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Remembering multiple Horsepower Heroes winner Jason Gray

By Ben Nightingale | Photos: SM Archives, 06 Aug 2019 Features

Remembering multiple Horsepower Heroes winner Jason Gray

Jason Gray was the first back-to-back Summernats Horsepower Heroes winner, championing forced induction before it was the norm

LITTLE over a decade ago, it would have been unthinkable for this story to appear in Street Machine Commodores. This magazine was the enemy. Back then, Jason Gray was the editor of rival title Street Commodores, engaged in an editorial battle royal for the cream of the Commodore street and show car scene across Australia and New Zealand.

This article was first published in Street Machine Commodores magazine, 2018

Jason GrayNo image could better sum up Jason, flipping the bird to his detractors after winning Horsepower Heroes with BLOWN at Summernats 12

Jason left the magazine game in the late noughties and moved overseas, while Street Commodores ultimately closed its doors a couple of years ago. Sadly, Jason passed away in November last year at just 51, following a short battle with illness.

He was a larger-than-life character, a giant of the Commodore scene, and a bloke who was polarising in many ways. You either loved him or hated him – there wasn’t much in between.

Read next: Summernats Horsepower Heroes hall of fame

HSV GTS BlownHe was best known for his exploits in the famous back-to-back Horsepower Heroes-winning VS GTS known as BLOWN, running a little over 400hp with an STA blower at Summernats 11 in 1998, before backing it up with just under 500hp thanks to a Vortech huffer upgrade at ’Nats 12. He stepped it up a few years later with a similar combo in a VN SS known firstly as BLO215 and later as EXOCET, which pumped out over 800 ponies at the bags.

Jason was a real innovator in that space, at the forefront of a trend towards fuel-injected, forced-induction Holden V8s as the engine of choice for dyno comps, before blokes like his good mates Todd Wilkes (JUDGE) and Rob Vickery (RGV) took the reins and ran with it.

Read next: Haltech Horsepower Heroes results - Summernats 32

Dyno sheetStreet Machine deputy editor Scott Taylor, who knew Jason for many years before working with him at Street Commodores back in the early 2000s, remembers a bloke who liked to stand out from the crowd and was blessed with the gift of the gab.

“I joined this karate school in Western Sydney, and one of the head students there was this big bloke named Jason, who always seemed to have cool cars,” Scotty remembers. “He was a talker – a very good businessman and a great salesman. He could sell anything to anyone. Very quick-witted, and a very smart guy. A lot of people underestimated him in that regard.”

Watch next: Bubba wins Summernats 32 Horsepower Heroes with 2483hp at the hubs

Jason GrayThe halcyon days of Horsepower Heroes. The numbers were a lot smaller, but the crowds were epic and the competition fierce

The early 2000s were a gangbusting time for the car scene. Everyone was flush with funds, some epic cars were being built, and if you wanted to stay in touch with the scene, magazines were the only way, with the internet still pretty new to most. Jase was at the height of his powers, and Street Commodores was pumping. The mag was selling well and bringing in huge advertising revenue.

With Jason at the helm, all the major brands in the scene were scrambling to get on board and grab their own slice of the success. Companies like Dyno Dynamics, MotorActive, Yella Terra, Pacemaker, Rocket Industries, Harrop and more spent thousands of dollars every month advertising their wares in the pages of his magazine. But it was also where many companies got their start, too.

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Jason GrayJason was a man’s man and a straight shooter. That didn’t suit everyone, but if you had his respect, you had it for life

“So many businesses got such a boost through appearing in the magazine and Jase giving their products a run,” says Damien ‘Chubby’ Lowe of Lowe Fabrications. “Like with his Monaro project, STREET – lots of companies got a ton of exposure through that in the magazine.”

SC also gave birth to a genuine juggernaut in the Australian car scene – Cruise 4 Charity. It began as a replacement for what was going to be the very first Street Commodores Nationals at Sydney Dragway in 2004, but quickly evolved into its own standalone annual event that has since raised over $1.7 million for charities dealing with children’s health. That first cruise drew around 150 Commodores – but it’s now exploded to over 4000 entrants annually.

HSV GTS Blown“Those times were the best,” Chubby says. “We were just a bunch of likeminded people all hanging out and enjoying the scene. I’ve made life-long friends out of those events.”

The first build of Chubby’s epic VB Commodore featured in Street Commodores in the very early days of Jason’s editorship. “He was like a hero to me, a genuine icon in the scene – he’d won Horsepower Heroes twice,” says Chubb, now a bloke who holds icon status in his own right.

HSV GTS Blown“He was a member of the HSV/HDT Owners Club back then, which my dad also belonged to,” Chubby continues. “I used to see Jason at club meetings pretty regularly and would often show him pics of my VB when it was in the stages of its first build.

“His GTS wasn’t just a Horsepower Heroes winner. It was a show winner, a Sound Off winner, and he raced it. It was the ultimate street Commodore. He wasn’t just in one part of the scene; he was across all of it.”

So, how would he feel about a yarn memorialising him in the pages of a mag that was once his arch-rival? Scotty Taylor says it best: “He’d be pissing himself laughing. Absolutely pissing himself.”

HSV GTS engine bayJUMP START

JASON was the bloke that gave me a start in this fantastic industry – and even introduced me to my wife!

It was 2004, and I was a 20-year-old kid fresh out of uni with a dream to work on car mags, but with no idea where to start. A post on an internet forum caught my eye: Street Commodores was looking for a new staff writer.

I picked up the phone, and Jase was on the other end of the line. He grilled me about my knowledge of Commodores – from simple stuff like the first year they were made and the various model designations, through to how to tell the VL and VN SS Group A twin-throttle manifolds apart – and then invited me over to the office for an interview.

Jason GrayJason with good mate Rob Vickery, wrenching on BLO215 between dyno pulls at Summernats

I jumped into my 308-powered LX hatchback and cruised over there. I was dressed in business clothes – collared shirt, long pants, leather shoes – and keen to make an impression when I rolled in the door. I asked the receptionist – a girl named Katie, who’s now been my wife for 10 years – to see Jason.

In strolled this enormous bloke, dressed in a ‘Street Force’ polo shirt, trackies and Nike Air sneakers. He looked me up and down, and I’ll never forget the first words he spoke to me: “F**k mate, you going to a funeral or something? That’s all a bit fancy.”

STREET FORCE

THOSE with long memories may remember groups of guys and gals walking around Summernats in the early 2000s wearing white polo shirts with a large ‘Street Force’ logo on the chest. This was one of Jason’s many ideas to help bring people together, further cementing his role as a leader in the scene.

Jason Gray“Street Force was something that Jason came up with as a group for everyone to look professional with matching shirts and stickers and stuff at Summernats,” says Damien ‘Chubby’ Lowe. “It was him being a generous bloke – which he was – and getting one of those shirts off him was a big deal. It meant he liked your car, and accepted you into the club.

“I’ve still got all my Street Force shirts and stickers,” he continues. “Jason was a bloke who was always happy to chat, and made you feel like you were much more important than you probably really were.”