Texas Native Chris McGaha Hoping for Glory in Home State

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Texas Native Chris McGaha Hoping for Glory in Home State

CHRIS McGAHA
HARLOW SAMMONS CHEVROLET CAMARO
EVENT PREVIEW – O'REILLY AUTO PARTS NHRA SPRINGNATIONALS
ROYAL PURPLE RACEWAY, HOUSTON
APRIL 24-26, 2015
 

Texas Native Chris McGaha Hoping for Glory in Home State

 
ODESSA, Texas (April 22, 2015) – NHRA Pro Stock driver Chris McGaha is coming home to Texas this weekend for the 28th annual O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA SpringNationals at Houston's Royal Purple Raceway. McGaha, a native of Odessa, Texas, relishes the opportunity to bring his ever-improving program back to the Lone Star State for what he hopes will be his best performance to date.
 
And why not? The fourth-year competitor will arrive in Houston with one of the hottest cars on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series tour, and when he unloads the silver Harlow Sammons Racing Chevrolet Camaro, the former sportsman competitor will do so with the knowledge that he has every capability of finally scoring his first NHRA Pro Stock win.
 
So far this season, McGaha has been the No. 1 qualifier twice – at back-to-back races in Gainesville and Charlotte. Currently No. 5 in the Pro Stock standings, he has been one to watch in his bid for power and speed. The amiable Texan and owner of Southwest Performance & Machine paid his dues as a sportsman racer, competing in NHRA's Competition Eliminator category en route to making his Pro Stock debut in 2011 and catapulting to the semifinals on Sunday five times. With a heart the size of Texas, McGaha is eager to make his best impression yet in his home state.
 
"The first time we ever raced in Houston was in the early 1990s," recalled the second-generation drag racer, whose father, Lester McGaha, was also a Comp racer and now works with him side-by-side on the family's Pro Stock program. "We're very familiar with that racetrack and have a lot of memories there, and for my crew chief, this is really a lot like home, too."
 
McGaha is tuned by Brian "Lump" Self, a noted Comp racer in his own right who is originally from Oklahoma but spent many years racing in Texas. McGaha and Self raced against one another for years before McGaha asked him to join him in the Pro Stock ranks as a crew chief.
 
"The very last round of Comp I ever raced was the final round at a division race in Houston in 2011," recalled McGaha. He didn't win the round, but it sticks in his mind.
 
"We should have won it. That goes through my mind a lot. We had the car to win – just like we did in Gainesville earlier this year – but we just couldn't get it done. I feel like that is almost the same situation we've been in lately, we have the car to win, we just haven't been able to get it done yet. To get it done in Texas, our home state, would really mean a lot to us.
 
"We need to win. We've gotten close, but it's like Lump keeps saying – we've got to learn how to win. We've gotten to that point. We've shown everyone we know how to go fast, now it's time to show them we know how to win."
 
Event Schedule (all times Central):
Friday, April 24:           Two qualifying rounds, 4 p.m. & 6:30 p.m.
Saturday, April 25:      Two qualifying rounds, 12:30 p.m. & 3:30 p.m.
Sunday, April 26:        Final eliminations starting with Top Fuel at 11 a.m.
 
Television Coverage (as posted on NHRA.com 4/22/2015):
4/25/2015 Qualifying           5:00 PM - 7:00 PM ET/2:00 PM - 4:00 PM PT (ESPN2)
4/26/2015 Eliminations         2:00 PM - 5:00 PM ET/11:00 AM - 2:00 PM PT (ESPN2)  LIVE

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SURGING McGAHA TOPS PRO STOCK ORDER FOR SECOND STRAIGHT TIME

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SURGING McGAHA TOPS PRO STOCK ORDER FOR SECOND STRAIGHT TIME

Chris McGaha wasn't intimidated by lining up Saturday against two-time series champion and early qualifying leader Jason Line – or strong-running veteran Larry Morgan – or rapid rookie Drew Skillman at zMAX Dragway's NHRA Four-Wide Nationals.

The Harlow Sammons of Odessa Camaro driver knocked Line from the top spot and will lead the Pro Stock field for the second straight race, thanks to his career-quickest pass, an elapsed time of 6.474 seconds at 213.70 mph in the quarter-mile. It's also his second consecutive No. 1 start at this event.

Line, who made his quickest and fastest run of the season (6.481/214.18) and set the track speed record, is second in the line-up.

