Terry Gray, seen here competing in a USCS race at Magnolia Motor Speedway in 2017, leads the 2019 points standings. Photo by: David Miller/Special to The Dispatch
July 3, 2019 8:38:42 AM
Friday could be a night of firsts for sprint car driver Terry Gray.
The Bartlett, Tennessee native is searching for his first win of the season on the United Sprint Car Series and his first-ever win at Magnolia Motor Speedway, which will host the USCS 360 sprints Friday night.
Remarkably, Gray holds a 166-point edge over Johnny Bridges in the USCS standings. He said he's "been close" to reaching victory lane this season.
"I'm second-placing them to death," Gray said. "Just doing it with consistency."
Gray has embodied that consistency for the USCS for more than 20 years -- 11 of his 18 career points championships have come on the series. He cites his approach to racing smart and saving equipment as the most significant factor in being successful through his 44th year of competitive racing.
"We'll run close to 70 races each year, and, like the old saying goes, 'You have to first finish to finish first,'" Gray said. "I'm not saying I'll ever lay over to run second, but we have to consistently run top three or five to keep the ship going, and when your car is capable of winning that night, you push it a little harder."
Gray is hopeful for a "fun" racing surface at Magnolia, when the track is slick and all lines are fast and navigable. He's finished second a handful of times at Magnolia.
"The shape of the track -- when it's wet, bumpy and rough, for an older person, it's not fun to run on," Gray said. "So hopefully, it's smooth and slick. You just got to get your car going straight and smooth in that black and be patient but aggressive. Just do what you can do to keep the car under you."
Gray's measured approach will be tested by a handful of drivers on Friday, including his teammate, Morgan Turpen, a two-time USCS points champion that has raced for Gray since he began fielding a second car 10 years ago. Gray said he expects Bridges and Danny Smith to be his biggest challenges in the points race. Jordon Mallett, who won the last two USCS points championships, has moved on to the Lucas Oil sprints series.
"Smith is like me -- an older veteran who knows how to finish," Gray said. "As far as points, Johnny seems to be the one that I'm gonna have to race hard every night."
Gray said the USCS is as strong as it's ever been, both in the quality of racing and driver participation, and the number of races they run each year. He credited rules changes for minimum weight and spec tires for improving the racing over the last 10 years and making it easier for USCS regulars to race on other series and meet their rules. He expects a strong turnout Friday.
"We get a lot of early season followings out of people like Tony Stewart and guys up north that aren't racing yet," Gray said. "When we started off in Florida, we had a stellar field of 20 guys that can win any night. USCS has been around for over 20 years, but that's helped bring some recognition to the series.
"Pete (Walton) also does as a good job of promoting the younger and older drivers, too," he added.
At 60, Gray said he's as motivated and driven to run winged sprints as he was 40 years ago, though some of the maintenance work and travel each week "get a little older than they used to."
"Racing is what I've always done," Gray said. "It's how I make a living. I'm 60, but that drive to be there when the gates opens hasn't gone away yet. If they're having a race, it feels like I'm supposed to be there."
Magnolia will also host weekly points races in Durrence Layne Late Models, Sportsman Late Models, Street Stocks, Hot Shots and Factory Stocks.
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