Testing did not set expectations high for the Parts Plus Top Fuel dragster team. Clay Millican, driving a Your Car Your Data-bannered dragster at the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals this weekend, remained optimistic. He felt reasonable for doing so. Mike Kloeber returned to tune his dragster after years away from the sport and after many more years away from leading Millican towards many IHRA world championships.
The team just needed time and the right people in the right places. Bristol marks the 11th race on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series calendar. That’s nearly halfway through the season and leaves eight chances for Millican to earn points before the NHRA Countdown to the Championship begins. The team’s goal is to be on solid footing by the time the playoffs begin in Reading at the Dodge NHRA Nationals.
He thinks the team is close.
“What we’ve done is totally impressive to me,” said Millican. “I had no questions that Mike could do this, but it was definitely stressful at times trying to pull the people together and make all of this happen and get the car turned around in between rounds. The group of guys that came together to do it is phenomenal. It’s very hard when you start from scratch.”
David Grubnic left Millican at the end of the season to tune Brittany Force’s Advance Auto Parts Top Fuel dragster and sits second in the points. Millican is sixth in points. The two dragsters raced one another for the third time in 2019 at the Menards NHRA Heartland Nationals presented by Minties in the first round and Millican maintains it means no more to him than any other race. At some point, you just have to believe him.
“That’s just me being honest,” he said. “I want to beat them, absolutely, but I want to beat every car that I go up against. They ran a 3.69 and I saw her out in front of me, so I shut the car off before the finish line just to save parts.”
That’s part of the reality of the budget for a team that has skipped qualifying sessions a few times this year. No, this is not a team that is running on a shoe-string budget, but it’s also not the juggernaut that John Force Racing is. From Millican’s own mouth: Straightline Strategy Group must race smart in order to chase a championship. That’s the goal.
“We need to run like this now so that we can be seat up to run in the 3.60s when the Countdown comes around,” said Millican. “We show up trying to win every race, that’s a fact, but we also have to race within our means.”
The defending event champion, Tony Schumacher, is not racing this weekend. That leaves Millican, who won in Bristol in emotional fashion in 2017, as the most recent Top Fuel winner entered. This would be a welcome way for Kloeber and Millican to get that first NHRA victory.