CONCORD, N.C. – Jonathan Gray wasn’t expecting a call from one of the biggest names in NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Drag Racing Series history earlier this season. But when Rickie Smith called and asked Gray to drive, he jumped at the opportunity.
With back surgery limiting the three-time NHRA Pro Mod world champ earlier this season, Smith asked Gray to drive his nitrous-powered IDG Chevrolet Camaro until he returned. When Smith came back, Gray stayed with the longtime standout, driving another car, with Smith making the tuning calls. The results have been impressive, as Gray is eighth in points despite missing one race heading into this weekend’s NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway.
From not even expecting to race this year to getting to drive under Smith, Gray has been thrilled with what has transpired during his NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Drag Racing Series season.
“I’m very grateful that (Smith) called and asked me to drive and I’ve really enjoyed it,” Gray said. “I’ve learned a lot, not just about racing but about life and how he’s been able to race for four decades. He’s a hardcore racer and the most intense person I’ve ever been around. I don’t know anybody out there who can get a car down the track any better than he can. Every time he brings the car to the starting line, you know it’s going to run fast for the conditions.”
The race in Charlotte, which is presented by the Real Pro Mod Association (RPM), is the 10th of 12 events during the 2017 NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Drag Racing Series season and will be shown on Fox Sports 1 (FS1) and Fox Sports 2 (FS2). Bob Rahaim is the defending race winner.
After previously driving a turbo car in NHRA Pro Mod action, Gray said he’s enjoyed the entire process of driving the nitrous Camaro in 2017. The results have shown, with Gray advancing to the semifinals at three different races. His driving has made tremendous strides as well, with Gray crediting Smith’s vast knowledge for the rapid ascent.
“It took me about 30 runs to finally learn how to drive it the way he wanted me to drive it,” Gray said. “It can be a handful and you cannot drive this thing like a Pro Stock car. He’s been a very good mentor to me, probably the best I’ve ever had, as far as teaching me how to do things. I knew we were going to be able to run (well), but to me, it was more about the experience of being able to work with him. It was an honor when he called me earlier this year.”
But Gray certainly wants to take the next step in Charlotte and win his first NHRA Pro Mod race, and become the eighth different race winner in 2017 in the loaded class in the process. He’ll have to get by the likes of points leader Mike Castellana, two-time world champ Troy Coughlin, Indy winner Sidnei Frigo, Steven Whiteley, Shane Molinari, Steve Matusek and Stevie Jackson to do so, but Gray believes he’s capable. The improvement he’s experienced under Smith’s tutelage points to that, and Gray continues to enjoy the entire process.
“I’m confident we can finish the year well and end on a good note,” Gray said. “There’s no doubt we can go out there and run well and, who knows, maybe sneak in there and get a win. To continue this season with (Smith), it’s been a lot of fun and I’ve really enjoyed it. At the end of the day, I can say I got to do something that not many people get to do.”
Featuring the world’s fastest and most unique doorslammer race cars, the NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Drag Racing Series offers something for every kind of hot-rodding enthusiast. The class is highlighted by historic muscle cars, like ’67 Mustangs, ’68 Firebirds and ’69 Camaros, as well as a variety of late model American muscle cars. With more than 3,000 horsepower, the suspended door pro mod cars travel the quarter-mile in less than six seconds at speeds exceeding 250 mph.
NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Drag Racing Series qualifying begins Friday, Sept. 15 with two qualifying session at 2:00 and 4:30 p.m., continuing with the final qualifying session on Saturday, Sept. 16 at 12:00 p.m. Round one of eliminations takes place on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and continues on Sunday, Sept. 17 at 1:50 p.m.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call 800-455-FANS (3267). Tickets also available at www.zmaxdragway.com. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. To honor the Salute to First Responders, military and first responders can save 20 percent on general admission tickets at the gate. For info about the NHRA visit www.NHRA.com.
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About Real Pro Mod
The Real Pro Mod (RPM) association was created by Pro Mod team owners and drivers to preserve and promote the future of these amazing spectacles of drag racing. With more than 3,000 horsepower, the suspended door Pro Mod cars travel the quarter mile in under six seconds and at speeds exceeding 250 MPH.