This is my first try at this blog deal, so don't be too hard on me. We just got to Topeka last night and when we were getting ready to get here, I realized that the NHRA Kansas Nationals will be my fifth race. That means that I'm automatically entered into the competition for Rookie of the Year, or as NHRA calls it, the Auto Club Road to the Future Award.
That would sure be an honor to get that, and I'm actually real surprised that my brother Shane didn't get it in his rookie year in 2010. I thought he did a great job in his first year learning this class and then winning the Finals in Pomona.
To be a real contender for Rookie of the Year at the end of this season, I have to continue doing what I am doing and enjoy it, because if you don't love what you're doing, you aren't going to be any good. I’m learning every week, and I'm still excited to get to every race. Being able to go out there and be .00 to .020s all the time on the starting line, that is nice – but the trick will be to continue doing that as I go. I haven’t let anyone change anything on my car because I’m still learning how to drive it, and right now I'm comfortable.
My crew chief, Tommy Lee, and my brother, Shane, are helping me with my driving. Shane is one of the best drivers out there when it comes to shifting these cars. He is really phenomenal at it, and I guarantee you there isn't anybody as good out there. Tommy Lee is really great with me on the radio and talking with me; he is a very positive person and that is extremely helpful as I'm learning.
I’ve got less than 50 laps in my Gray Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro and I have some bad habits that I need to correct, so that is what we will be focusing on. There are a few things that I need to fix as a driver before we can move on to anything else, and if I can do that this weekend in Topeka and get a little better handle on the car, I think we can go some rounds.
It’s hard to say if we will win Rookie of the Year. We just need to give it a few more races and get some more win lights, then we will be able to really see how we line up against those other guys. It was great to get my first round win in Houston, and I'd like more of that, that's for sure. I know I’ve got to start going rounds; that will be the key. I'm not sure if I have a chance to be Rookie of the Year when this is all said and done, but I sure hope so. It's been quite a ride already.
The Gray Motorsports team is getting ready to head over to Las Vegas for the SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals, and it definitely looks like it's going to be a very busy weekend for us.
I have to send out a big thank you to everyone who voted for me to get into the K&N Horsepower Challenge. That was huge for our team, and it was a very big deal for me to have the support of the fans, especially since I haven't been in the driver's seat for the past few years. It's an honor to race in this competition with my teammate, Shane Gray, and I hope everyone knows that I am very grateful and I hope to make you all proud.
This race is going to be very special for our team for a few reasons. Obviously, we get to race the K&N Horsepower Challenge, but we also get to go back to Las Vegas and a track where Shane just came off a big win last October. We've both been to the winner's circle there before, and we have two of the toughest draws for the first round of the shootout (Shane has Jason Line and I have Allen Johnson), but I feel if we play our cards right, we should be running each other second round and one of us can go on and win this thing.
I feel like we may even have a shot at doubling up, and having that confidence in the team that surrounds you is a good sign. I wouldn't want another team behind me right now, that's for darn sure.
I can't wait to get to Vegas and race in this deal, but once the trucks were all loaded up and left the Gray Motorsports shop headed west, I went down to where I keep my motorhome and started thinking about de-winterizing it. Yep, I'm thinking about a bracket race that is scheduled the weekend between Vegas and Charlotte. You would think after being on the road and gone as much lately as we have been, the last thing I'd want to do is spend a weekend off at a bracket race, but I'm definitely considering it.
I might have to get my Chevy II up and ready and try to hit a couple. I'm not saying I'll hit every one, but there are definitely three or four key bracket races I'd like to be part of, and there are some good races I'd like to get to throughout the year. Maybe a half-dozen or so.
I just really enjoy the atmosphere and the folks out there. That's where I grew up, and I do miss it. I love Pro Stock racing, but it's a different atmosphere all together when you go to these bracket races. It's laid back, and you have a chance to enjoy the company of the other racers.
I like driving this Chevy II. I only ran it three or four times last year, and I runner-upped with it in a 10-grander in South Georgia so for only having it out a few weekends, I was very happy with it.
I'll try to keep you all updated on how things go on that end of things, but obviously the main focus is making progress with our Gray Motorsports Pro Stock Chevrolet Camaros and the COPO Camaros in Stock Eliminator. We're still working on a whole new Gray Motorsports website, but you can always find updates and pictures and stories on our Facebook pages: Facebook.com/GrayMotorsportsShaneGray, Facebook.com/GrayMotorsportsJonathanGray and Facebook.com/DaveConnollyRacing. See you out there.
The trucks are on the road and headed west
Hey everybody. The Gray Motorsports drivers, Shane Gray and Dave Connolly, were nice enough to invite me to take over their territory here on the NHRA blog for a little while, and that gives me a great opportunity to bring you up to speed, as they say. There has been a lot going on at the Gray Motorsports facility in the past few months, as I'm sure you've all heard by now. As you probably expect, it's been pretty exciting, to say the least.
You might be wondering, who the heck is this guy sharing some info about Gray Motorsports? That's a fair question, and a good place for us to start. Here is a little background about myself.
