Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – GAINESVILLE, FL – After posting the earliest win to a season in his career, Pro Stock driver Chris McGaha is headed to Gainesville Raceway looking for redemption at this weekend’s 49th annual AMALIE Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals.
McGaha qualified No. 1 at the storied NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event in 2015 by a large margin, but fell in the semifinals of a race he felt he should have won. Following his victory at the most recent race this year in Phoenix in his Harlow Sammons of Odessa Chevrolet Camaro, McGaha is hoping to exorcise one particular bad memory from Gainesville and replace it with a much memorable one this time.
“It would be a pretty special deal to win,” McGaha said. “In 2015, we had the car to beat and we didn’t get it done there. We had the fastest car by a good margin and we screwed it up in eliminations. It feels like we’re going there looking for some revenge.”
Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), John Force (Funny Car), Shane Gray (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including finals coverage on Sunday, March 18 at 7 p.m. (ET). It is the third of 24 races during the 2018 NHRA season and McGaha is already off to his best start in his Pro Stock career.
After significant changes in the off-season, both on the car and within his team, McGaha looked in mid-season form by the second race. He knocked off Jason Line in the finals at Phoenix with his quickest pass of the weekend, leaving McGaha feeling good about the decisions made over the winter, including adding crew chief Adam Homberger.
“I can tell you we’ve had an awesome start and we’re excited about that,” said McGaha, who has six career wins. “We want to use our momentum now and keep maintaining what we’ve done. We know we’ve got a combination that works and we want to continue that from track to track. It’s only been two races but it lets us know we have a chance, and it gives us confidence knowing we can compete for a championship.”
McGaha, who finished ninth a year ago in Pro Stock, currently sits third in points behind Deric Kramer and points leader Line, who has finals appearances at the first two races of 2018. Grabbing his first Gatornationals win won’t be easy, as McGaha will also have to duel with the likes of defending world champion and Pomona winner Bo Butner, Greg Anderson, who ousted McGaha in Gainesville in 2015, Erica Enders, Jeg Coughlin, Drew Skillman, Vincent Nobile, Alex Laughlin and Tanner Gray.
But McGaha feels confident with what his team has already accomplished, hopeful that it will continue to translate throughout the season. Continuing that momentum from Phoenix at the Gatornationals would be a welcoming step in accomplishing just that.
“(The win) gives me a lot of confidence,” McGaha said. “Knowing what we did this winter helped makes a huge difference. It really changes the outlook of what we can do with this car. It helps me as a driver as well. It’s all about momentum and we want to keep that going. We have what it takes, we have all the right stuff and all the changes are working. Working on our depth is the biggest thing now, but we’re in a good place.”
Schumacher seeks his first Top Fuel win in 2018 against Pomona winner Doug Kalitta, points leader Steve Torrence, who won in Phoenix, and reigning champ Brittany Force.
John Force is after his first Funny Car win in a year against daughter and Phoenix winner Courtney Force, Pomona winner Matt Hagan and world champ Robert Hight.
Defending event winner Krawiec is also the reigning world champion in Pro Stock Motorcycle, which starts its 16-event season at Gainesville.
The event is the season-opening race for the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service. It also features thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, as well as the Mickey Thompson Tires NHRA Top Fuel Harley Drag Racing Series. Following nitro qualifying, a jet car operated by Douthit Motor Sports, with David Douthit running the “Black Pearl” Jet Dragster, will thrill the fans at the Gatornationals. Jet cars are thrust driven vehicles propelled by jet engines.
As always, fans can interact with their favorite drivers with an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers. Fans can also visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 1:15 and 5:00 p.m. on Friday, March 16 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, March 17 at 12:00 and 3:00 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, March 18.