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Tanner Gray and his older brother, Bryce, used to challenge each other to footraces in their backyard. Bryce always won. 

 

It took awhile, but Tanner finally outran his brother. He then declared, “I won I’m better,” and went into the house. 

 

So much for foot races.

 

Now the 18-year-old Pro Stock rookie, not only the NHRA’s youngest winner in history but a championship contender, is the new face of drag racing. He’s unfailingly polite, and like his father, Shane, and grandfather, Johnny — both racers themselves — he’s unafraid to speak his mind. 

 

Here are a few examples:

 

At the notion he has no peers in his age group, Gray says: “To be honest with you, I really don’t like a lot of people, anyway. I’m kind of a loner. I’d rather sit by myself and hang out with my guys rather than hang out with people from the track. I’m not real big on being friends with people you’re trying to beat.”

 

As for NHRA’s broadcast presentation, he says: “They do an awful job of showing it on TV. It’s hideous. Maybe it’s just doing a better job of showing how sophisticated these cars really are. They need to have some kind of a prerace show … and there should be in-car cameras in every car.

 

“Am I the new face of the NHRA? Haha, I don’t know,” he said. “That’s not for me to decide. That’s up to them, I guess.”



Chevrolet Camaro driver Tanner Gray heads to this weekend’s U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis sitting second in Pro Stock points. Photo by NHRA Media


 

Gray also wants his expense-challenged Pro Stock class to thrive: “NHRA should get more manufacturer bodies in besides Chevrolet and Ford. I think it would bring more excitement to the class, something new. They should definitely do something a little bit different.” 

 

Gray is composed and mature (even apologizing publicly for his “immaturity” following a flap with another racer). He’s fan-crush material and no less relentless on track as he was with his brother in the backyard. 

 

“I’m not a very good loser. I don’t take losing well. That’s the way I’ve been with everything,” Gray said. 

 

Gray has won three times (Las Vegas; Topeka, Kansas; and Sonoma, California). The Las Vegas win came 13 days before his 18th birthday.

 

In June at Englishtown, New Jersey, he showed just how poor he is at losing. The 10th race of this Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season, with two wins in hand, Gray lost in the opening round of eliminations for the first time. John Gaydosh defeated him, winning on a holeshot (reaction time at the start), by about 20 inches (0.0066 of a second). Gray congratulated Gaydosh, then called his own performance “unacceptable.” Gray blew off some steam by walking the approximately half a mile back to his pit rather than take the customary tow-van ride with his crew.

 


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The New Mexico native started his racing career in circle-track racing, just as Top Fuel veteran Doug Kalitta did. But Gray always eyed the Pro Stock cars that his dad and grandpa drove, and dad, Shane, (who had preferred his middle son stay in circle-track racing) stepped away from his full-time ride last November.

 

The third-generation racer has a sense of how to become a champion.

 

“Most (of my mistakes) I’ve brought upon myself,” Gray said. “If I can (avoid) mistakes, I’d be all right. I’ve just got to tighten myself up and get those mistakes out before the Countdown so that when we’re rolling into the Countdown, it’s all business.”

 

Competing with his own potential rather than his opponent is “definitely something I’ve had to learn. I’ve always said it, but I have kind of a tough time doing it,” he said. “If you can worry about you in your lane and be the best on the tree and compete with yourself, you’ll be way better off. 

 

“I had to learn that the hard way, but it’s definitely the way to go. I came from the circle-track side of things, where you are racing other people as well as the track. And in drag racing, you only got to worry about racing the track. It really doesn’t matter what they do over there in that other lane.” 

 

Being undistracted, he said, means “taking more of your mind and putting it more toward” the task at hand. He said, “The more I can get that through my head, the more win lights you’ll see come on.”

 

In his first 15 races, Tanner Gray won more elimination rounds than his father did in 23 events as rookie in 2010. This year, Shane Gray won in his planned return in March at Gainesville, Florida, and Tanner Gray earned his first victory at the following race. 

 

Gray Motorsports engine-program teammate Drew Skillman—like Gray, a top-five driver—also has won three events this year to give the team seven wins in 16 events.

The parent company of the Grays’ racing team is SKI, an acronym for “Spending Kids’ Inheritance.” 

 

Said Johnny Gray, 64, “Now my kids are spending their kids’ inheritance.” 

 

Meanwhile, Shane Gray is investing it in his son Tanner, which looks to be a wise investment.














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