"We really stumbled onto what we were looking for at Phoenix in the semifinals when we almost crashed," McGaha said.

What he and his team discovered almost a continent away is paying off now, he said: "It's led to all this performance gain."

He said he takes some satisfaction in showing that while he vaulted into serious contention last year by purchasing the proven equipment of perennial contender Mike Edwards, he can make his own modifications to the program and still be the strong runner he was in 2014.

McGaha reminded that Edwards, who has stepped back from team ownership and driving, is helping Line and Greg Anderson and the KB / Summit Racing team. "He's having to race his own stuff. I wonder if he'd take the same deal at this point," the West Texan said.

But McGaha isn’t smug at all.

Asked if he expected such a performance surge this early in the season, he said unhesitatingly, "Absolutely not."

He said, "You’re always working for it, but you never expect it to be there. Then when it's there, you're like, 'OK – When's lightning going to strike and go the other direction' because it will eventually. It always does."

McGaha, Line, and Skillman were the only Pro Stock racers to post 6.4-second passes Saturday, although No. 4 Anderson is close behind at 6.502. The dearth of 6.4s surprised McGaha, he said.

"We had it figured people could go mid-(6.)40s. We really did. The numbers were there. But our problem was the track was green to us all," McGaha said. "None of us had ever been down it, except a few guys in Lane 2, but I think we all were very conservative and holding back."

In his mind, too, was the dangerous condition of the track during the Carolinas Nationals there last September. The event finished at Texas Motorplex, near Dallas, a huge blow to zMAX Dragway owner Bruton Smith's pride and pocketbook. The track quickly atoned for the situation with a repaving job to this facility Smith dubbed "The Bellagio of Dragways." And the surface has been redone with special care. But McGaha said most of the racers didn’t know what to expect.

"I was pretty nervous," he said of his approach to the track, especially after persistent rain washed out everyone's chances to qualify at either of the two scheduled runs Friday. "I had to go in the lane I went down the last time I was here. I think it was going through all of us' minds, because even Jason Line made a comment to me about it. It was definitely on all of us' mind."      

 McGaha will meet surprising No. 16 qualifier Erica Enders-Stevens, the reigning class champion, in Sunday's first round of eliminations, along with No. 8 Shane Gray and No. 9 Buddy Perkinson. The quickest two will advance to the semifinal round in the non-traditional format of this event.

Enders-Stevens, who experienced tire shake and aborted her first-session qualifying attempt, had problems with her Elite Motorsports Camaro entry immediately in her final chance. She brought the car to a stop about 100 feet off the starting line and was pushed off the track.

"You cannot take that lightly," he said of the Elite team and Enders-Stevens and their car. "Any minute it can change," he said of her fortunes so far this weekend, adding "especially with the potential those guys have."

Said Enders-Stevens after qualifying, "We started the year with a brand-new RJ Racecars Camaro, and it's going to be the next big thing, no doubt about it. But we just haven't figured out how to match the car and our Elite horsepower to the new tire and fuel the NHRA is making all of us use. We did OK in the first few races but decided to switch back to the car we won the championship with last year, because we just know it so much better. She does what we ask her to do every time. The thought is that our learning curve will be shorter."
 
Enders-Stevens knows she happened to be lucky because this field had only 16 entrants, but she said, "You definitely don't want to put yourself in this position. But if any team can get it together overnight and make a difference tomorrow, it's this group of guys right here. We've been through it all, and this is just another chapter."
 
But if Enders-Stevens, Gray, or Perkinson ever try to anticipate what an opponent might do on race day, they might be a little confused or concerned this weekend. McGaha has sent mixed signals because of the mixed bag of conditions they all have to navigate this weekend.
 
He said his car "has potential to go faster. The computer says, 'Yes, you can go more.' " In the next breath, he said, "We're also going to play it safe." Seconds later he conceded that on race day, "you got to go up there and win."
 
The drama begins Sunday with a 1 p.m. (ET) start to eliminations. The Pro Stock class should begin running sometime around 1:45 p.m.
 

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MCGAHA STANDS UP FOR THE PRO STOCK CLASS

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MCGAHA STANDS UP FOR THE PRO STOCK CLASS

Want to get Chris McGaha fired up? Talk about the health of NHRA Pro Stock.

McGaha, the No. 1 qualifier two weeks ago in Gainesville, Fla., wsas the recipient of a first round bye because there were only 15 entries. A member of the media posed the question, “Are you more excited to get a first round bye or disappointed only 15 teams showed up to race?”

