As carefully as NHRA Pro Stock drivers guard their proprietary information, what’s going on in their pits is remarkable. Always on the lookout for technology spies, covering their under-the-hood handiwork with a blanket and shooing away anyone with a camera, they have relaxed a bit this summer.
Not the least bit wary of elementary-school-age espionage, they love watching their on-track rivals’ children and grandchildren dashing among their work spaces.
“They’re just a bunch of kids out there having a good time,” said Johnny Gray, who is battling Bob Yonke, Kurt Johnson, Rodger Brogdon and even his own son Shane Gray for a berth in the Countdown.
His 11-year-old grandson Tanner — the middle of rookie-of-the-year candidate Shane Gray’s three sons — has become fast friends with Cody Anderson, 12, the son of driver Greg Anderson. They’re finding adventure at the race tracks with 13-year-old buddies Conner Johnson, racer Kurt Johnson’s son, and Jeg Coughlin III.
While the family racers duked it out at Bandimere Speedway in the Mopar Mile-High Nationals, Amber Gray, Shane’s wife, orchestrated a last hurrah for the boys before they all head back to school. She arranged for them to ride pit bikes and go-karts near the race track and to experience indoor skydiving.
They started the Western Swing in Seattle with an excursion to a shopping mall near the track. There the gang bought matching baseball caps — which they had festooned with the words “Hey, Baby” — along with SpongeBob Square Pants shirts and goofy glasses. Then Cody Anderson traveled to Sonoma, Calif., for the following weekend’s Fram Autolite NHRA Nationals in Shane and Amber Gray’s motorhome.
“Greg Anderson and Jeg, we don’t go in their pit area. They don’t come in our pit area. That’s Pro Stock. That’s an absolute no-no,” Johnny Gray said. “But our kids run back and forth between the two and play and run around together. I’ve been racing a long time, and it’s real good having a family here and having grandkids here, running around and participating. They get to spend time with their parents, and it’s a neat deal.
“The adults are out here, (saying to each other) ‘Don’t be looking in my pit area.’ But the kids are awesome. They play together. They run together.”
Earlier in the weekend, Gray said, “My grandkids are down at Greg Anderson’s, and I’m not the least bit worried about them. They’re in amongst good folks. The pits are full of good people.”
Etta Glidden and Arlene Johnson recognized that in the 1960s they let sons Billy and Rusty Glidden and Kurt Johnson pal around, although their husbands, Bob Glidden and Warren Johnson, were — in Etta’s words, “dead-ass enemies who took shots at each other on the track.”
While the teens and ’tweens have their own brand of fun, Shane Gray’s 5-year-old son, Taylor, has his eye on his own team someday. He got his first taste of excitement in a Pro Stock car when he sat alongside his dad during the warm-up at Topeka and accidentally put it in gear.
“He looked at the gear shifter a couple of times,” Shane Gray recalled. “And just in time I saw his little hand reach over there and yank it. It didn’t do anything. It just went in gear for a second. The tires started turning. It scared him.”
But these youngsters aren’t scared of much. Articulate and endearingly sociable, they have a respect for the race cars, the action on the track, and the entire process they’re growing up with. They say they’re already thinking about careers in the sport.
The parent company of the Grays’ racing team is SKI, which stands for “Spending Kids’ Inheritance.” Said Gray, “Now my kids are spending their kids’ inheritance.” Moreover, he said, “NHRA drag racing is a family sport, and if you look around, all the proof in the world’s here. That’s what it’s all about.”