In 65 years of hosting drag racing, Bandimere Speedway has become home for many. Of course, racers who live in the area revere the facility and host of 43 NHRA national events. For Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series competitors who race in Division 5, the facility nestled into the hillside just outside of Denver has been a favorite stop, and for others — including eight-time Pro Stock winner Chris McGaha — Bandimere Speedway is where it all began.
His father and racing partner, Lester, is a former Comp racer who traveled often to Denver. His first — and so far, best — memory on the mountain has nothing to do with wheeling for a trophy, though.
"My best Denver memory is the first year we ever came up here," recalled Lester, who reflected that the very ground he was standing on in the Harlow Sammons Racing pit area was the parking lot that day in 1982.
"We didn't even have a racecar; I was on vacation and said, 'Let's go to Colorado.' They were having a race, so I said, 'Let's go to the race.' We came on Saturday and stayed all afternoon."
With arms characteristically folded across his chest and a smile spreading beneath a signature white mustache, Lester nodded towards his son.
"It was the first time he'd ever been to a race," he said. "He was two, and he sat on my shoulders the whole race and wouldn't let me get him down."
Chris laughed, fidgeting with a bolt and leaning against his Silver Bullet-themed Chevrolet Camaro.
"I just wanted to keep watching," said the younger McGaha with a shrug.
It didn't take long for Chris to want more than an observational role. He became a competitor in the NHRA Jr. Drag Racing League, driving a car that matched the dragster driven by his father. They would frequent division races, and Bandimere Speedway was always a favored stop.
Lester raced at Bandimere Speedway in a roadster as early as 1984.
"I raced it in Super Comp that first weekend. I just had an old 427 in it, and it wouldn't run fast enough to do anything else," said Lester, who called Bandimere Speedway something of a close-to-home race for the Odessa, Texas, natives.
Chris, gleeful in the vision, chimed in, "We left the house and it was, 'We're going to the Mile-High Nationals, we got an open-bed trailer with a roadster on it, look at us!' "
They didn't have much luck that weekend, but when Chris was 14 and racing in the Jr. league, he made his own most impactful memory when he earned the first trophy of his career at a Bandimere Speedway division race.
"I can still remember winning that Jr. race. It was pretty good," he said. "It was my first win, and then it was like 20 years before we won again (in Pro Stock at Sonoma Raceway in 2015). It burns in your mind; I hope it's not that long again."
It's been a long while since Chris has won a Pro Stock race — his most recent victory was in Norwalk in 2019 — and there is not a more poignant venue to get it done than where it all began.
"The last few years have been hard," he conceded. "We ran good here last year, and that's the reason we came. I told everybody, 'I don't care how bad we're doing – we're going to Denver.' It's such a hard place to run, but that evens up the playing field. It would mean a lot to do well here."