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NICK SCHWIEN ⠢ Hays Daily News Brandon Gray checks the air pressure in his mod lite tires prior to racing in late September at Rush County Speedway in La Crosse. Gray won the mod lite track title at Salina Speedway this season.

Dominant swing at end of year lifts Gray to crown

SALINA -- In 2005, Brandon Gray made the leap into the mod lite racing class.

The powerful cars shaped similar to a modified, only much smaller, have provided a thrill for the Salina driver since.

In 2011, Gray notched his first track title, taking the crown at Minneapolis Raceway.

He ended the season on a high note, and he was hoping to start this year off much the same way.

Only things didn't go as planned for Gray at Salina Speedway.

"At the beginning of the year, it started off pretty rough for me,"  Gray said. "I had three or four DNFs. That was hard for me to take after coming off seven wins last year. Obviously, that wasn't where I wanted to go."

Gray was experiencing one of those racing seasons, the type where things just don't go right.

"It was actually pretty horrible," he said. "My last win at Minneapolis last year was in the final points race, and I actually won it. I came off of racing on a high and went into Salina racing on a low. Things, up until about early or mid-July, were like, 'When am I going to get a break? This is not working for me.' But, thankfully, things turned around and we started having fun every week."

Something happened, and Gray refers to it as something because he can't quite put his finger on what turned around his season.

"I don't know what it was," he said. "I got a win, a second and four more wins right in a row."

That propelled Gray back into the hunt for the track title at Salina. Entering the final points race of the season, Gray knew what he needed to do to win the title.

"There were 15 cars there,"  Gray said. "I told a bunch of guys I was just going to go out and roll around and just make sure I didn't get last. Then I saw a couple holes about two or three laps in, then a couple more broke open. Then I thought, 'What the heck?' If I was going to have a mechanical failure, it was going to break whether I was rolling around here or racing. As long as I didn't spin out or take somebody out, I might as well try to win the darn thing."

Gray didn't win the feature, but he made his way up to third, securing the track crown ahead of Corbin Pickerill and Chris Unruh.

"I didn't even look at points until about after that fourth win," Gray said. "I knew the first half of the season was pretty much offsetting everything I had been doing. ... A buddy of mine who helps me said, 'We might get a points championship out of this deal.' I said, 'No way.' "

Gray's championship mirrored his effort in the final race. Always a competitor, he wasn't about to settle for the slow start. When he saw openings, he took advantage. When he needed to play it safe for a lap, he did.

"I get a lot of guys that ask when I'm going to move up in classes,"  Gray said. "I don't think I will. I have a two-car garage, and I can still get my pickup inside there -- sometimes. Lately, it's been mine and my wife's vehicle outside and the two cars in the garage. It's just a lot of fun. ... (If) somebody comes up and asks me to drive their car for them, then I'll look at it."

In the final eight races at Salina, Gray didn't finish worse than third. All five of his wins came after July 6, and there was a stretch where he won five of six features on the track. His two third-place outings came in the final two races.

"Next year, who knows what it will bring for me,"  Gray said. "Will I start out on a low again, or will I have a good year? Where will we be at? We'll just have to see."

NICK SCHWIEN

nschwien@dailynews.net