Prior to the Gatornationals, Tanner Gray’s Pro Stock team was searching for answers about a tough two-race start to the 2018 NHRA season.

The team found its groove at Gainesville, Fla., as Gray reached the winner’s circle in his Gray Motorsports Valvoline Chevy Camaro.

Gray clocked a 6.588-second elapsed time at 210.18 mph to defeat reigning world champion Bo Butner’s 6.605-second lap at 210.34 mph in the final round.

“We’ve been struggling at the beginning of the season,” said Gray, 19. “We made the Phoenix test before Pomona and went to Pomona and lost in the first round and we went back to Phoenix and tested there and went back to the Phoenix race and then went to Darlington, S.C., and tested there and then we went to Bradenton (Fla.) for three days and tested. It has been a lot of testing. We’ve been beating our heads against the wall trying to get things to act right. It really wasn’t responding to the changes we were making and Dave (Connolly, Gray’s crew chief) really sat there last night and looked everything over and obviously found something because it looked like a race car today.”

Gray won NHRA’s 2017 Auto Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award after winning five races and being a runner-up twice and placing fourth in the Pro Stock point standings. Tanner joins family members – grandfather, Johnny Gray (Funny Car 2013) and his dad, Shane (Pro Stock 2017) as Gatornationals winners.

Gray qualified No. 11 at 6.571 seconds at 211.13 mph. Despite starting near the bottom of the ladder, he didn’t blink defeating Deric Kramer, Chris McGaha, the winner of the Arizona Nationals in Phoenix, and Vincent Nobile before ousting Butner at Gainesville Raceway. Gray becomes the first Pro Stock driver to win from the No. 11 qualifying spot since 2015.

“You have the same goal whether the car is fast or slow,” Gray said about his mindset for race day after qualifying No. 11. “Drag racing is so unpredictable, you don’t know what is going to happen.”

The victory against Nobile was a tire shake fest that Gray won with an 8.315-second run.

“When rounds start on Sunday, I really try to put everything out of my head and work on my job, hitting the tree, shifting and getting the thing to the other end and whatever happens, happens,” Gray said. “I trust (my crew) is going to give me a car that’s going to get me some round wins. It’s so tough to go testing that much and get the same results. Today was our first-round win, and I think it is starting to come around. I don’t think we are where we need to be yet, but it is turning in the right direction.”

Gray did do his part on the Christmas tree as he had reaction times of .021, .017, .023 and .026 in his four round wins.

“Personally, I felt like the track came to me today,” he said. “I just went up there and tried to get the best reaction time I could, and I was kind of shocked how consistent it was.”

During his brief Pro Stock career, Gray has never been shy about showing raw emotions and that is something he doesn’t plan on changing.

“I go back and watch some of the (TV) broadcasts and you can see guys doing it for a show and that’s just never been me,” Gray said. “I just show you what I’m doing whether I'm mad or happy. I feel like I’m a perfectionist and I don’t take just being OK as good. I’m always trying to better myself, and when I don’t reach those standards it ticks me off.”