NHRA RULES IN ELITE’S FAVOR TO CLOSE McGAHA PROTEST, BUT EMOTIONS FLARE
Pro Stock racer Chris McGaha invested $2,000 to file an official protest against Elite Motorsports late Friday following qualifying for the CatSpot NHRA Northwest Nationals at Pacific Raceways, near Seattle.
It was an attempt to find out if the engines in the cars of provisional top qualifier Jeg Coughlin and No. 3 Erica Enders exceeded the cubic-inch displacement limits, set at 500. The NHRA Technical Committee ordered and observed a tear-down late Friday that Enders said kept her crew and Coughlin’s working until around midnight. lasted until around midnight. Ultimately, the sanctioning body ruled that both of the Elite Chevy engines were within legal limits.
“We passed tech,” Enders said. “We were 498.6, so an inch-and-a-half under 500. We’re smaller than the max on both cars. All of our stuff is the same. We’re not cheaters. We just work hard.”
Per the rules, Elite got to keep 90 percent of the protest fee, which totaled $1,800. McGaha, admittedly suspicious of Elite since 2015 regarding fuel, has since the Atlanta race in May footed the bill for fuel for the entire Pro Stock class. So he has provided free fuel, at about $1,000 per weekend, which benefits Elite (and all other Pro Stock teams). Elite boss Richard Freeman was enjoying the added windfall Saturday, while McGaha was defending his right to gather information.
McGaha paid for peace of mind, but he ended up also receiving a piece of mind from Freeman and star driver Enders and a calm denial by the squeaky-clean-branded Coughlin. Hours after the matter was settled legally, the sniping continued.
“You can’t buy class, and they can do what they want. They have no friends out here. It’s just a different way. That’s not the way we do things,” Freeman said Saturday. “We don’t really care what they do. It’s kind of sad. We made two really nice runs yesterday. What I would have done is said, “Hey, man, that was a nice run. Congratulations.” Instead they want to protest. But it is what it is.
“We’re not cheaters. We’ve never cheated,” Freeman said. “Have we taken rules to the extent? Yeah, that’s our job. Everybody out here does. If they say they don’t, they’re ignorant. Ain’t no big deal to us. To be honest with you, it was good for our team, because we all stayed and we had a good time. We found some things we needed to address, and we appreciate that.”
Enders took the extra attention as a badge of honor. So did Coughlin, who said after securing the top starting slot Saturday, “I guess it’s flattering.”
Said Enders, “Not a whole lot of people like us, which is fine. A.J. Foyt told me a long time ago, ‘If you have friends in racing, you suck.’ We’ve had a really rough couple of years, haven’t done much on the track. And now we’re running good again, and it’s pissing some people off. So we’ll take it as a compliment, because that’s exactly what it is. It means my guys at Elite Performance are doing their job finding horsepower. My crew chiefs are doing a good job at making these cars go down the track. Instead of them working hard and focusing on their program, they’re worried about what we’re doing, and that’s exactly what we need.”
Coughlin said after securing the Pro Stock No. 1 qualifying position that the protest “is actually quite humorous.” He said, “We’ve raced in the NHRA for 30 years, been fortunate to win a lot of rounds, win a lot of races, and win a lot of championships. But there’s still room for firsts. That was first last night, to be served an official protest from one of our competitors. It’s pretty flattering. We’re out here representing top-rate companies. The last thing we’re going to do is put ourselves in jeopardy with a rules infraction. We’ve just been working hard. The car’s been running pretty well. And we [Elite teams] have been pretty efficient on Sundays. In 10 of the last 11 races, we’ve had a car in the final.” He said Elite’s strong performance has not been sudden.
McGaha said he his suspicions about Elite Motorsports hasn’t been sudden, either. He said he has had an eyebrow cocked toward that team since 2015. That complaint was about fuel, and with his steep payment to Sunoco at each event, it still bugs him. The Odessa, Texas, owner-driver said he also has questioned Oklahoma-headquartered Elite Motorsports about its intake manifolds. The animosity has simmered for a few years, and it resurfaced this weekend in text messaging and on the Internet.
"Richard Freeman is not happy with me, which I totally understand,” McGaha told Competition Plus Saturday morning. “He told me to keep sending the money his way and I said, 'Don't worry. You're going to reimburse me.’ He said, 'Don't count on it.’ I thought when I started doing this, at some time or another he would turn around and start protesting me. Then I will just get my money back."
What McGaha got from Freeman was a digital knuckle sandwich. He showed text messages from Freeman, one of which read, “Thanks for the cash. Go to work. Quit worrying about us. If you want to handle it like men, march your ass over here and let’s get ’er done. I love it. Keep sending money.”
McGaha responded by saying, “They seem to be the only ones that like to resort to physical violence at times. I was told if I want to be a man, I can come down there [to the Elite pits] and we can settle it like men. That, to me, is saying, ‘You need to come down here and we can duke it out.’ Maybe not. But this guy turns around and calls me an idiot and a dumb-ass. I got it in text.”
He provided a text message from Freeman that included a picture of the protested parts, along with the message, “There you go, dumb-ass.” Another text message read, “Whatever you idiot think with the fuel money and everything else, keep it up. You’re a genius.” McGaha said, “So how do you go reason with somebody like that? Why would I even want to go face to face with him?”
Enders said, “It was confidential. They [NHRA personnel] wouldn’t tell us who did it, and Richard was like, ‘I know who did it. It was Chris McGaha.’ So he sent a text message, and they went back and forth a couple times. He sent the measurement of what came up after tech, and he sent that to Chris. He said, “We passed. Here you go.’”
She said McGaha replied, “You may have passed, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t think you’re cheating until I can see your heads and your intake.” Enders said, “So Richard took a picture of our head and a picture of our intake manifold and sent it to him. We invited him. He could have come over and had supper with us, too. We don’t care. He could have helped us put it back together.” She laughed at the notion.
“It’s all fine. It is what it is. It creates drama for the class, which is what it needs,” she said. “But bottom line is we work hard. Teamwork makes the dream work. While we were here ‘til almost midnight last night, we cooked, we had a great dinner, we laughed, we had drinks, we carried on, we had a blast. We probably would have rather done that in a hotel lobby, but it’s all about being with the people you love.”
Referring to the name-calling via text messages, McGaha said, “That’s the class you’re dealing with right there. They told us they’re classy. That’s fine. I’m not trying to pick a fight with them. I wanted to know. Everybody did. And I had every right to know. I don’t have nearly the same opinion yesterday that I do today. I have to take the sanctioning body’s word on it at this point that it’s good. It didn’t look right to me. I protested, and they tore it down. It’s obviously legit.
“All we wanted to do was know. If they can’t respect that all we wanted to do was know, I don’t know what to tell ’em,” McGaha said. “If the sanctioning body isn’t going to police it and take care of it, which they have neglected quite a bit, then you have to leave it to the racers. The only thing the racers have got is a protest.”