RACE REPORT – 31st annual NHRA KEYSTONE NATIONALS
MAPLE GROVE RACEWAY, READING, PA.
OCTOBER 2-4, 2015
McGAHA CLAIMS VICTORY IN COUNTDOWN
WITH MAPLE GROVE WIN
READING, Pa. (October 4, 2015) – The third race of six in NHRA's 2015 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship was one that Chris McGaha will never, ever forget. Powering the Harlow Sammons Racing Chevrolet Camaro, nicknamed the striking 'Silver Bullet,' McGaha wheeled his way to the fifth final round of his career and scored his third victory of the season. The win vaulted the countdown contender to third in the standings, all the way up from sixth.
But that's only part of the story. Just days before the event, his former crew chief parted ways with the team. McGaha acted quickly, though thoughtfully, and asked veteran Pro Stock tuner Tommy Utt to bring his expertise to the team in Reading. Thankfully, Utt accepted, and the collaboration quickly proved effective.
"This week has really been something," admitted McGaha. "The 'crew chief shuffle' was a pretty big feat to overcome. We left the house hoping we could win – knowing that we could win – but doing it was a whole different deal. The weather came in, and we only got one qualifying run this weekend before eliminations. We had never gone to the starting line together before that qualifying session. We had lost a pretty significant person – the guy who used to line me up, the guy who was on the radio with me, the guy who adjusted the wheelie bars. Now we had another guy in that position, and I had to put a lot of trust in Tommy Utt. But I knew that he was very capable of filling that role, and he fit in our group really quickly."
After qualifying in the No. 2 position on the single allotted pass, McGaha made a very strong run in his opening round defeat of Val Smeland; a 6.498-second pass at 213.84 mph easily defeated his opponent's 6.868, 182.23.
McGaha knew he had to be on his game in the second round with notoriously quick leaver Jonathan Gray in the other lane. The Silver Bullet was right on time with a brilliant .005-second reaction time from its driver as Gray left .020-second too soon and illuminated the red light. Down-track, the occurrences at the starting line became even more critical as McGaha's Harlow Sammons Camaro got out of shape, and he had to push in the clutch. He slowed to a winning 6.951-second pass.
Without lane choice in the semifinals, another driver might have found himself in trouble – but not McGaha. He was .024-second at the hit of the throttle, leaving ahead of opponent Bo Butner's .051, and his keen skills on the starting line translated to a 6.503, 213.70 win over his challenger's quicker yet losing 6.484, 213.74. The margin of victory was a slim yet meaningful .0087-second.
The final round set up a meeting with one of the most successful Pro Stock drivers in the history of the sport, Greg Anderson. McGaha was unperturbed, however. He kept his cool, left the starting line with a big advantage, and brought home the win on a 6.492, 213.64 to 6.484, 214.59 holeshot.
Just 104 points separate McGaha from the top spot with three races remaining before the championship is decided. He is just 32 points behind 2nd place Anderson.
"Going up there for the final I was thinking, we're just going to make a run," said McGaha. "I wasn't putting a lot of pressure on myself because I had nothing to lose. I just wanted to go up there, make a run, and see what would happen. It worked out in our favor, and I'm real happy – not just for me, but for my team. I did a good job on the starting line today, but I didn't do a good job on the track. I couldn't hit a shift to save my life, but I had a good car, and we got the win. Today was a good day."
CHRIS MCGAHA, HARLOW SAMMONS CHEVROLET CAMARO
Qualified: No. 2
First Round: MCGAHA (6.498, 213.84) def. V.Smeland (6.868, 182.23)
Second Round: MCGAHA (6.951, 160.38) def. J. Gray (8.774, 98.87)
Semifinals: MCGAHA (6.533, 213.70) def. B.Butner (4.484, 213.74)
Final: MCGAHA (6.492, 213.64) def. Anderson (6.484, 214.59)
SATURDAY: 6.514 seconds, 213.03 mph (Session 1)