This was the question McGaha was waiting to answer.

“I see a lot of talk about health of this class on the Internet,” started McGaha. “I hear a lot from the Competition eliminator ranks, and how this class and that class is going to replace it. I can remember about five or ten years ago when Top Alcohol Funny Car got that way, but it’s still here and people are still building cars and show up.

“I think eventually people will weigh their odds and start to build Pro Stock cars. To me, now is the time to do it … especially when [NHRA] evened out the playing field like they did by changing the tires and the fuel. To me, that wiped the slate clean for so many and helped people like me come back in. I feel like it is even again.”

What about the extreme cost of campaigning a Pro Stocker? McGaha believes the cost is relevant with the increasing price of doing business.

“Back in 1995 you could get a Steve Schmidt motor for $10,000,” said McGaha. “That was the going rate. A gallon of gas was $1 - $1.25. Now gas is about $4. You could rent top tier stuff for about $40K. The ratio is about the same. I know people, who in 2003, had a one-million dollar budget. I know you can still do it. A lot of people talk about the cost, and yes, it is expensive. There’s no doubt about it. It’s always been expensive.

“My family wanted to do it in the mid-90s but couldn’t do it. We ran Comp. It’s an economy deal … not real sure.

McGaha had an option when he couldn’t afford to race Pro Stock, but believes too many options for drag racing isn’t necessarily a good thing.

“I think the whole overall deal with drag racing is there’s too many options,” McGaha explained. “To many guys have made too many [classes]. Here’s a 10.5 car over here that a guy can race within 150 miles of home. Let’s make this series over here, and it’s really hurting the sport. I’ve told our local guys, and I am a supporter of our local Mean Street racing, that they need to get behind NHRA even though they aren’t associated with them.

“We all need to get behind every class and everybody needs to work together. We don't need to be separated; that's the biggest problem and always has been. We all need to band together. That's what this has always been about – nobody needs to replace anybody, nobody needs to go anywhere. We all need to stick together.”

If anyone knows the pain of replacement, it’s McGaha. McGaha made his move into Pro Stock after racing Pro Stock Truck, a class which was shelved in 2001. The decision to drop the class resulted in a lawsuit between a group of former disgruntled drivers and the sanctioning body. McGaha regretfully was one of the plaintiffs.  

Talk of NHRA dropping Pro Stock reopens old wounds for McGaha.

“I was a Pro Stock Truck racer. I built a Pro Stock Truck – they don’t want to go there,” McGaha warned. “If you was to take Pro Stock from me this time … it wouldn’t be pretty. You would definitely see me make a big stink about it.”

While McGaha was pretty amped with his response, he further clarified.

“We just want a place to race. Naturally aspirated racing needs to have a place to race. That's the main objective there. I guess I'd stand out in front of the race with a picket sign or something if Pro Stock went away, but you would have to do something to get your point across. Legal action isn't going to work, there is nothing to be gained that way.

“I understand the car count is low. There’s no doubt about it. There’s a lot of people with potential to come in here. It is funding holding them back. Besides, how many Funny Cars were there [here in Gainesville]?

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McGaha Earns Third Career Pole at NHRA Gatornationals

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McGaha Earns Third Career Pole at NHRA Gatornationals

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (March 14, 2015) – NHRA Pro Stock driver Chris McGaha is coming into his own at the 46th annual Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville. McGaha, driver of the streaking silver Harlow Sammons Racing Chevrolet Camaro, scored the third No. 1 qualifier award of his career with four brilliant passes, one right after another, and in doing so was awarded maximum points in each round. McGaha exited qualifying with 12 bonus points as the quickest driver in each of the four sessions.
 
On the first day in Gainesville, McGaha clocked a 6.507 at 212.73 mph in the early session and returned with a 6.509, 212.76 that was two-hundredths quicker than the field.
 
Day two was just more of the same, with McGaha piloting his "Silver Bullet" Camaro to a 6.518, 212.56 and finally a 6.513, 212.39. As there are just 15 cars in the field, McGaha will get a bye run for first round.
 
"It's one of those deals – we didn't really expect to sweep qualifying like that," admitted McGaha. "Even if it wasn't me that did it, it would still be pretty impressive. I know I wasn't the first guy to do it, but it isn't something that happens all the time. It feels pretty good, and we didn't really expect to come here and have that much on everybody. It's getting exciting.
 
