The NHRA’S Sonoma Nationals produced a first time Pro winner when Texan Chris McGaha drove his Chevrolet Camaro to victory….
DSR continued it’s near total domination of NHRA racing with wins in both fuel Funny Car (Jack Beckman) and Top Fuel (Antron Brown) while Eddie Krawiec enjoyed a career weekend in Pro Stock Motorcycle with two major titles, during the NHRA’s Sonoma Nationals – the second stop of NHRA’s annual 3-week “Western Swing”. The event also marked a first for NHRA drag racing history — where all four No. 1 qualifiers went on to win the race.
Chris McGaha and the Harlow Sammons Racing Pro Stock team couldn’t have had a better weekend at the 28th annual NHRA Sonoma Nationals.
McGaha, driver of the swift silver Harlow Sammons Chevrolet Camaro, earned the sixth low qualifier award of his career and topped off the weekend with his very first Pro Stock win. It was a dream that McGaha and his team had long wished for.
“This was 30 years in the making, and let me tell you, it’s been something,” said McGaha, a former Comp Eliminator driver in NHRA’s sportsman ranks who made his Pro Stock debut at the 2011 U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis and ran a limited schedule until he upped the game to full-time Pro Stock racing in 2014. “All the years we ran Comp Eliminator, watching my dad race and then doing it myself, you always leave the house thinking that maybe this is the weekend. We kept coming out here and trying and trying all these years, and we had a few heartbreakers along the way. To finally get it done is really special.”
In the second round, the Harlow Sammons Chevy campaigner had a very tough draw. In the opposite lane was Erica Enders, a driver that NHRA statisticians have on record as beating McGaha all but once on Sunday in 11 prior meetings. In the most recent two years, the two have met six times, including in the Houston final earlier this year. Each time, Enders waltzed off with the win light – but not this time. McGaha was fired up and cut a .029-second light to her .022 and powered ahead in his Silver Bullet for a killer 6.514, 212.13 victory that was low elapsed time and top speed of the round.
It didn’t get easier in the semifinals, where McGaha came up against Pro Stock returner Jeg Coughlin, a multi-time champion and one of the notoriously quick leavers in the category. Coughlin had nothing for McGaha on Sunday in Sonoma, however, and Team Harlow Sammons watched in awe as their driver launched with a determined .004-second reaction to his opponent’s .010. McGaha finished the job at the top end with a 6.531 at a strong 212.29 mph that just barely missed top speed of raceday.
The final pitted McGaha against second-year driver Jonathan Gray, a familiar foe as the two grew up running around the same sportsman racing circles as their father’s competed against one another. Again, McGaha was on his game with an efficient .024-second reaction time to Gray’s .016, and the charging Silver Bullet quickly made up the difference. The win light flashed in McGaha’s lane as he tripped the final timer with a 6.531, 212.13 to a 6.560, 211.03.
“I knew I was going to win as soon as I put it in high gear,” said McGaha, currently No. 4 in the Pro Stock points. “That’s the same point I knew I’d won the second round and third round, too. You can just see it out the window. That’s why I’m so hoarse; I started yelling on that last one. I knew that unless something happened to the motor, it was mine. I could just see it, and I’ll never forget that picture in my mind, that feeling of knowing I had it. I finally had it.
“This is like getting the monkey off my back, and I hope it turns into the same thing that happened with the No. 1 qualifiers. I wanted one, then I got it, and it just got easier each time. Hopefully, the same thing happens but I’d take just one. If I never get another win, I’ll be more than content in this lifetime.”
Greg Anderson maintained the series Pro Stock points lead, 47 in front of Erica Enders. McGaha remained in fourth, but cut his deficit to the leader to 210 points.
Beckman kept alive his hopes of becoming the eighth driver to sweep the Western Swing and only the second in Funny Car to accomplish the feat when he sped past Tommy Johnson Jr. to claim his fifth victory of the season and 20th of his career. The NHRA Western Swing, an NHRA summertime tradition since 1989, begins in Denver, moves on through Sonoma and finishes in Seattle in a three-week stretch.
Beckman took his first Sonoma win with a final-round performance of 4.037 seconds at 310.63 mph in his Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger to pull away from Johnson near mid-track, whose Make-A-Wish Charger trailed with a 4.073 at 308.99.
Beckman, who defeated Tony Pedregon, Chad Head and Robert Hight to advance to the final, also received a 20-point bonus this weekend for setting the national E.T. record at 3.921 seconds.
“I feel like I have the best crew in drag racing right now,” said Beckman of his team which is led by crew chief Jimmy Prock. “Winning the race and being No. 1 qualifier and setting the national record is icing on top of icing on top of the cake. It couldn’t have been any better. I don’t think this weekend will sink in until I’m on the plane going to Seattle.”
Veteran tuner Prock said he was even blown away by how well the car ran all weekend.
“We race a lot, we live it and you don’t have many weekends like this,” said Prock, who worked with John Force Racing for 15 seasons before joining Don Schumacher Racing late last year. “We had an opportunity and we got off to an excellent start. That was an advantage right out the gate, we already had a three-second run on the board so we had an opportunity to go after it Friday night.”
Despite earning a near-perfect 147 of 150 available points during the weekend, Beckman still trails series leader Matt Hagan by 57 points. Hagan qualified second and lost in the second round to runner-up Johnson Jr.
