"We didn't get it done" - Terry McMillen reflects on missing the Countdown and where the team goes next
Terry McMillen did not make the NHRA Countdown to the Championship, breaking not just a streak of playoff appearances of for the Amalie Motor Oil Top Fuel team but a perceived trend of upward movement.
He started the season well, reaching the semifinals in Pomona and the final at the NGK Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte. That start did not last. McMillen failed to qualify at the Arby's NHRA Southern Nationals -- and that cemented what he and crew chief Rob Wendland already suspected: the team had a problem.
"It's rough, you just start having these things start happening and couldn't, didn't understand why, and then we found out that we had a bad [clutch] donut on the hat and so wherever the finger was it was cracked," said McMillen. "And so the car would go out there and run 3.76 all day long, but if we tried to run faster it would smoke the tires."
It took the team longer than it wanted to find out the donut, which sits at the top of the clutch package, was damaged. The good news: It's fixed, which means Wendland can move forward with a refreshed package in addition to the new chassis the team debuted at the beginning of the season. The bad news: It happened much later than anyone wanted.
"We put this new donut on in Brainerd had no experience with it all, the other one, we knew when it deflected, and we knew all of that stuff about it, this one here, we didn't know anything about it," said McMillen. "The only thing we knew was that it was going to definitely be different and so we had to find the sweet spot. We tested going into Indy and certainly were hoping for a better end. And, you know, we just could never get over the hump to pick it up."
McMillen has five races to chase his first win since capturing the 2018 U.S. Nationals Wally. That win, the highlight of his long drag racing career, came more than a year ago. He's a two-time winner and certainly capable of upsetting a Countdown competitor if his car returns to form.
"The one thing we all felt that we failed at last year was the Countdown," said McMillen. "You know, we ran good up to Indy and we got that win and we felt like we had all that great momentum going and then and then all of a sudden we just lost it in the Countdown. And then we regrouped over where Rob built, you know, a new chassis, front-halved our chassis and we came out gangbusters in the beginning of the year, you know, so we have what we felt was a combination, and then all of a sudden, things didn't go our way."
From that point, McMillen needed to use his ability as a team owner to keep the team together in spite of the adversity.
"It's hard because as an owner, as a driver, crew chief, all of those things, every one of us, I mean, we're mentally involved and emotionally and so it does get frustrating when we're not going rounds," said McMillen. "Especially given what we did last year, and just starting out the year, the way we did. We've got nobody to blame but ourselves and it's frustrating, especially to back to a company like Amalie that has invested in me for so long say, 'hey look, we failed, you know, we didn't get it done.' That is probably as hard as anything. The last thing I want to do is let them down after all the years of support."
There's still time for McMillen and the Amalie Motor Oil team to make noise in 2019. The consistency of the car has begun to rebound after bottoming out towards the middle of the season and the veteran driver has been steady behind the wheel. Now the team owner needs the results to follow the process.