BROWNSBURG, Ind. — Popular NHRA Funny Car driver Johnny Gray will go out in style in 2013 as the New Mexico native embarks on his final, full-time season as a driver in professional drag racing.
Gray, 59, is devoting the year to pay a special tribute to his father, the late John R. Gray, with a special paint scheme on Don Schumacher Racing’s Pitch Energy Dodge Charger R/T.
Johnny and his sister, Terry Chandler, will sponsor the Pitch Energy Dodge that will compete in all 24 events on the
2013 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule. The Pitch Energy Dodge will debut at the Feb. 14-17 NHRA Winternationals at Pomona, Calif.
But Gray, who turns 60 in March, says it will be his last season chasing a series championship.
“I’m certainly not saying that I won’t race anymore, but I won’t chase the points after this year, and I won’t participate in the grueling schedule of a full season,” said Gray, a diverse driver with three nitro Funny Car victories including two last year. He also has three Lucas Oil Series national event wins and two Lucas Oil Series division championships.
Gray’s slimmed-down driving schedule following the 2013 season will allow him to focus more on family, including the Gray Motorsports NHRA Pro Stock career of his son, Gray driver Shane Gray, and the Late Model dirt track ventures of his youngest son, Jonathan.
And there are the grandchildren of Gray and wife Terry.
“It’s time to pay more attention to the kids and the grandkids and quit driving full time after this year,” Gray said. “The fact is I’ve always promised my wife that I’d quit at 60 – and I’m good with it. Trust me, I’m good with it. It’s been real, and it’s been fun. But it’s time for me to be done.”
One person who regrets but understands Gray’s decision is team owner Don Schumacher.
“We’re happy that Johnny will be part of DSR for another season and not just because he is a great racecar driver who has been an asset to our team the past two years,” Schumacher said. “Johnny is an incredibly good person who DSR has been fortunate to be associated with for many years as a friend and a team member. We would prefer this would not be his last season racing full time with us, but I certainly understand why he wants to spend more time with his family.
“That Johnny is honoring his father this season on our Pitch Energy Dodge just shows what kind of people he and his sister, Terry Chandler, are. It’s going to be a very special year for Johnny and DSR, and nothing would be better than to have him bring DSR its third straight NHRA Funny Car championship.”
The eye-catching Pitch Energy Dodge will be adorned with a special paint scheme in honor of Gray’s father, who passed away at the age of 71 on Oct. 28, 2001.
“It’s a real pretty car, and my sister and I thought this would be a fitting tribute to dad,” Gray said. “Marbob was the parent company to Pitch Energy, which was another of his companies, and actually it was named after the card game. My dad loved the game of Pitch.
Every afternoon after work, he and a handful of his cronies would get together wherever they were and sit down and play for two or three hours.”
Gray’s father was co-founder and president of Marbob Energy Corp., a thriving company in the oil and gas industry.
Johnny Gray, who calls Artesia, N.M., his home, will proudly point the Pitch Energy Dodge toward a championship in his final season of full-time competition with crew chief Rob Wendland at the helm. In 2012, Gray finished a career-best sixth in the series standings with two event titles and two No. 1 qualifying positions.
“It would be great to achieve a championship before this is all through, and what an honor to accomplish that in a car that’s a tribute to my dad, John R.,” Gray said. “But you know what? We’re going to have fun either way.”