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Video: NHRA crews fight at SpringNationals in Houston

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A feud between the Pro Stock teams of Tanner Gray and Alex Laughlin that’s been simmering on the back burner since last summer spilled into the open at Sunday’s NHRA SpringNationals at Baytown, Texas, near Houston –- first at the top end of the track, then later in the pits.

Sunday’s incident unfolded following Gray’s first-round Pro Stock victory against Laughlin by a mere .0292 of a second.

Laughlin had been an engine-program customer of Gray Motorsports until a few weeks ago, and their animosity toward one another stemmed from the way that association gradually turned sour. Laughlin has shared through social and traditional media that he thinks he didn’t receive fair treatment from Gray Motorsports as a client. Tanner Gray contended his family’s company and the race team bent over backward to help Laughlin. He claimed Laughlin pled poverty yet continued to accept valuable work and parts from Gray Motorsports and tied up manpower while lying that he was planning a switch to Elite Motorsports.

Gray, 18, admitted he did confront Laughlin, 28, when they picked up their time slips, and the two exchanged heated words. What they agree on is that Gray approached Laughlin and sarcastically asked about the team switch, “How did that work out for you?” and that Laughlin shot back, “These people (at Elite Motorsports) have already done more for me than you guys ever did or ever will” — to which Gray replied, “Yeah, it shows.”

Laughlin told FOX-TV he is “absolutely happy with the choices I’ve made” and said the Gray team’s “sportsmanship is absolutely the worst ever.” In a press release, Laughlin was quoted as saying he told Gray, “Let me explain something to you. You’re 17 years old, you show zero sportsmanship, and you have a lot to learn about racing at this level.

“There was just mouthing back and forth after that,” Laughlin said. Once Gray’s crew arrived, he said he told them, “This kid has a lot to learn, so someone please get ahold of him.” He said, “And then it was, ‘To get to him, you’re going to have to get through us,’ and it went downhill from there.”

Gray said Laughlin and his team continually stare at him and make “smart-ass comments.” He said he has “been getting tired of them staring at us, just mean-mugging us.” He said he patted Laughlin on the back, and Laughlin said Gray “slapped” him on the back. Laughlin told him, “If you touch me again, we are going to have a problem.” Gray said, “If he considers that a slap, then I’d have to say he’s pretty weak.” He denied Laughlin’s claim that he swore at him.

But Gray said Laughlin told him “if he caught me alone he would personally beat my ass. To me, that’s a threat. I told him, ‘Let’s go.’ He wants to make threats, I’ll do what I got to do. I’m not really too scared of him, especially him.”

Later in the pits, where they were parked near each other, tempers flared again. “We came to an agreement in the pits we didn’t want to talk anymore (trash),” Gray said, “but apparently it started back up with him.”

Gray said (team owner) Richard Freeman and Laughlin kept looking his way so he motioned to Freeman to come over to his pit so they could iron out the problem. He said Freeman “kept looking at me and kind of threw his hands up. I called Richard over and told him, ‘Let’s talk.’ When I did that, Richard just started to run over at me, and I think that’s when it got out of control. Both teams came together. I actually got pulled out of the middle of it.”

Laughlin’s version differs. He said, “We got back to the pit and I was telling Richard the story, and Tanner is standing over there, smiling at us from his pit. Richard said, ‘What are you looking at?’ and Tanner throws his hands up, like ‘Bring it on,’ and that’s when the crews came together.

“The whole thing is just stupid and could have been avoided if he just grew up a little,” Laughlin said. “He’s going to have a very hard career if he acts like a spoiled kid every race. At the end of the day, he’s 17 years old. I’ve got to just take it for what it is. He’s got a lot to learn. We’re out here having fun. We’ll put him in his place on the racetrack.”

Gray said, “It’s a very unfortunate thing, all in all. It’s kind of a never-ending deal with them. They don’t know how to shut their mouths. I think if they would shut their mouths, then all this probably would come to an end. But you know, it seems to me like they don’t want it to come to an end. I can play this game as long as they want to play it.

“It takes away the fun of racing. You don’t want to be out there, spending your time fighting,” he said. “But I’m not going to let the Elite team bully us. They try to do that with everybody they’re around. They think since they’ve won two championships that they’re something. And you know, to be honest, I really don’t feel like that. It’s not like we hate the whole Elite group. We’ll see how it goes. If they want to continue to play this game, then I promise I can play it better than they can.”

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By Susan Wade

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