"Those little points [bonus qualifying points] do get addicting. You can make up a round here or there. But the championship? That still isn't a word in my vocabulary. We need to win a race. We can't lose focus here; we have to win a race. You do that one round at a time. I just have to keep from folding like a lawn chair because it's all left up to me."
 
McGaha shares his excitement with his team, including crew chief Brian 'Lump' Self, who was previously associated with the team for a short while but returned full time mid-season in 2014.
 
"Lump and I raced each other in Comp, and he's my crew chief now. It's a pretty neat deal," said McGaha of his many days as an NHRA sportsman racer going after trophies in the tough Competition Eliminator category. "I've had a couple other No. 1 qualifier awards, but I wanted to get one for him. He's never had one, and I wanted to do it for Lump. Today was a good day."
 
McGaha is still in the running for the fan vote in the K&N Horsepower Challenge, a bonus event that pits the best of the best against one another for bragging rights and a $50,000 payout. Although he is the No. 1 qualifier in Gainesville, he isn't in the top seven drivers who are awarded a position in the bonus shootout event based on qualifying over the past year. The eighth position is decided by the fan vote.
 
Log your vote for Chris McGaha in the K&N Horsepower Challenge at nhra.com/knhpchallenge.aspx.
 
The K&N Horsepower Challenge is a special race-within-a-race bonus program for the top Pro Stock drivers in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. The 2015 K&N Horsepower Challenge will be conducted at the SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motors Speedway in the spring. The race features a special elimination pairing with eight Pro Stock drivers in the field, including seven who accumulate the most points in qualifying during the 24-race Challenge series and one driver who is selected to the starting lineup for the event via a special fan vote. The winner of the K&N Horsepower Challenge will earn $50,000, and the runner-up will earn $10,000. The two semifinalists will earn $3,000 each, while the four first-round finishers will receive $2,500 each. 
 

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McGaha charges into 2015, shows great strength at Winternationals

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McGaha charges into 2015, shows great strength at Winternationals

POMONA, Calif. (February 9, 2015) – The first race of the 2015 season of NHRA's Mello Yello Drag Racing Series brought a surge of optimism to the Harlow Sammons Racing team. The Odessa, Texas-based family-run operation debuted a brand new Jerry Haas Pro Stock Chevrolet Camaro at the 55th annual Circle K NHRA Winternationals, and their performance at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona included a top half qualifying effort and an important round win that situated them nicely in the top 10 in the standings for a strong start to the year.
 
McGaha blasted to a qualifying best time of 6.538-second at 211.56 mph and was No. 2 on the charts at the conclusion of the first day of qualifying. Though they dropped to No. 8 in the line-up before the field was set, McGaha and his Southwest Performance & Machine-powered Chevrolet Camaro again showed speed and power on Sunday.
 
A lengthy oil down as they waited for the first round of eliminations created a situation that worked in McGaha's favor as the conditions changed.
 
"Lane choice became a big issue," said McGaha. "We were originally in the right lane, and we had time to talk about it and we decided to move over. It looked like it paid off, and then I got lane choice again."
 
In the first round, McGaha made the third quickest run of the round, a 6.547 at 211.66 that gave him lane choice over the incoming points leader, Erica Enders-Stevens. In their second-round meeting, McGaha wheeled the sleek silver Harlow Sammons Racing Chevrolet Camaro to a 6.565 at 210.73, again one of the three quickest of the session, but he missed the win light by just .007-second after his opponent took a slight advantage at the starting line.
 
"It was awesome to go into the round with lane choice, and I feel great about this weekend," said McGaha, who leaves the event No. 5 in the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Pro Stock points. "We brought out a brand new car with a bunch of stuff we built in it, and if we can just keep everything together, we're going to have some fun out there. We blew up a motor on Friday, and we're going to take that one back to the shop and get it ready for Gainesville. But yes, we are very happy. To unload and go No. 2 on the first day of the first race of the year gave us a lot of hope for the rest of the season."
 

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Chris McGaha Puts Action-Packed Weekend Behind Him, Prepares to Move on Down the Road

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Chris McGaha Puts Action-Packed Weekend Behind Him, Prepares to Move on Down the Road

Houston is historically a battle for Texas racer Chris McGaha. This time around wasn't much easier, but McGaha certainly made steps towards mastering the tricky conditions and trying to shake the odd vibe that has somewhat haunted him in previous years. At this season's 27th annual O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway, McGaha qualified for the event and made one of the quickest passes in the opening round.

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