SONOMA, Calif. (July 25, 2014) – NHRA Pro Stock driver Chris McGaha truly is in the midst of a banner year as the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series digs into the second half of the season, and it hasn't been without challenge. The future, though, is something that is becoming even brighter for the Odessa, Texas-based competitor as he finds his own way.
"It has been bittersweet – not just for me, but for the whole team, the original crew," said McGaha. "Would we do it all over again if we could? Sometimes, we don't think we would."
The focus on McGaha's team has been tremendous since his acquisition of former Pro Stock world champion Mike Edwards' very decorated car and equipment, with big question marks hovering around their camp while speculation ran wild as to whether or not McGaha and the Harlow Sammons crew would experience success similar to Edwards. Early on, the team showed moments of incredible power and raced to the top of the qualifying pack twice in the first five races – but their desired level of consistency was still out of reach.
After qualifying No. 1 at the Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte, the performance was sporadic and the team couldn't seem to regain footing, qualifying in the bottom half at six consecutive events and exiting early on raceday with unsettling regularity. Following the New England Dragway event, a structural change was made. The team parted ways with Jim Yates, who started the year as McGaha's crew chief, and in Chicago they reunited with Brian "Lump" Self, who had raced with the Harlow Sammons team for a short time in 2012.
With the renewed working relationship with Lump came a fresh slate. Although Edwards' logbook of runs was available to consult, McGaha knew that Lump's approach would be far different than that of Edwards – and the difference already appears to be just what the doctor ordered. McGaha turned the tide and has qualified in the top half of the field at each of the most recent three events since the change. Additionally, he went to the semifinals in Norwalk and moved into No. 8 in the points – a career high.
"We've basically thrown the log book out, and that's one of the things I knew would happen when Lump came over," said McGaha. "It hasn't been used since we left Epping. In Denver last week we were in the top half and we were running way more gear ratio than Mike did up there. It was a night and day difference, but that was good for us. Things have taken such a positive turn, and we just feel a lot better.
"I know how Lump thinks and how he does things, so I leave him be. I don't even think twice about it – I know what I'm getting, so it's real easy to let him run. You know he's going down the path you want to go down. There was a time when we were running Comp when I wanted to get Lump by the throat, but he's just telling you the truth. He may hurt your feelings, but he'll tell you the truth."
Another shift in personnel came about soon after the crew chief change when "Big Al" Lindsey made the decision to leave the Odessa-based team and return home to Oklahoma due to a family issue.
"We were disappointed to lose Al, because he was a good fit – but he had some personal things that he needed to take care of, and we told him that if he didn't go he would regret it. We supported it," said McGaha. "Al came on board to help us get lined out, help us move everything from Oklahoma and North Carolina to our shop in Odessa, and to perform engine maintenance at the racetrack. With him gone, my dad and I are back to doing the engine maintenance – and we're comfortable with that.
"As a team, we're getting everything in order, and right now, it's feeling more like it did at the end of 2012 – it's starting to feel like it's ours again. We've ordered a new Chevrolet Camaro from Jerry Haas that should be delivered in September, and as soon as we get it we'll start testing it so that we can bring it out for next year. I'm excited."
As stated at the beginning of the year, McGaha had hoped to bring Edwards on as crew chief or consultant of some sort following the acquisition of the equipment, but it was simply not in the cards. The two have actually not spoken much at all, aside from very brief text messages that did not include guidance or advice on tune-up or racing.
"I really kind of knew that ahead of time," said McGaha. "My dad and I have always known you're on your own out here. It's just us. Where I really need help, though, is at my engine shop in Odessa. That is where we need to expand – we just have one guy, and when I come back there it's him and about half of me. We have the equipment and all of the stuff we need to do it – we just need the personnel to expand the engine shop. It's one of our biggest challenges. That has been very hard, and it's something we'd like to eventually change."
Now in the middle of competing in his first full-time season, McGaha and his family are feeling the effects of a strenuous schedule. McGaha says that it is much more difficult than he thought it would be and that he may consider picking and choosing between 15-18 next season, but he also knows that it's a bit early and he is a bit tired to be making a decision regarding next year.
"I've never run for a championship before, and if I don't stub my toe, I could stay in the top 10 and still have a chance," said McGaha. "That could drive me for next year. We didn't start off very well this year because while all the other guys were on the dyno, I was moving shops. People have said that this is the fastest car, but that's the thing – while we were moving over the winter, other teams were finding power and going faster. This is the same car it was last year. I knew when I bought it that it wouldn't be the fastest car forever. But we've got a new car coming, we've got a great team, and I think we're going to be good. I'm looking forward to the future, that's for sure. I like the way things are going."