I came on board with Gray Motorsports at the beginning of the 2013 season with the mindset of contributing to building a championship operation, However, my relationship with the Grays started well before then. I was developing a piece of equipment used to quantify engine performance, called an inertia engine dyno. Johnny Gray recognized the accomplishments made during the development period and the usefulness the product had with his engine program. Johnny was persistent about getting one under his roof, and we worked together to make that happen. Since then my relationship with the Gray family has grown, and today I am the General Manager for Gray Motorsports.
I came from the NASCAR world of the racing industry. I worked for three years for Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing as a Design Engineer before accepting a full time position at Gray Motorsports. I was designing chassis components for the NASCAR Sprint Cup cars of Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya. My tenure there included wins at Indianapolis (Brickyard 400), Charlotte, and Watkins Glen. It was a pretty big transition for me to change from turning left most of the time to going straight and only making one left turn at the end of the pass. Even though this is quite a different world than I am used to, I've really come to enjoy drag racing through working with Gray Motorsports. I really enjoy the competitiveness of the Pro Stock class. Quite honestly, how could someone not be excited about the close competition we experience on the track?
My daily duties at our shop in Denver, N.C., start with overseeing many of the day-to-day business operations, and that includes everything from administrative duties to making sure the guys have the tools and equipment necessary to do their jobs and to do them well. There is always plenty to do around here, especially over the last few months.
Last season was relatively simple for the Gray Motorsports group. We were small and operated as a very competitive single-car team. Victor Cagnazzi was equally impressive with his single car operation. Common sense told us that we could function more efficiently and even more competitively as a combined unit. So, this led to the merger that has been a hot topic in the off-season. Yes, the merger has brought on many challenges, with the biggest being the rapid growth of our small program. That's a challenge that I consider to be very positive. It was a great feeling to add the former Cagnazzi employees to the Gray Motorsports roster. Our talent pool grew exponentially, and this growth adds to our excitement for the 2014 season. It's great working with Shane, his brother Jonathan, and their dad Johnny. Really, the entire Gray family has been so welcoming and shown such a sense of commitment to drag racing. This is completely evident with the recent growth of Gray Motorsports.
It is also a tremendous opportunity for all of us at Gray Motorsports to work with Victor Cagnazzi, especially when you consider the past success he has had in NHRA's Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and the experience that he brings to our team. He has already added great sponsorship partners to Gray Motorsports and we are excited to share our future success with all of them.
The Gray Motorsports Dyno Room
Now let me tell you about our workforce! This is where I get really excited… We have great people here at Gray Motorsports, starting with two crew chiefs in the building now. I was fortunate to spend last season working with Justin Elkes, and let me tell you that was exciting – it gave us a glimpse of the future success that we will all have together. Now we get to welcome Tommy Utt to the group as our co-crew chief, and with Tommy's vast experience in the Pro Stock series, our Gray Motorsports cars should be getting down the track even faster.
Near the end of last season, we restructured the engine shop and brought about Paul Hoskins and Dan Cordier to work with Mike Smith, and our future began to look very bright. And when we announced the merger with Cagnazzi Racing, we added Stevie Johns and Kevin Wideman to the engine program, exponentially increasing the potential for the program. Since these four have been added, our dyno cells have been very active, with Mike at the controls. Mike has been with Gray Motorsports for several years now, and he is a very versatile guy. He can do anything we ask him to do…Yesterday our air compressors failed…again – the lines froze due to the moisture and cold temperatures (again) we have had here in NC – and it seems like just about every day Mike goes out there and has to fix something with them due to the extreme cold weather we have had. That's just one example of how he takes on responsibility. He's a good asset to the team, just like everyone we have here at Gray Motorsports.
Jep, also known at JT, is another guy who has been with Gray Motorsports for a long time. JT is a reliable member of the team who will do what it takes to get things done. Not only is he our transmission and clutch guy, he will drive Shane's truck and trailer down the highway this year. Dan Duncan is new to our team, and he'll be responsible for the back half on Shane's car and driving Dave's truck and trailer. Without JT and Dan safely moving our equipment up and down the highway, we wouldn't be going anywhere. Johnny Utt is also new to our program and he will be filling a variety of roles with both cars. He brings plenty of experience to our program and has a great mentor to learn from with his father as a co-crew chief.
Speaking of Dave, adding him to our driver line-up is really exciting because of his past success and his reputation as a driver. It’s going to be awesome to watch how well he and Shane work together. I think they'll be a dominating team.
Of course, when we talk about the team, we can't forget to mention Angela. She is up front in the office answering the phones and making sure the bills are paid, and doing anything else that is asked of her. With the talent pool we've built at Gray Motorsports, we're optimistic for profound results in the 2014 season. The chemistry that the team has built in such a short time is evidence that we have a great group of guys working together, and it's only going to get better. We're on our way and so is our equipment! Hello NHRA Winternationals in Pomona …. Here comes Gray Motorsports!
One of the Gray Motorsports Camaros. Feels good to be back in the driver's seat.
Working on some of the small details with Tommy Utt inside the trailer at the Gray Motorsports shop. Been by my side most of my career.
Finally get to work with this guy, Jep Trammell.
Signing a calendar for a fan. Thanks for the support!
