PHOENIX (Feb. 26) – NHRA Pro Stock rookie standout Tanner Gray made himself an early favorite for NHRA’s Road to the Future Award today with a race to the semifinals at the 33rd annual NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, the second of 24 events in the 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.
The 17-year-old third generation drag racer qualified his Gray Motorsports Valvoline Chevy Camaro factory hot rod in the No. 3 slot (6.538 seconds, 211.79 mph) for Sunday’s eliminations, the best qualifying effort of his budding career. Gray took down Alan Prusiensky in Round 1 and Bo Butner in Round 2.
In the semifinals, Gray continued to show off his already-seasoned prowess on the starting line by leaving the line first for the third consecutive time, but his competitor Greg Anderson was able to track him down and get the close win, 6.590 at 210.64 mph to 6.564 at 210.47 mph.
“Hopefully we’ll have a little bit faster race car in Gainesville (Fla., next event),” Gray said. “I think we are just struggling with making good runs right now but we win as a team and we lose as a team, and I think we’ll get it figured out. It’s tough to go out there and lose like that. All in all, I think it’s going really well, though. To make it to the semifinals in only our second race is great. Everyone is doing really well.
“The more runs you make, the more things you learn. You learn something with every run you make, and I’m going to learn things about myself, too. In the first round, I made a mistake. I went in there and double-bulbed (lit both staging lights at the same time) Alan Prusiensky on accident, and I feel really bad about that. I apologized to him, but that’s racing and stuff happens.”
Gray was understandably disappointed to have his quest for his first Wally trophy stalled in the semis, but he is taking everything in stride with his head held high.
“I think we’re going to try testing at Z-Max (Dragway in Charlotte) before Gainesville so we’ll go do that and try to learn some stuff and get ready for Florida,” Gray said.
Gray’s father and teammate Shane Gray qualified Gray Motorsports’ second car in the No. 7 position. In an entry competing solely to support Tanner’s racer by means of parts testing and data acquisition, Shane’s Chevy came within .004 seconds of reaching the semifinals.
In the quarterfinals, Shane was narrowly defeated by Greg Anderson on a slight holeshot, 6.556, 210.97 to 6.559, 210.97.
“I had fun,” Shane said. “It’s never too much fun to lose on a holeshot. I was a tick late on the reaction time, but it is what it is. We’ve been testing stuff all weekend on this car and transferred it to Tanner’s car.
“It’s been a successful weekend. I got to come and race with him, had a fast car and had a good time. I’ll compete next in Las Vegas (March 31 – April 2).”
Tanner will next compete at the famed Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway in Gainesville, Fla., March 16-19.
FOX FS1 TV coverage of eliminations begins with three hours of elimination action at 4 p.m. MT, Sunday.