It was nearly a dream come true last year for Top Fuel’s Terry McMillen. But after advancing to his first career final round at his sponsor’s race, the veteran hopes to finish the job this time at this weekend’s Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway.
McMillen faced off with Brittany Force in a match-up of drivers looking for their first career Top Fuel victory, with Force ultimately gaining the win at the historic track. As exciting as getting his first final round appearance was, it has only driven McMillen and his team to take it one step further in his 10,000-horsepower Amalie Motor Oil Xtermi-Gator dragster.
“Last year was huge and it gives you all the motivation one needs when you get that close,” McMillen said. “Just to get to the final round was just huge. Every employee at Amalie was behind us and that kept our motivation up. We’re just blessed to have that relationship. We’ve got a new car, and it’s fast and running as well as anybody out there. We’re coming in with a lot of motivation and redemption of getting back there to the final round, and getting a win this time.”
Robert Hight (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were also last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including live finals coverage on Sunday at 1 p.m. (ET). The NHRA’s traditional East Coast opener marks the third of 24 events in 2017, and McMillen is hoping for another massive boost at the historic track.
His 2017 campaign includes one round win over the first two races, including running a career-best 3.734 in Pomona, putting McMillen in 10th place in the loaded Top Fuel class. The team, led by crew chief Rob Wenland, has built on last year’s performance at Gainesville and with everyone returning in 2017, it’s only raised McMillen’s confidence and expectations.
“It’s huge when you don’t have to train anybody at the beginning of the year,” McMillen said. “Everyone has realized that no matter what happens we can do this and we can win. With Rob being able to maintain and keep everybody from last year, the learning curve just increases immensely. The guys trust him and he trusts the guys and there’s just that common bond. I feel good getting in the car and I know we can go out and compete.”
Even without testing heading to Pomona, McMillen and his team performed well immediately. But he knows the team will have to continue to push forward to keep pace with the elite in Top Fuel. That includes Leah Pritchett, who has been red-hot in winning the first two races of the year, back-to-back world champion Antron Brown, Doug Kalitta, Steve Torrence and Tony Schumacher.
With Amalie Motor Oil’s strong presence at the Gatornationals, McMillen knows there is pressure to put on a show. But he’s confident his team can do that as it continues to focus on the season’s long-term goal: earning a first-ever berth in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship.
“Our goal is to finish in the top 10 and we need to do that this year,” McMillen said. “The next phase of that is to go deep in rounds (during eliminations) and put ourselves in position to win, not just once a year but trying to do that 3-4 times a year. We just have to do a better job of putting ourselves in that position and then taking advantage of that opportunity.”
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 12:45 and 4:15 p.m. on Friday, March 17 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, March 18 at 12:00 and 2:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, March 19.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call (800) 884-NHRA (6472) or visit www.NHRA.com/tickets. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult.