars close behind, including seven-time world champion Tony Schumacher, a two-time Sonoma winner, and Spencer Massey, who is the track record holder and picked up his third win of the season in Denver. Other challengers include five-time Sonoma winner Doug Kalitta, defending world champion Brown, Bob Vandergriff, Clay Millican, Morgan Lucas, Brandon Bernstein, Steve Torrence, Brittany Force and Khalid alBalooshi.
In Pro Stock, reigning world champ Johnson will be looking to repeat while his new teammate, Jeg Coughlin, returns to Sonoma in pursuit of his third win there. Johnson is also red-hot, picking up his fourth victory of the season last weekend in Denver. Meanwhile, Mike Edwards hopes to build on his No. 1 spot in the points and bring home his first career win at Sonoma and fifth this season. Former Sonoma champs including Jason Line and Greg Anderson as well as notable young guns Vincent Nobile and Shane Gray will provide plenty of competition, giving fans plenty of thrilling side-by-side racing in the process.
Series points leader Hector Arana Jr. is a three-time winner this season in Pro Stock Motorcycle, but he will have plenty of challengers in the two-wheel category including defending world champ Eddie Krawiec, two-time Sonoma winner Andrew Hines, rising star Scotty Pollacheck, 2009 champ Hector Arana Sr. and recent winners Michael Ray, Shawn Gann and John Hall.
Set amid the beautiful rolling hills and vineyards just north of San Francisco, Sonoma Raceway is already one of the most popular ‘destination’ races for NHRA fans from around the country so this year’s race – featuring family-fun festivities throughout the weekend, and the annual Eric Medlen Ice Cream Social on Sunday – will truly be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for NHRA fans.
Sonoma Raceway will also host the fan-favorite Sunday morning Starting Line Party featuring many of NHRA’s leading ladies. Fans with Starting Line Party passes will have the opportunity to meet some of their favorite drivers, get autographs and celebrate during pre-race festivities down on the starting line. Party packages start at $77 and include a reserved seat, VIP track access pass for pre-race Q&A, track walk and all-day access to Thunder Alley. For more details, contact Sonoma Raceway.
Another unique experience offered to fans during the NHRA Sonoma Nationals is the Don Schumacher Racing Fan Hospitality Package. The DSR Hospitality Package includes a seat in the Main Grandstand for Friday, July 26th, access to DSR hospitality area Friday, a chef prepared meal, DSR driver appearances and autograph opportunities as well as the chance to see how the crew of a Top Fuel dragster or nitro Funny Car tune and rebuild their machines between rounds. Packages are available while supplies last.
As always, every ticket purchased for the NHRA Sonoma Nationals is a pit pass, which offers an extraordinary look behind the scenes in the world of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series as race teams service their high-horsepower machines between rounds. Fans also will want to check out NHRA Nitro Alley and the popular NHRA Manufacturers Midway. In addition, fans should definitely plan to visit the Blast on the Grass, a celebration of American muscle cars, which features many classic machines in the popular car show set in turn 11 of the facility. There will also be some exhibition racing featured during the NHRA Sonoma Nationals with two Jet Dragsters and eight Pro Mod cars scheduled to make runs.
Mello Yello Series qualifying begins on Friday, July 26 with the first session at 4:15 p.m., followed by another session at 7:15 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, July 27, at 12:15 and 2:15 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, July 28.
Adult tickets start as low as $39 and fans are encouraged to buy early and save. Make it a family-fun weekend when the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series arrives in Sonoma and take advantage of a special ticket promotion: Children 12 and younger will receive free general admission with a paid adult on Saturday. Fans can also bring an empty 20-oz. Mello Yello® bottle to the Sonoma Raceway box office and SAVE $8 on one adult single day NHRA race ticket, Friday – Sunday.
To purchase tickets for the 26th annual NHRA Sonoma Nationals, please call Sonoma Raceway Box Office at (800) 870-RACE (7223) or visit www.racesonoma.com. For more information about NHRA, please visit www.NHRA.com.
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NHRA SONOMA NATIONALS FACT SHEET
WHAT: 26th annual NHRA Sonoma Nationals, the 15th of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Drivers in four categories – Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle – earn points leading to 2013 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships.
WHERE: Sonoma Raceway, Sonoma, Calif. The track is located at the intersection of Highways 37 and 121
WHEN: Friday through Sunday, July 26-28.
FRIDAY, July 26 - LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 4:15 and 6:15 p.m.
