In Pro Stock Car, Tanner Gray powered his Gray Motorsports Valvoline Chevrolet Camaro to victory with a run of 6.588 at 210.18 to defeat defending category world champion Bo Butner in the final round of the NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville Dragway. This is his first career win at Gainesville and he is a third-generation event winner.
“We’ve been struggling since the beginning of the season,” Gray said. “Today was our first-round win of the season. It has definitely been a struggle, but I think it is starting to come around.”
Gray was the first driver since 2015 to win from the No. 11 qualifier position and defeated Deric Kramer, Chris McGaha, and Vincent Nobile.
Butner qualified in the fifth position and bested Jeg Coughlin Jr., Alan Prusiensky, and Drew Skillman before facing Gray. “Good weekend,” said Butner. “It’s not easy and we learned a lot today. Maybe we went the wrong way in the final, but it is a good car and I’m looking forward to the rest of the year. We have a good start. Our 2018 Camaro is awesome.”
“We just need some more experience in later rounds,” said Nobile. “The track is completely different and that last run we learned a bunch, and I can almost promise that the next time we get there we won’t make that same mistakes.”
“I’m pretty sure this is the best we’ve ever done at Gainesville,” said Skillman. “This place always kicks our butt. We had a great week. Our Chevrolet Camaro performed pretty darn good. Our team worked really hard to get (to the semifinals); we missed the tune-up on that last run. We’re going to continue to go rounds.”
“It was a good weekend overall,” said McGaha. “We learned what we came to test. We wanted to see if we had enough depth with another engine, which we did. We had the top speed of the event, which is saying something. It’s on to Vegas. I won the Four-Wide East (Charlotte). I need to win the Four-Wide West.”
“I’m absolutely shocked,” number one qualifier Greg Anderson said after losing in the second round. “I did not expect that. We aren’t sure what happened yet, but it shook the tires violently. I had all the confidence in the world in my car. It’s been as smooth as glass every run. I was more shocked than anybody, but somehow we missed bad. We’re definitely going to do some on-track testing before Las Vegas. We haven’t had a chance to do any since Pomona, so we’re going to do that. Obviously, we’ll work on engine development too, but we have to do some on-track testing. It’s time. There are things we need to work on and iron out, so that is what we’re going to do.”
“Obviously, things did not go as planned for the blue Summit Racing Chevy Camaro this weekend,” said Anderson’s teammate Jason Line, who lost in round 1. “My car was unhappy for most of qualifying and, unfortunately, that continued in the first round today. It’s disappointing and frustrating, but we’ll be okay. You’ll have weekends like this sometimes, and you just have to put them behind you and move ahead. We’ve got some work to do, but we’ve never been afraid of a little hard work.”
“Not quite enough to get it done this time and certainly Bo (Butner) didn’t leave us much room,” said Jeg Coughlin, who simply can’t stop losing early this year. “We seemed to be behind the eight-ball all weekend. The first three runs in qualifying were not complete runs and even though Q4 was a big improvement we were still chasing it a little today. When you run teams the caliber of Bo Butner’s group you have to be especially sharp and have everything in order. There’s lots to be optimistic about and we are certainly anxious to take the next step in Las Vegas.”
“We had a good weekend,” said first round loser Deric Kramer, strangely. “We made some pretty good runs. I have a little bit better driving to do. I have a little bit more to do down the track, too, but we’ll learn and get ready for Vegas.”
“We’re kind of struggling on the starting line,” said number 2 qualifier and first round loser Alex Laughlin. “It seems I’m either .00 on every run but sometimes it’s red and sometimes it’s green. What we have to do now is push the clutch pedal down and make sure the green light is on every time. It definitely bums me out to lose like that because (my crew) works so hard to get the car ready to do what it does and for me to give it away.”
“It was a great weekend,” said 14th qualifier and first round loser John Gaydosh Jr, who apparently needs a better way to spend his weekend. “I can’t thank Les and Chris (McGaha) enough letting me have some power for the weekend. It made me find out what I needed to do with the car, how much faster the car can be. We were respectable for the whole weekend for having just three shots at it. That Chevrolet Camaro is flying. I can’t wait for the next race.”
An interview with Pro Stock winner TANNER GRAY, GRAY MOTORSPORTS, VALVOLINE CHEVROLET CAMARO SS (No. 11 qualifier; earned sixth Pro Stock victory in 27th pro race; picked up 50th round victory; father and grandfather also have won the Gatornationals):
AT THE END OF QUALIFYING, WERE YOU THINKING NOBODY CAN TOUCH MY CAR?
“I was actually thinking about how the traffic would be about 1 ‘o clock to go home. We’ve been struggling pretty bad with this car. (Crew chief) Dave (Connolly) has been beating his head against the wall trying to figure it out. It seems like it’s finally coming around. My grandpa came in yesterday and said you have four rounds to get this car right or we’re going to park it and bring out the back-up car. I really like this car and was hoping it would get going and it did. The crew gave me a solid race car all day long and gave me the opportunity to be consistent and go out there and get round wins.”
EVERYBODY IN ROUND ONE WAS SLOWING DOWN BECAUSE OF CONDITIONS BUT YOU EQUALED YOUR QUALIFYING PACE. DID YOU FIGURE SOMETHING OUT?
“I didn’t figure anything out; it was my crew. They did an awesome job with the car. We let it get away from us in the semifinals against Vincent (Nobile) and got a little lucky. We just regroup for the final and had a good run. I’m just thankful to be up here.”
IS IT EXTRA SPECIAL BECAUSE YOUR GRANDPA AND FATHER HAVE WON HERE?
“It’s something that’s really cool. My little brother was racing Late Models yesterday, so my dad stayed and watched his first race. It’s definitely pretty cool to win at the same places they have.”
Val Smeland (DVS Racing Chevrolet Camaro SS) earned his first Pro Stock round victory in 24 races. He fell in the quarterfinals to Nobile. Other first-round winners included No. 1 qualifier Greg Anderson (Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro SS) and No. 3 qualifier and Phoenix winner Chris McGaha (Harlow Sammons of Odessa Chevrolet Camaro SS).
ROUND ONE — Drew Skillman, Chevy Camaro, 6.571, 211.66 def. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.757, 208.39; Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.568, 210.14 def. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 11.537, 76.81; Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.577, 210.77 def. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.569, 210.24; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.573, 210.54 def. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.602, 207.34; Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.731, 206.64 def. Jason Line, Camaro, 25.114, 29.77; Val Smeland, Camaro, 6.733, 205.60 def. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, Foul – Red Light; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.567, 210.41 def. Wally Stroupe, Camaro, 7.049, 196.93; Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.603, 210.93 def. John Gaydosh Jr, Chevrolet Camaro, 6.656, 207.88;
QUARTERFINALS — Gray, 6.612, 209.69 def. McGaha, 6.621, 210.08; Butner, 6.593, 210.14 def.Prusiensky, 6.905, 169.38; Nobile, 6.614, 209.88 def. Smeland, 6.679, 207.18; Skillman, 6.613, 210.28 def. Anderson, 9.278, 106.32;
SEMIFINALS — Gray, 8.315, 179.52 def. Nobile, 12.836, 81.64; Butner, 6.623, 209.39 def. Skillman, 6.642, 210.05;
FINAL — Gray, 6.588, 210.18 def. Butner, 6.605, 210.34.
photos by Tim Hailey, story by NHRA, team reports, and Hailey