He didn’t win any style points. If anything he should have scored highly in degree of difficulty.
Johnny Gray wasn’t figure skating but during Friday’s Funny Car qualifying at the NHRA Arizona Nationals in Phoenix, Az. He was doing his fair share of skating at 290 miles per hour.
Gray drove his Service Central/Big-O Tires Dodge Charger to a 4.074-second pass to claim the provisional top qualifying position, beating out a surprising Jim Head, who led early qualifying. If the run holds it will be his second career Funny Car No. 1.
Unsure of whether the car dropped a cylinder or his skills were diminishing, the surety of the run is that he performed a masterful job of driving to prevent a Firebird Raceway strip down the side of his car.
“It was a good run but the car was in a situation I like to describe as the back tires were griping all the way down,” Gray explained. “It was on the edge and every time I tried to pull it over, it would grip a little harder. You know if you pull on it too hard, you’ll pull the tires loose and they’ll start smoking.”
Gray knew he had a choice.
“You either hold onto it and let it drift or yank on it and get smoke,” Gray surmised. “It’s a judgment call and I drove it as far as I could without scraping the cement. It didn’t quite make the finish line but we were close.”
Gray admittedly drove the car a lot further to the edge than last week in Pomona when he lost in the first round largely due in part to a defective slide valve. Had he pushed on that run like he did Friday night’s run at Firebird he would have, by his own admission, “Lit up like Richard Pryor.”
In case you’re wondering exactly what griping tires mean, Gray describes the experience as a feeling in a driver’s lower back.
“The tires are trying to hold on while also trying to cut loose,” Gray said. “It’s like driving on a gravel road.”
Bringing a smile to Gray’s face is the knowledge there’s more to be had on Saturday if the atmospheric conditions cooperate.
“There’s more in it,” Gray concluded.
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