By Anthony Caruso III
Posted: August 14th, 2014 at 12:53 am EST
Dave Connolly was last a full-time Pro Stock driver during the 2007 season. He missed the first five races in 2008 due to a lack of sponsorship, before making eight final round appearances.
Following the 2008 season, he lost his ride and had to scramble to continue to put his name out there to find a ride. As a driver, he would compete in Super Gas and Top Dragster in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, while racing a limited Pro Stock schedule while having a crew chief position.
The last three years, he served as Erica Enders-Stevens crew chief. At the end of last season, it was presented an opportunity to drive full-time again with Gray Motorsports.
“It’s pretty much the same,” Connolly acknowledged. “It’s been a long while, and this year we’ve teamed up with Shane Gray and Jonathan Gray. It’s been smooth sailing, and I’ve had the same crew chief and clutch guy since 2002.”
Despite his limited seat time, Connolly was able to win the prestigious U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis in 2012 for the third time in his career. He also reached the final round in 2011 in Charlotte, then two additional times in 2012 on limited funding deals.
Tommy Utt has been his crew chief dating back to the 2000’s. With Utt tuning the car, Connolly said he has brought up his experiences tuning Enders-Stevens car to help working on his car this season.
“It definitely helps,” Connolly said. “You appreciate it more. You truly get to know how much work goes into these things. We’re out here knit-picking thousands of a second, as it is so competitive. I know all these guys are giving a 100%, and that’s all you can ask for. It’s been a blast this year.”
Connolly has competed in all 16 races leading up to the NHRA Lucas Oil Nationals in Brainerd, Minnesota this weekend. He only has two first round losses thus far on the season, losing in Charlotte 1 to Vincent Nobile and Jason Line in the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals and the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals in Atlanta to “Professor” Warren Johnson.
Since Charlotte in April, he has made it to the second round in each race. Over that time, he was eliminated three times in the second round, including the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals in Bristol, Tennessee, NHRA Kansas Nationals in Topeka, Kansas, and two weeks ago at the NHRA Northwest Nationals in Kent, Washington.
At the NHRA Northwest Nationals, Mopar-powered Pro Stock driver Allen Johnson went 6.569 to eliminate Connolly in the second round after he went 6.589. The loss snapped a streak of four straight semi-final appearances.
In June at the NHRA New England Nationals, Connolly picked up his first win this season, and his first win since the U.S. Nationals in 2012. He defeated Kenny Delco, Nobile, and Greg Anderson in the first three rounds to set up a match up with his rookie teammate Jonathan Gray in the final round, before the veteran went 6.536 to win over Gray’s 6.577.
He also has one runner-up finish this season, and that came at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals in Norwalk, Ohio. He beat Anderson, Shane Gray, and Johnson in order to set up a match up with Enders-Stevens in the final round.
The two would have a staging dual before going in for the race. Enders-Stevens went 6.632 to Connolly’s 6.665, sending Enders-Stevens in an uproar. This is Enders-Stevens lone win over Connolly this season as she lost to him in Phoenix, Arizona and in Englishtown, New Jersey.
“She’s definitely not my No. 1 fan by no means,” Connolly admitted. “People have a different outlook on things, and you can’t control how everyone thinks. She may have been misled on a few things. All I know is that I’ve done right in every aspect from crew chiefing her car to now, where I’ve never done anything bad to her. If she doesn’t appreciate that, then it’s her choice. I’m not the one that has to sleep with that at night.”
When the Victor Cagnazzi-Gray Motorsports partnership took place last October, there was speculation that Enders-Stevens and Gray would be driving the two-car operation for this season. In the off-season, Enders-Stevens decided to move on and join Elite Motorsports, leaving the opportunity for Gray to put Connolly in the second car.
“When the whole deal was put together, we thought it was going to be Erica in one car and Shane in the other,” Connolly mentioned. “We had the funding two cars, and as things developed with her moving to Elite, it became clear that I would be put in this second Gray Motorsports car. She elected to go in a different direction, and obviously, it’s working out for her, as she’s been running well.”
Connolly currently stands in fifth in the Pro Stock points with 1,075 points, and has already clinched a position in the Countdown to 1 Championship. Enders-Stevens is the point’s leader with 1,229 points, and has a 32-point lead over Johnson after missing the past two races of the Western Swing. She has also led the points in 12 of the 16 races this season.
“It is extra special to be in the Countdown this season when I was without a full-time ride for so long,” Connolly said. “We’ve already clinched our spot right now. The depth of this team is very strong, and we know if we continue to go rounds on Sunday’s eliminations, we’ll be in the picture at the end. In 2007, we had a hot streak and won five races in a row right before the Countdown, and got cold before losing the championship. Everything happens for a reason.”