Tanner Gray became the youngest NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series champion by qualifying in the No. 6 position at the Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona. The 19-year-old Pro Stock racer won two races during the NHRA Countdown to the Championship and will race for a third on Sunday. The Charlotte native boasts four playoff wins in his career in just two seasons of NHRA racing.
Gray began Pro Stock racing at 17 years old in 2017 and earned his first victory in Las Vegas just four races into his career by defeating future champ Bo Butner. Since then, he has won 12 races in 47 starts. Sunday will mark the 48th start of his career and final before he transitions to the K&N West Series in 2019.
“I don’t think I’ve been this nervous for qualifying since my first race here in Pomona,” said Gray. “We started this season pretty slow, and I didn’t think we were going to be in this position by the end of the year. But something clicked about midway through the season after all that testing we did, and it ended up clicking for us. [Crew chief Dave Connolly] did so much work on the car, and that paid off.”
The racer was preceded in NHRA competition by his father, Shane Gray, and grandfather, Jonathan Gray. Tanner already bested both in win totals and did so in a shorter period. He has more wins (12) than first-round losses (six) and leads Pro Stock in reaction-time average (.02) this season, making him one of the best leavers in NHRA history.
This is the first championship for Gray Motorsports and the first Mello Yello championship for Connolly, who cut his teeth as an excellent driver in both Top Fuel and Pro Stock. Gray first got to know his crew chief as a fan, and then when Connolly drove for Gray Motorsports.
“When he came to drive for us in 2013, I think we kinda became friends, and then we’d get together on the practice Tree,” said Gray. “Anyone who knows Davey knows how competitive he is. He’d give me a hard time any time he cracked me on the Tree, but that just made me a better driver.”
“I got so much support from him and my parents and my grandparents, too. I wouldn’t be here without them.”
He will start off race day at the Auto Club NHRA Finals by racing his father from the No. 6 position, giving him lane choice. Eliminations begin at 11 a.m. PT.