Winning is contagious for Chris McGaha
It’s always exciting to see a competitor break through for their first race win. And then to see someone win – again – a week later is exhilarating.
Last Sunday native Texan Chris McGaha, who was been racing – seriously – for just a couple of years in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series’ highly technological and fiercely competitive factory hot rod Pro Stock category became a first-time winner during the 28th annual NHRA Sonoma Nationals at Sonoma Raceway.
McGaha has been knocking on the door for the past two years. A second-generation drag racer whose father Lester competed in Competition Eliminator when he was growing up, McGaha came up through the ranks, starting with Jr Dragsters, making his name in the Comp category and moving to his dad’s choice of Comp Eliminator. He’s learned to race competitively along the way and has studied and learned the Pro Stock class well enough to finally achieve an initial goal of that first win.
When Mike Edwards elected to close his shop at the close of the 2013 season, McGaha acquired both the rolling Chevy Camaro stock and data sheets from the hugely accomplished Edwards, NHRA’s 2009 Pro Stock champion. Much was expected quickly from him, but McGaha decided to go his own way on both engines and chassis development. His Harlow Sammons Racing Chevy engines are built in-house by McGaha, who calls his enterprise Southwest Performance and Machine.
McGaha was the No. 1 qualifier in his class after four sessions at Sonoma and, just like the other three Mello Yello No. 1 racers he completed the race by going all the way in his Chevrolet Camaro.
(This 36-year-old, who just celebrated his birthday a few weeks ago, races with the first Pro Stock team that turned its car around in Denver – a week before that move was mandated – so that fans could have a good, long look at the engines. He’s proud to have another former Comp driver, Brian “Lump” Self as his crew chief.)
The Texan raced past Gray for his fourth Sunday run in the 6.5-second range and his first professional Wally trophy, after joining the Pro Stock class in 2011 and getting serious about it when Edwards’ rolling stock became available for adoption.
“This was 30 years in the making, and let me tell you, it’s been something,” a beaming McGaha exulted a week ago.
Then he did it again in Seattle in the Northwest Nationals on the Pacific Raceways dragstrip, the third round of the truly difficult three-consecutive-week Western Swing. The No. 1 qualifier – again – McGaha handily disposed of Joey Grose in the first round with a 6.488/213.40 (in the midday sun), outran Vincent Nobile in quarter-finals, beat Shane Gray in the semifinals despite a lack of lane choice and conquered five-time champion Jeg Coughlin Jr in the finals to pick up his second Wally in seven days!
“This was tough,” McGaha said, beaming after climbing from his Camaro. “We were stuck in the left lane (for a second consecutive time) and to win is unbelievable,” especially since Coughlin had a better reaction time. “I had no idea what the lights were but we’re here – wow! We only had to wait seven days [to win again] and now we have a chance, we actually have a chance for the championship.”
The NHRA takes a weekend off before heading to Brainerd, Minn. for the penultimate race of the “regular season”, which ends at Indianapolis on Labor Day weekend. Then Chris McGaha and his Harlow Sammons Racing crew really have to get to work – the six race Countdown to the Championship begins at Charlotte two weeks later and these two-time winners going to be a big part of it.
Words and Photos By Anne Proffit