Well, this is something new. I haven’t really done a blog like this before, but here I am, and we’ll see how it goes. There is a lot happening right now, and this seems like a good place to sort of keep track of it and let you all in on what’s happening.
You should already know the big news: I’ll be driving a Gray Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro next season, and it’s a dream come true for me because I get to get back in the seat. Don’t get me wrong, I love crew chiefing, and I learned a lot. I’ve always been a hands-on driver, and I’m glad I got to work with the folks that I have for the past few years. It’s been great, but most everybody likes to put on the helmet, and I feel pretty fortunate I get to get back in the car.
I also get to drive the COPO Camaro in Stock Eliminator this year again, and that’s something I’m looking forward to. I came from sportsman roots, my background is in bracket racing, so that’s something I really enjoy. It’s going to be interesting this year. If you have a chance and are a National Dragster reader, check out the story Kevin McKenna wrote about our COPO Camaro program on their website: http://www.nationaldragster.net/daily-features/the-sports-report/item/2349-the-copo-connection.html.
As a Pro Stock driver, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some great people – starting at the top with Grumpy Jenkins on down to Terry Adams and of course Tommy Utt and so many great folks in between. Tommy has been with me since day one aside from a few brief times in my career. He’s always been there for me, and I’ve gotten to work hand in hand with him – I’m glad I paid attention to the mechanical side of things because that eventually opened up the door to being a crew chief on Erica’s car.
The Utts are like family to me, and now that we’ve joined up with Gray Motorsports, the family is just getting bigger. I feel like I already had one of the best teams out there, and now we get to add Justin Elkes and the rest of the Gray Motorsports guys. It’s really been fun because everybody has a different way of doing things, there are lots of different personalities, but we all have strong traits that are really jelling together. We’re in the shop every day working, cracking jokes, having a blast, and being productive all at the same time. The previous success of the guys in this group that we have put together speaks for itself; we’ve surrounded ourselves with a lot of talent, everyone is getting along great, and now we just have to go out there and perform.
So far, so good – we just spent four days down in Bradenton testing, and we really couldn’t have asked for a better test session. It wasn’t perfect – nothing is – but it didn’t spin anybody into the ground. We dove in, fixed any problems, and there wasn’t any whining or finger pointing. The chemistry is great. My new teammate, Shane Gray, is very easy going and easy to work with. We’re both open to criticism, and that’s a good thing because we can learn from each other. We already are.
It was interesting because right off the bat, we knew it was only testing and it was only December of 2013, but we were up there .00-ing it on the Tree by the second and third day. We’re already driving each other. We are each other’s motivator. I wouldn’t consider it a rivalry, but it’s definitely a motivator, and I haven’t had that since 2007 when I was racing with Jeg. It’s exciting.
I’ve always said that I enjoy working on the car, but being in the crew chief role was 10 times harder than driving. Since I was 14 or 16 I’ve been behind the wheel, and driving comes second nature, but to get thrown into the role of crew chief is tough. There is so much more you have to deal with to get these cars up and down the track effectively. With folks like Tommy and Justin, the odds are in your favor – but you never have it figured out; it’s an ongoing science project, but that’s what makes it fun.
I will still have a voice when it comes to making calls on the car – once it’s something you do, it’s not something you can turn off. I’ll probably want to be involved more than I’m going to be able to, but I’ve had a great working relationship with Tommy, and that’s rolled over easily with Justin. Most of the time we all agree, and I don’t think I’ll be totally cut out of the decision-making. It’ll be like a lot of the other teams out there whose drivers are involved in tuning the car as well. That’s something that’s good about our team. If something happens and Justin or Tommy can’t be there, we still have two people who can get these cars down the track. There is a lot of depth to our team for a lot of reasons, and that’s just one of them.
We all work together in the shop, and lately we’ve been doing anything and everything. We get together and each of us will tackle certain tasks. It’s great because we’re all well rounded enough that if the responsibility of the day is to get parts shipped out, then that’s what we do. If it’s mounting tires, we do that. Cleaning up inventory, going through old parts, shipping and receiving, working on suspension or scaling the cars – we all just get in there and do it.
There has been a lot involved in getting our two shops to merge. We had to get equipment here, go through trailer inventory and see what we have to run two cars and what parts need to be serviced. It’s been pretty crazy, but with testing out of the way we have been able to focus on small details, making log books, and things like that. It’s almost time to take some time off for the holidays, and I play to spend it with my family up in Ohio, then I’ll come back to North Carolina to spend time with my girlfriend Lindsey’s family.
The next thing you know, it’s going to be January and we’ll be getting prepared to go testing again. Drag racing sure isn’t a hobby anymore. It’s a full time job. But we get to play with race cars every day. In my case I get to drive a Pro Stock car, and I also get to drive that COPO Camaro, so I’ve got no complaints at all. We’ve got plenty of good stuff coming up. I know it’s about to get real busy, but I’ll try to post another blog soon. In the meantime, you can follow me on Twitter: @dconnolly_ps. While you’re at it, you could also go on over and like Facebook.com/DaveConnollyRacing and follow @graymotorsports on Instagram. I think that about covers it! Merry Christmas, everyone.