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Clinton man finds life is a real drag

"For one Clinton man life is a real drag, but that hardly means it’s boring.In the early ‘70s, AA/Fuel Altered drag racing cars were officially outlawed by the major drag racing organization, the National Hot Rod Association.The NHRA conducts the Winston Series for Professional Drag Racing across the U.S. and Canada and has held “get acquainted” races in many foreign lands.The radical AA/Fuel Altered machines always were considered close to uncontrollable from the early days of the sport to the present. They basically are a tubular-chassied car of short wheelbase, usually a fairly high center of gravity, and a motor directly out of a AA/Fuel Dragster. To see an AA-FA car, as they are designated, make a hard, straight pass at the quarter-mile standard is out of the ordinary. These antiques are now relegated to an “Exhibition Only” status, though some tracks allow a more competitive race program.Into this scene steps Clinton resident Chris Gray, 40, a Boeing employee and Snohomish native. He is married to Deanna and they have two preschool sons, Brice and Jesse, destined to be kids who will have fun growing up with Dad.Gray and Deanna are involved inn their community, he being a former vice president of their development, a position which Deanna currently holds. Gray says that the long hours he puts in as a trouble-shooter mechanic at Boeing and the usual time consuming activities of raising a family don’t allow him much tome to devote to racing. Not an unusual lament -- time, where art thou!Gray has his own dragster, the old-style front motored chassis, possibly one of Jerry “The King” Ruth’s old cars from the ‘60s Top Fuel wars. It is now powered by a 468 cubic inch, big-bloc Chev, fuel injected, which Gray has driven to 163 mph in 8.27 seconds on the quarter-mile asphalt. The ever-rising costs of even the sportsman style of drag racing precludes Gray’s involvement at this time, so his potent Chevy motor resides on an engine stand and the neat, carefully maintained, Don Long-built chassis and components hang on to the garage wall.Upon meeting Gene de Bortole, another Boeing employee who just happened to own two 1969-built museum piece AA/Fuel Altered roadsters and who needed someone to drive one while he throttled the other, it ended some plans for Gray and made some others, at least for the near future.Gray drives the number two car, formerly known as the Tocco, Harper & Garten AA/Fuel Altered roadster, with engine by Bishop & Buell. This is Gray’s first experience driving a super-charged car, the engine being a 392 cubic inch Hemi, produced by Chrysler in 1957 and ‘58. Gray’s best run in the wild car received a time slip of 173 mph at Mission Dragstrip, B.C. A trip to Bakersfield for the California Hot Rod Reunion in October was a highlight of the 1999 season. Gray felt that he became more familiar with the roadster, overcoming a slick track and a race car that got up on two and three wheels to keep the shiny side up, an accomplishment of its own with one of these violent machines. Gray and De Bortole were surprised and pleased to be interviewed by the TV crew from ESPN/2 for the “In Drag Racing” show. Of course there is no guarantee that the boys’ footage won’t end up on the cutting room floor, but watch for the California Hot Rod Reunion coverage and maybe you’ll see a guy from Clinton.Gray’s development of a “need for speed” is attributed to his mother, who, Gray claims tongue in cheek, set land speed records while driving the family Lincoln on vacation in Montana, towing an 18-foot travel trailer.Gray starter racing motorcycles at age 12 and turned pro at 16. He raced bikes for 13 years, including two Seattle Super Cross events in the Kingdome. After retiring from bike racing (“too many broken bones”), Gray restored a ‘69 Camaro and won many show trophies including a Super Chevy Show Award at Seattle International Raceway.But, as Gray humorously remarks, he tired of watching paint dry and decided to get into something more exciting, hence the purchase of his dragster.Gray is a “hands on” guy, doing most of his own motor, paint, fabricating and machine work on his own machines and as much as he can on his current ride, De Bortole’s fuel roadster.If you’re interested in more photos of Gray’s drag racing machines from the ‘ 60s to the present, or if you’d just like to talk about drag racing, contact Russ Griffith dragfotos, 331-5062."

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