LAS VEGAS --
However, Johnny Gray will head to the The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with that exact design on his Pitch Energy Dodge Charger for the SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals, April 5-7, and the veteran driver doesn't expect to gain any lucky Vegas mojo from the design that is a tribute to his father, the late John R. Gray, who enjoyed playing the card game Pitch.
However, Gray is hoping that the momentum his team produced by winning the last event on the circuit - the tradition-rich Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals in Florida - will roll over and push him to a second-straight victory in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Spencer Massey (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car) and Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) are the defending winners of the event that will be televised on ESPN2HD.
"I don't think having any cards on the side of my car is going to help me one bit out in Vegas, this sport is pretty fickle," Gray said. "The team has momentum right now and we just like to go out there and have fun. We have a blast at the track and we have a good running hot rod right now, so I like our chances to go there and double-up."
Gray raced to an emotional victory at the Gatornationals two weeks ago. It was a race that he definitely wanted to check off his NHRA Bucket List before he hangs up the gloves and helmet at the end of this season.
"That was a real special win for me because I have a home in Florida now and have been spending a lot of time down there," said Gray, a New Mexico native. "We had a lot of friends and family at that race and it felt great to win it not only for (team owner) Don (Schumacher), but because that is such a real prestigious race and it was my last time to get it done and I am glad we did."
"The team has great chemistry right now and just as important all the parts on the car seem to have great chemistry right now too," Gray said. "If the parts on the car can continue to get along and stay in a good mood we'll be fine because the guys have a great handle on the car right now and we're having some fun."
Gray says the smooth racing surface that The Strip at LVMS provides makes some of the crew chiefs in the nitro pits hungry to throw everything at the track. From a driver's perspective, he says it is literally a blast to race there.
"I had one of my biggest explosions at Vegas, so I always kid (crew chief Rob) Wendland that on every run at that track I like to close one eye at about 800 feet (downtrack) just in case," Gray said with a chuckle about his spectacular explosion that sent his carbon-fiber Charger body high into the air at the Oct. 2011 race at LVMS. "Vegas is a great race track where you can generate a lot of power and our cars like to run there, so we are anticipating having a great time."
If Gray is going to add an LVMS victory to his bucket list and start an early-season winning streak, he'll have to hold off a tough group of challengers including defending event winner Hight, defending world champ Jack Beckman, Winternationals winner Courtney Force, five-time LVMS winner Ron Capps, ultra-quick Cruz Pedregon and 15-time world champ John Force, among others.
Antron Brown is atop the pack in Top Fuel riding high with momentum after claiming the 200th win for Don Schumacher Racing at Gainesville, Fla. Brown, who won this event in 2011, will try to increase his series lead with a strong performance at the controls of his Matco Tools dragster. A strong contingent of challengers will also be in the hunt for victory, including U.S. Army driver Tony Schumacher, Al-Anabi Racing's Shawn Langdon, Mac Tools dragster driver Doug Kalitta, and defending event winner Massey, among others.
In Pro Stock, Mike Edwards leads the points standings based on his great performances during qualifying, which includes taking the No. 1 spot at the first three races behind the wheel of his I Am Second Chevy Camaro. Edwards has yet to win a race this season, but the two-time winner of this event hopes to change that trend over the weekend. Defending world champ Johnson won the most recent event at Gainesville and comes into this event looking for his second title in a row here. Other winners this season in the 200 mph factory hot rod category are Vincent Nobile and Erica Enders-Stevens.
Fans will have the opportunity to meet many of the sport's superstars at the NHRA Fan Fest Thursday, April 4 at the New York-New York Hotel and Casino. Schumacher, Brown, Capps Beckman, Anderson and Line, along with several other drivers, will be on hand for autographs and a question-and-answer session at the Staten Island Room near the Sporting House Bar & Grill from 6-8 p.m.
As always, fans also will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they're granted an exclusive pit pass, allowing them to see firsthand the highly skilled mechanics service the race cars between rounds. While visiting the pits, interactive NHRA Nitro Alley and the NHRA Manufacturers Midway are two popular areas fans won't want to miss. Children 12 and younger will receive free general admission tickets with a paid adult.
To kick off Championship Sunday's pre-race festivities, fans will have the chance to see their favorite drivers during driver introductions. The Jersey Boys cast member Graham Fenton, who plays Fankie Valli (now playing at the Paris Las Vegas), will perform the National Anthem.
• SCHEDULE: Mello Yello Series qualifying sessions are scheduled for 2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Friday, April 5 and continue on Saturday, April 6 at 12:40 p.m. and 2:20 p.m. K&N Horsepower Challenge rounds are set for Saturday, April 6 at 12:30 p.m., 2:15 p.m. and 3:25 p.m. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, April 7.
• TICKETS: Tickets are available for the SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals online at www.lvms.com or by calling The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway at (800) 644-4444.
• TELEVISION: ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise two hours of qualifying coverage at 8 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, April 6 and three hours of eliminations coverage at 11 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, April 7.
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