GAINESVILLE, Fla. – official series release — NHRA photo —
Chris McGaha enjoyed his finest season in Pro Stock last year, winning three races, advancing to five final rounds and becoming a legitimate championship contender.
But in a sense, McGaha feels like he is starting over during the early part of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season, and he’s fine with embracing that challenge. The class has new rules and a new look, including fuel-injected engines, shorter wheelie bars, flat hoods and a 10,500 RPM rev-limiter.
It created a significant learning curve for the entire class, but McGaha is ready to take the next step in his Harlow Sammons of Odessa Chevrolet Camaro at this weekend’s 47th annual AMALIE Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway.
“Like we did last year, we are going back to the start,” said McGaha, who advanced to the final round at the most recent event in Phoenix. “Where we want to improve is to win a race. As an engine builder, I don’t want us to get lost because you can get lost with the tune-up real quick with this new fuel injection. It can happen to us and it could happen to any of the teams out here. We want to win a race. That’s our first goal because everything has changed.”
The Gatornationals marks the third of 24 races during the NHRA Mello Yello Series season and a win at the famed event would be a significant achievement in McGaha’s career, which took a major upward swing in 2015.
A first-round loss in Pomona was not the way he hoped to start this season, but McGaha rebounded nicely in Phoenix before falling to Jason Line in the final round. There are questions that still need to be solved and adjustments that still need to be made, but McGaha, who finished fourth in points in 2015, is confident his team will get there.
“We did adjust some things going into Phoenix but we had a lot of the same issues in Phoenix,” McGaha said. “Our plan was to suck it up because I’m confident in our team that the worst case scenario would have us fifth or sixth in the qualifying order. We knew we had issues but we just let it be and went to the finals.
“We felt pretty comfortable after doing the first test session in Phoenix before Pomona but still, there’s been ongoing little issues and we’ve been addressing them. We’ve found some things the last two weeks that will help us overcome those issues. We think we found some of the issues but we just need to get to the racetrack and see when we test before Gainesville.”
While still early in the season, the Gainesville race marks an important time for McGaha, currently fifth in points, to make headway on the Summit Racing Equipment Chevy duo of Greg Anderson and Line. The teammates, who have combined for seven wins at Gainesville Raceway, appear to have adjusted quickly to the new fuel-injected engines, with Anderson winning the opening event and Line following suit in Phoenix.
Winning in Gainesville would go a long way in making that happen, bringing plenty of early-season momentum along with it. McGaha is just 76 races into his Pro Stock career, but he’s well-versed in the history of the Gatornationals and just how meaningful a win there is for a driver.
“It’d be a big deal to win in Gainesville,” McGaha said. “2012 was my first time racing there and that’s when I made my debut with my own team. I almost ran the table until eliminations; we were really fast. If the U.S. Nationals is the top race to win, I would say winning the Gatornationals would be in the top three races to win. That’d be pretty neat to win.”
CREDIT: NHRA Communications