Grudge racing is seasoned with colorful characters, hardcore fans, and some of the sharpest cars to ever grace a drag strip. When you combine all of these ingredients into one race, sprinkle in a bitter rivalry mixed with a lot of cash, you get one heck of a show and that’s exactly what happened at Lights Out 10 between Jason X and Ghost. The hype was real, the race was huge, and it all played out on one of the biggest stages in drag racing.
Jason X is owned and driven by J.R. Gray; Ghost is owned by Mario Johnson and piloted by small-tire legend Chris Tuten, and both teams are from South Carolina so their proximity just fuels their feud. When this race was about to go down at Lights Out 10 the atmosphere around South Georgia Motorsports Park was electric because everyone knew it was huge.
To understand how the tension between these camps hit a boiling point you need to go back in time a few years. Gray built Jason X, a 1991 Mustang powered by an EIC Motorsports small-block Chevy, to win a $50,000 no-time race in Memphis over the course of just three months. Johnson also had his eyes on winning that race and there were a lot of wayward words exchanged between the two. Ultimately, Jason X won the event and set the rivalry into overdrive.
In 2018 Johnson brought Ghost, a sinister-looking 2017 Corvette built by Teddy Houser and powered by a TRE small-block to WOOOSTOCK. During a small-block shootout, Jason X and Ghost drew each other, setting up another huge race. Ghost got the best of Jason X at the end of the day, but it wouldn’t be the last time these two met in 2018.
Jason X and Ghost squared off again at the biggest grudge event of the year, No Guts No Glory at Orlando Speed World. Gray had been looking for a way to avenge his loss to Johnson and being able to beat him at No Guts No Glory was huge — according to Johnson the defeat was crushing.
“We met up at No Guts No Glory, I got no excuses, he won. Up until that race last year we were undefeated so that hurt. That race was supposed to be huge but we had a transmission issue that was my fault and he won. They made me wear that loss so I had to respect that and get the race back on his terms,” Jonson says.
When it came time for a rematch between these two grudge racing titans no ordinary event would do. Both camps agreed it would have to be at a place that would allow them to throw all their cards on the table and let the cars do the talking.
“Lights Out 10 was the next big race after No Guts No Glory where we both knew the track would be right. It made sense to do this at Lights Out because it gave us a big stage to race on during one of the biggest races of the year. We knew going in that Mario would come to this ready to go,” Gray says.
The stage was set, the racers were in, and the money was on the table. The rumored pot for the race was well into the six-figureS, but the true amount of money on the line remains a mystery. In the grudge world its taboo to talk about a pot, but rest assured there was enough money flying around to raise the stakes of this race to the next level.
A race of this magnitude might have been too much pressure for some, but to Gray, it was just another day in the office behind the wheel of Jason X.
“I don’t get nervous because I’ve raced in a lot of races to get to the final round or for a lot of money. Once the car cranks up I’m just focused on what I’ve got to do and it’s business as usual. It’s exciting, but as a driver, I don’t see the fans or crowds when I’m in the car. I’m in the moment of what I’ve got to do to win.”
When it came time to get down to business both teams were professional and got straight to the point. You didn’t see any big theatrics or drama, Gray and Tuten put their machines in the beams and let them do the talking. After the tree dropped and the smoke cleared the win light appeared for Ghost and Johnson felt as if a huge weight was lifted off his shoulders.
“It seemed like for such a short race it took forever to see that win light. You got so many people that like to run their mouths online and haters, so it felt really good to win that one. It was like the whole place was quiet and then it erupted. It felt like we were down and then hit a 3-pointer to win the game.”
Gray offered to run the race back that night or the following day but Johnson declined citing a wounded engine. For these two camps grudge racing is a chess game and now they’re working on moving their pieces into position to set up another huge battle. It’s hard to say when these two will see each other again for an epic pound-for-pound match up, but in the meantime, Gray and Jason X are ready to do work.
“We got some other small-block races to run so we can crush a few other people who think they’re fast. Our goal is to show we’re the fastest small-block grudge car on earth. In reality, we’re deposit-ready for any small-block nitrous car in the world. We ain’t scared, that’s how we roll. If it’s got a small-block nitrous engine in it, and two doors we’ll race it,” Gray says.
Johnson still hasn’t even unloaded Ghost out of the trailer after the huge win. He plans on getting the car ready and thinks the rematch with Jason X could happen very soon. When that time comes he is fully confident his team will be ready.
“Our crew does everything to get Ghost ready in-house and none of this would be possible without them. Chris Tuten drives and tunes the car that Teddy Houser built. We get great parts from Camerons Torque Converter Services to put that TRE power down. Menscer Motorsports and SpeedTech Nitrous help out a lot, along with Jerrod Thompson with our intake manifold. My guys LT, KB, Herb, Sport, Vann, Poohbear, and Joe Brown also help make everything happen at the track,” Jonson says.
The Jason X vs Ghost rivalry is far from over in 2019. These two teams have been trying to get the best of each other for years and the epic race at Lights Out 10 threw more gasoline on this red-hot fire. You can count on the fact that anytime these two teams square off they don’t ever hold back.