SATURDAY, July 27 - LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 12:15 and 2:15 p.m.
SUNDAY, July 28 - Pre-race ceremonies, 10 a.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at 11 a.m.
Saturday, July 27, ESPN and ESPNHD will televise two hours and 30 minutes of qualifying highlights at 7 p.m. (ET).
Sunday, July 28, ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise three hours of eliminations coverage starting at 8 p.m. (ET).
SATELLITE (Digital HD feed):
Friday, July 26, 11:30 p.m. - Midnight (ET), SES 2 / Transponder 24C
Saturday, July 27, 9:30 - 10 p.m. (ET), SES 2 / Transponder 24C
Sunday, July 28, 9 - 9:30 p.m. (ET), SES 2 / Transponder 24C
(4180 MHz, vertical; Data Rate: 40.46147055 Mbp; Symbol Rate: 29.27 Ms; FEC: ¾; Bandwidth: 36 Mhz)
Video news release contains race action highlights each day and winners’ interviews on Sunday.
2012 EVENT WINNERS: Antron Brown, Top Fuel; Johnny Gray, Funny Car; Allen Johnson, Pro Stock; Eddie Krawiec, Pro Stock Motorcycle.
MOST VICTORIES: John Force, 7, FC; Doug Kalitta, 5, TF; Greg Anderson, 4, PS; Warren Johnson, 3, PS; Jim Yates, 3, PS; Darrell Alderman, 3, PS; Ron Capps, 3, FC.
Top Fuel – 3.777 seconds by Spencer Massey, July ‘12; 328.62 mph by Massey, July ‘12
Funny Car – 4.028 seconds by Cruz Pedregon, July ’12; 317.57 mph by Ron Capps, July ’12.
Pro Stock – 6.512 seconds by Erica Enders-Stevens, July ’12; 212.46 mph by Allen Johnson, July ’12.
PS Motorcycle – 6.785 seconds by Eddie Krawiec, July ’12; 198.35 mph by Krawiec, July ’12.
Top Fuel - 3.701 sec. by Antron Brown, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 332.18 mph by Spencer Massey, April ’12, Charlotte, N.C.
Funny Car - 3.986 sec. by Jack Beckman, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 320.58 mph by Beckman, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.
Pro Stock - 6.471 sec. by Mike Edwards, April ’13, Charlotte, N.C.; 214.35 mph by Jason Line, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.
PS Motorcycle - 6.728 sec. by Andrew Hines, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 199.26 mph by Eddie Krawiec, March ’11, Gainesville, Fla.
TICKETS: For tickets call (800) 870-RACE (7223). Tickets may also be purchased online at http://www.racesonoma.com/tickets.
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NHRA MELLO YELLO DRAG RACING SERIES CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS STANDINGS
GLENDORA, Calif. -- Point standings (top 10) following the 14th of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series -
Top Fuel: 1. Shawn Langdon, 1,093; 2. Tony Schumacher, 1,074; 3. Spencer Massey, 1,034; 4. Doug Kalitta, 867; 5. Antron Brown, 831; 6. Khalid alBalooshi, 809; 7. Clay Millican, 735; 8. Bob Vandergriff, 692; 9. Morgan Lucas, 670; 10. Steve Torrence, 647.
Funny Car: 1. Matt Hagan, 991; 2. Cruz Pedregon, 951; 3. Johnny Gray, 893; 4. Ron Capps, 887; 5. John Force, 860; 6. Jack Beckman, 851; 7. Courtney Force, 837; 8. Tim Wilkerson, 770; 9. Del Worsham, 768; 10. Bob Tasca III, 743.
Pro Stock: 1. Mike Edwards, 1,271; 2. Allen Johnson, 1,192; 3. Jeg Coughlin, 1,054; 4. Shane Gray, 883; 5.Jason Line, 870; 6. Vincent Nobile, 804; 7. Greg Anderson, 746; 8. Erica Enders-Stevens, 743; 9. V. Gaines, 688; 10. Rodger Brogdon, 628.
Pro Stock Motorcycle: 1.Hector Arana Jr, 671; 2. Michael Ray, 559; 3. Matt Smith, 543; 4. John Hall, 503; 5. Scotty Pollacheck, 492; 6. Hector Arana, 473; 7. Adam Arana, 427; 8. Eddie Krawiec, 412; 9. Shawn Gann, 397; 10. Steve Johnson, 392.