In Top Fuel, Brown claimed his fourth win of the season and 51st of his career by outrunning first-time finalist Dave Connolly. Brown took his fourth Sonoma win by powering to a final round effort of 3.787 at 320.74 in his Matco Tools dragster and crossing the finish line just in front of former Pro Stock racer Connolly, whose C&J Energy Services dragster clocked a 3.808 at 319.14.
The win was former Pro Stock Motorcycle racer Brown’s 35th in Top Fuel, a mark that ties him with the legendary “Big Daddy” Don Garlits.
“That’s a true, true blessing,” said Brown, who outran Steve Chrisman, Richie Crampton and Tony Schumacher en route to the final. “When I grew up in this sport, everybody knew who ‘Big Daddy’ was. What got me interesting in the sport was seeing him blowover in ’86 at Englishtown. I said, man, he’s crazy, but he got back in that car and did it again but ended up winning the championship that year. We have a unique relationship. To tie one of the greatest racers in history is unbelievable, but it hasn’t sunk in. It won’t sink in until I leave this sport, because I’m still hungry.”
Semifinalist Schumacher remained in the series points lead in his U.S. Army dragster, 37 in front of Brown.
Krawiec, who first earned the annual NHRA Pro Bike Battle on Saturday, earned his second consecutive Pro Stock Motorcycle win of the season and 29th of his career by riding past Jerry Savoie at the finish. Krawiec rode his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson to his second consecutive victory and third overall at this event with a performance of 6.881 at 191.00 to hold off Savoie’s Alligator Farm Suzuki, which finished in 6.891 at 194.13.
Krawiec said even though the bikes don’t race in Seattle, and aren’t a part of the official Western Swing, he decided to celebrate his own unique trifecta anyway.
“We took a picture with a broom because this is sort of our mini-swing,” Krawiec said. “I was fortunate to win in Denver, and yesterday we won the [Pro Bike] Battle and today won Sonoma. That’s a good run for our Harley team. What sets this track apart is that this is one of the best surfaces we run on.”
Krawiec defeated Angie Smith, Steve Johnson and Scotty Pollacheck en route to the final. He increased his series points lead to 106 over second place Hector Arana Jr.
“I give a lot of credit to my crew chief, Matt Hines, and everyone at Vance & Hines,” Krawiec said. “They took an outsider and turned him into a race winner and a champion. Matt is a very unique individual. He is a thinker, and the way I look at it, he has  wins because all of my wins, all of Drew’s [teammate Andrew Hines] wins, and all of his wins count the same because he was a part of them.”
The Lucas Oil Lowdown
Versatile Racer Shines!
Kyle Seipel of Pleasanton, Calif., scored his 11th NHRA national event win, just missing the elusive double up as he advanced to the final round in both Top Dragster and Stock Eliminator at this weekend’s NHRA Sonoma Nationals at Sonoma Raceway.
Seipel used a .007 second reaction time to push Dean Hall, Guerneville, Calif., to breakout by .010 seconds as Seipel has now won at the national event level in five different classes (Super Comp, Super Gas, Super Stock, Stock and now Top Dragster. Seipel went 6.838 seconds at 195.31 mph for the win to Hall’s 6.730, 203.58 who was coming off a win in Top Dragster last weekend at the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series divisional event at Sonoma Raceway.
Seipel was looking for the double-up win as he also advanced to the final in Stock Eliminator and faced off with 17-time national event winner Jimmy DeFrank of Thousand Oaks, Calif. DeFrank, the former Lucas Oil National Champion, raced to a lap of 10.655 on the 10.65 dial in his ‘69 Camaro for the win, denying Seipel the double. DeFrank earned the double-up earlier this year winning in both the Stock and Super Stock classes at the SummitRacing.com Nationals in Las Vegas.
San Jose, Calif., racer Ted Kellner was looking to defend his title from a year ago in Top Sportsman and was able to so do with a .010 second package along with a .005 reaction time. The win was Kellner’s third as he clocked in at 7.495, 177.70 to Jeff Gillette’s quicker 6.957, 199.46 in his ’01 Firebird.
Justin Lamb bagged his 15th win and sixth in Super Stock while Barry Willoughby captured his first in his first final round beating Rick Cates in Super Gas. Lamb, Henderson, Nev., won on a holeshot against Dave Bridgewater, Devore, Calif., crossing the finish line in 8.724 seconds, 147.96 mph. Willoughby, Eagle, Idaho, drove his ’67 Camaro to an easy win when Cates, Canyon, Texas, left early with a red light start.
A pair of Southern California racers battled for the Super Comp title with Robert Naber, Ontario, Calif., taking the nod as he was out first on Val Torres and held on for this third national event win. Naber, who defeated Torres, Valinda, Calif., back in 2006 in Super Gas here in Sonoma, went 8.920 at 168.03 for the win.
In Super Street it was Ryan Giacone, Glendale, Ariz., and his ’88 Thunderbird running dead on the 10.90 index as he and Bernie Polvadore were near identical off the line (.010 to .007). Polvadore, Sun City, Ariz., drove his ’93 Grand Prix to a lap of 10.916, 159.49 in his loosing efforts.
Posted with files from Kelly Topolinski, NHRA Communcations, Eric Lotz & Bruce Biegler
Photos courtesy of NHRA Communications and WinLight Communications