After racing to his second career runner-up finish, Top Fuel veteran Terry McMillen is closer than ever to his first-ever appearance in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship. It also means the next two races, including this weekend’s Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway, are more important than ever.
McMillen’s runner-up in Seattle solidified his spot in the Top Fuel points, as he currently sits in eighth, 154 points ahead of 11th-place Shawn Langdon. It has McMillen feeling good in his 10,000-horsepower AMALIE Motor Oil XTERMIGATOR dragster, but also cognizant of the fact his team must continue to build on their recent strong performances.
“The true ingredient is just keep doing what we’ve been doing,” McMillen said. “(Crew chief) Rob Wendland is doing a tremendous job of racing the racetrack. The car is running well and there’s no reason it shouldn’t continue to do well. The car will do the talking for us if we go up and use the same game plan. I feel more confident than ever about getting into the top 10, and I feel like we’re peaking at the perfect time. It’s refreshing and definitely a confidence-booster.”
Brittany Force (Top Fuel), Del Worsham (Funny Car), Drew Skillman (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including live final eliminations coverage starting at 2:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Aug. 20. It is the 17th of 24 races in 2017 and the penultimate race of the regular season.
McMillen has made significant headway over the past two races, winning a combined five rounds in Sonoma and Seattle, losing to back-to-back world champion Antron Brown on a holeshot in the final round at the latter race. But the good news is McMillen had the quickest and most consistent car on raceday, running as quick as 3.725. That should bode well for Brainerd and the rest of 2017.
“If you look at Seattle and Sonoma, we were taking out good cars,” McMillen said. “Everything is working right and we’re running as fast as anybody, and we’re not hurting anything. There’s a couple small things we have to keep working at to get everything 100 percent, but exciting is an understatement. Brainerd, while it is a great place to visit, it can have its distractions, and those distractions are the environment. We have to minimize those and work even harder now.”
McMillen expects his team to be locked in at Brainerd International Raceway, especially with two major goals that still need to be accomplished against a loaded field that will include Brown, six-time 2017 winner Steve Torrence, eight-time world champ Tony Schumacher, Clay Millican, Force and three-time winner this season Leah Pritchett. Along with that first Countdown to the Championship berth, McMillen remains determined to grab his first career Top Fuel victory. After coming so close in Seattle, he believes it can become a reality this season.
“As the momentum on this team continues to build, there’s not a race out there today that we can’t go out and win,” McMillen said. “Hopefully this is the year we put our mark there. In Seattle, we outran every car there. Losing on a holeshot is not my favorite thing in the world, but when we go to the starting line we’re for real. If we’re able to make the Countdown, this group will recognize the reality that hard work does pay off. But in those six races, we’re going to have to work harder than we have ever worked before. But this team is definitely up for the challenge.”
Worsham wants another Funny Car win at BIR to help jump into the top 10. Worsham sits 13th in points, with everyone looking to catch reigning world champ and six-time 2017 winner Ron Capps.
Skillman has been red-hot in Pro Stock, winning three of the past four races. He’s chasing points leader Bo Butner and teammate, rookie Tanner Gray, who each have three wins as well.
Hines won for the third time in Brainerd in Pro Stock Motorcycle, but is after his first win in 2017. LE Tonglet has dominated in that regard, posting five victories this season.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 2:45 and 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 18 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Aug. 19, at 12:45 and 3:45 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 20.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call 218-824-RACE (7223) or 866-444-4455. Tickets also are available online at www.brainerdraceway.com. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. To honor the Salute to First Responders, military and first responders can save 20 percent on general admission tickets at the gate.