HOUSTON, Texas (April 26, 2015) – Chris McGaha and the Harlow Sammons Racing team sure love Texas. Frustratingly, however, the lifelong Odessa natives had never had a ton of Pro Stock success there before – but the 28th annual O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway changed all that. On Sunday in Houston, McGaha raced to the first Pro Stock final round of his career with a well-tuned machine and some of the best reaction times he's clocked all season long.
The Harlow Samons team qualified in the No. 7 position – not their highest position this year but still a respectable start, and one that came with lane choice in the first round of eliminations. In the other lane for that first-round match was another former Competition Eliminator competitor, Richard Freeman. McGaha was first off the starting line and first to the finish, illuminating the win light with a 6.564, 210.90 to his opponent's 6.630, 208.68.
Next in his line of fire was Shane Gray, the No. 2 qualifier. McGaha was on his game in their head-to-head meeting, launching off the starting line with a crisp .019-second reaction time and flying to a 6.575 at 210.28 that shut out his challenger's quicker 6.567, 209.75 on a holeshot that catapulted the Harlow Sammons Racing Silver Bullet Chevrolet Camaro to its third semifinal round of the season.
There stood none other than Greg Anderson, a quick leaver by nature and a four-time Pro Stock world champ with 75 national event wins. As expected, Anderson clocked in with a fast .010 reaction time, but McGaha was already gone with a blistering .002 that allowed him to stay ahead the entire way down the track, finally sealing the deal with a 6.575, 210.28 to shut down a 6.567, 209.75. Although he most certainly had victory on his mind heading into that round, McGaha in no way imagined it happening in that manner.
"I must have been psyching myself up without realizing it, but I always know that when I get in the later rounds, I seem to do better – it just started earlier today," said McGaha, who earned the first round-win of his Pro Stock career over Anderson in Dallas in 2011. "It worked, especially against Greg. I had no idea of what I'd done. I knew I was beating him, but I didn't have a clue it was because I left on him."
McGaha and his team were thrilled to have made it past the semifinals, finally. They had been to five career semis – two so far in 2015 – yet were unable to advance to the final until Houston. When the outcome was revealed, crew chief Brian "Lump" Self alerted McGaha over the radio.
"He was yelling and screaming, 'You're going to the final! You did it! I got on the radio and said, 'It's about time,' " said a relieved and enthusiastic McGaha. In the last round of the day, he continued to exhibit skill behind the wheel and launched right next to Erica Enders-Stevens. He clocked another great reaction time (.018), but it was his fellow Texan who got the nod in the money round with a 6.571, 211.73 to McGaha's 6.598 paired with the second-best speed of eliminations, 211.66.
"It was great making it to the finals," said McGaha. "Even though we lost, we still made it down to two cars. It was almost unbelievable to get down there in the semifinals and see that string of win lights. We knew we could get there, but I guess in the end I was really surprised. I'm just so happy that we finally got over that hump. Hopefully, we'll be able to get over the next hump a whole bunch sooner and win. I'm ready to go again right now."
Crew chief Brian "Lump" Self said, "We've come a long way. We learned how to race on raceday today, and maybe we don't know how to win yet, but we will. We're going to do it. We got just enough today to make us real excited. Let's go some more."