February 20, 2014
With the season-opener behind him, Gray Motorsports Pro Stock driver Dave Connolly is just getting warmed up for what he anticipates will be a spectacular season competing in NHRA’s Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. This weekend, at the CARQUEST NHRA Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park near Phoenix, the 23-time NHRA Pro Stock winner will have a bit of an advantage in seeking his first win of the year and his first since scoring the trophy at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis in 2012.
In preparation for the 2014 season and the Phoenix event, Connolly and the whole Gray Motorsports two-car team converged upon the racetrack in the Valley of the Sun for a solid three days of testing in the hours before the first race of the year, the Winternationals.
“Testing did help us to prepare and know what to expect,” said Connolly, who acknowledged renovations made to the facility during the off-season, including a resurfacing of the first part of the racetrack. “I have a lot of confidence in the Gray Motorsports team. I’m privileged to be part of it, and I know we can go out there and perform better than we did in Pomona.”
Although it was only the first race of the year and the first for the Gray Motorsports team in their new, expanded formation, Connolly says that the group expected to immediately and successfully swing for the fences. Ultimately, Connolly qualified respectably in the No. 6 position and scored a round win on Sunday in the Gray Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro. Teammate Shane Gray drove the Charter Communications Chevrolet Camaro to the semifinals after qualifying in the top half of the field as well, in the No. 7 spot.
Gray enters the second race of the season fourth in the Pro Stock standings, with Connolly not far behind and tied for fifth.
“We’re going to Phoenix and looking to pick up where we left off,” said Elyria, Ohio-native Connolly, who now resides in Mooresville, N.C. “We definitely made gains throughout the weekend, so we’re very, very optimistic about what Phoenix holds for us.”
Connolly has come exceptionally close to experiencing the thrill of victory at the desert racetrack in the past. In 2004, a stellar season for the then-developing driver, Connolly fought his way to a final-round match with venerable opponent Kurt Johnson. Although he was first off the starting line in his typical fashion and maintained the lead as he expertly shifted through the gears, Johnson eclipsed Connolly just past the 1,000-foot marker to snatch the win by a mere .0008-second. The difference was a matter of a painstaking three inches on the racetrack.
“Yes, we’ve actually lost a couple of very close races there,” Connolly recalled. “But like I said, I have a lot of confidence in this team. We’re definitely looking for a final-round performance, and I hope we get the No. 1 qualifier spot and win the race. You can tell from Pomona and the level of competition there, it’s going to be a brutal year. It’s going to be a dogfight, but it’s one we’re ready for.”