Following a path in his racing career that the likes of Steve Jackson, Marcus Birt, David Reese, Jeff Miller, and Jack Greene have paved in recent years, no-time and grudge racing standout J.R. Gray has transitioned into Radial versus The World competition with a brand-new nitrous oxide-assisted Chevrolet Camaro.
Chassis builder Reese and tuner Jackson, both close friends of Gray’s, helped lead him from the underground world of grudge racing to clocks-on class racing, in one of the most competitive door-car eliminators in the sport.
“Stevie has been my tuner for five or six years now, and there was an opportunity for us to a Radial versus The World car. The timing was right and we decided to do it,” Gray says. “David and I are good friends, and he’s really the one that kicked this whole thing off, because he was wanting to build me a car. So we worked out a deal and that’s when I called Stevie and told him I wanted to build a car and he said he’d support anything I wanted to do. So we just took off with it.”
Gray remains one of no-time and grudge racing’s most feared and revered competitors, having mopped up the scene in his original “Headshot” 315 radial-clad Camaro and, more recently, his ‘Jason X’ small-block nitrous Fox body Mustang. So strong a runner is ‘Jason X’ that Gray has traveled as far as Texas to get anyone to put up money against him, and with such an ironclad record, the list of those willing to race him has all but dried up.
“My grudge races are very few and far between nowadays — I get very few fair matches, and we usually have to go way out on a limb to get a race and then I have to figure out how I’m going to win,” Gray explains. “We then end up pushing the envelope further than we want to to make things happen. So I was looking Ito going into class racing so that people would have to race me.”
Reese began on the new chassis in the spring, and if not for a lengthy delay in acquiring a new Camaro body, would have already had Gray on the racetrack. Gray procured a 959 cubic-inch Pat Musi nitrous powerplant, a Rossler Turbo 400 transmission, and Neal Chance converter to propel the new machine, and keeping in line with other cars tuned by Jackson, will rely on a Holley EFI system, MSD ignition, and Racepak data acquisition. All told, the car is a blend of Reese’s small-block Camaro chassis that’s been 3.52, and Marcus Birt’s Corvette driveline that has been a 3.55.
Right off the trailer in testing at Carolina Dragway, with brand-new everything (even the tires), Gray carded a stout .905 60-foot time, and then wheelstanded his way to what would have been a sub-.900 short time; he later went 2.43 to the 330-foot clocks.
Given both the numbers right out of the box and the sheer talent behind Gray’s program, there should be little doubt this car is already a victory waiting to happen.
“I’ve got a really good team, and you can’t buy that in life,” Gray says. “To have such a good team, and to step into the Radial versus The World category and know we can be a top-five team….that opportunity isn’t always going to be there. So we ran with it, and I’m blessed to be able to pull the funds and the people together to make it happen.”
“David Reese stands behind me, and then Stevie, organizing a lot of the technical aspects and making it possible for this car to run up front. And there’s the group of guys that travel with me. I always call this group I have ‘the dream team,’ ” Gray goes on to say.
Gray still has his feared jet-black ‘Jason X’ Mustang and intends to continue competing in small-block nitrous no-time races.
“I’m always going to be a grudge racer at heart, and I kind of plan on approaching class racing the same way,” he says. “I believe the grudge life is good for the fans, it’s good entertainment at and away from the track, so I plan on just being myself. Even when we get this car ironed out, I’ll bet money every qualifying run if people are willing to.”
While the supercharged combinations — of both Hemi and small-block variety — have been headlining the class of late, Gray, a longtime nitrous racer, chose to stay with what heard his team know inside and out as they take on this new endeavor.
“I’m definitely an amateur, and my team is amateur, but we know how to rebuild nitrous engines in the pits between rounds to make them run again,” Gray says. “I’m more comfortable with nitrous engines, and since we’ve worked with the big 959’s and familiarized ourselves with them, and with the Holley EFI system, I wanted to go that direction. My knowledge base is in nitrous, and it’s going to be a competitive combination. I might have chosen a supercharger if it’s what we felt like we needed, but we don’t feel like our back is against the wall with the nitrous combination.”
Gray will test on Wednesday this week, and if all goes to plan, will head directly to Donald Long’s Sweet 16 at South Georgia Motorsports Park for his competition debut.
“We’re not going anywhere knowing we have to work on the car. I think we’re close, and one more test session we should be ready to go,” Gray says. “Stevie wrote ’30 more days’ on my board inside the trailer where we put ‘things we need to do.’ He said 30 more days and we’ll be ready. But we ain’t got 30 more days,” Gray says.
Proving you can’t take the grudge out of a grudge racer, Gray adds, “They better hope I don’t find second gear, because if I find it on Wednesday, I’ll be calling everybody out. Those guys with the ‘Warbird’ car, they’re on my chopping block, and I’m going after them. They told me they’d be my huckleberry, so I told them to just let me find second gear and we’ll go.”