After the shocking announcement made on January 13, 2021, that three-time NHRA Pro Modified world champion Mike Janis, Sr. was retiring from driving due to health concerns, the Mike Janis Racing (MJR) camp dropped another bombshell: feared grudge racer and Radial vs the World superstar J.R. Gray will take over wheelman duties for the team’s supercharged ‘20 Chevy Camaro for the upcoming 2021 E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service season.
Based out of New York and backed by the Janis family’s Jan-Cen Motorsports and Mike Janis Superchargers businesses, Mike Janis Racing has amassed tremendous success over the years. Gray has also made his mark on the sport – most recently capturing a massive $70,000 win in Radial vs the World at his nitrous-injected “Head Shot” Camaro’s debut race.
Gray has been a longstanding member of Stevie “Fast” Jackson’s Killin’ Time Racing (KTR) crew, both with his infamous “Jason X” Fox body Mustang grudge car as well as his latest Reese Brothers Racecars-built RVW weapon. Jackson himself is a back-to-back NHRA Pro Mod champion, earning season titles in 2019 and 2020 – and, now, Gray will be driving for a rival team in NHRA.
Other than the driver, things will run as usual for the MJR team in 2021. Same car, same crew, same equipment, same operation… just now with Gray in the driver’s seat instead of Janis (who has spent nearly fifty years behind the wheel) and a new name on the window.
“The show must go on, and when we talked to J.R., we knew that he had the drive to win – that’s what’s important to us. We don’t show up to run for second,” stated Mike Janis, Jr. “There’s no doubt it’s going to be a learning experience, but if he can run like he does now on those little hockey puck radial tires, I’m sure he’ll be just fine.”
Gray will also act as the primary sponsor of the ’69 Camaro, with his Gray Contracting company prominently featured in the eye-catching new wrap that updates the car’s former Americana-theme.
“The plan is to be in Orlando for the Drag Illustrated World Doorslammer Nationals race [March 5-7] and then on to NHRA at Gainesville for the Gatornationals,” noted Janis of the team’s plan for the beginning of its season. “The goal is simple: we want to win the 2021 NHRA Pro Mod world championship for MJR and Gray Contracting. It’s time to finish what we started last year… just with a different man behind the wheel.”
The kick-off couldn’t be more perfect for Gray, who grew up in Orlando, Florida, watching his multi-time champion father race on the sportsman circuit. “My first Pro Mod race will be at Orlando Speed World and that’s where everything really started for me,” reminisced the driver who will get his storybook start at his favorite childhood track. “When my dad died, he told me he regretted leaving racing and that I should take what he left me to go buy a Pro Mod. Now, I’m finally able to make that happen.”
Gray has never driven a blower car before, nor has he run the quarter-mile as his prior cars have been predominantly focused on eighth-mile racing, but his vast résumé of experience should serve him well in quickly learning the ropes.
“This was just such an incredible opportunity that I couldn’t pass it up,” Gray stated, who is passionate about winning and grateful for the chance to race at the highest level of doorslammer drag racing by partnering with Mike Janis Racing. “It’ll be nice, too, not to have to thrash on my car all the time and to be able to just show up and drive so that I can also focus on my business.”
His licensing runs and inaugural hits will be made at Orlando Speed World, prior to the start of the World Doorslammer Nationals event. From there, Gray will continue on to each of the 12-races on the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service calendar.
“The long journey from my early days as a sportsman racer and a bracket racer, running 7.0 and box and no box, to building a grudge car and making it in the top tier across the country, then moving on to Radial vs the World for a short career, to here is just such a huge leap for me and it’s amazing,” added Gray of his feelings towards finally running at the pinnacle in NHRA Pro Mod.
Although his focus will be on chasing the NHRA championship for 2021 with Janis, Gray has hinted that he may still occasionally take his “Head Shot” Camaro out for some radial tire action if his schedule permits.
Janis has worked hard to assemble a championship-caliber team, and Gray has already proven many times over that he’s got the skill and talent to play at that level.
As the 2021 E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service season looms closer each day, the stage is set for some truly epic drama and perhaps even some exciting old school grudge racing action. One thing is certain, though: it’ll definitely be a no-holds-barred, all-out fight for the championship between Gray and the rest of the field.