It was important for Terry McMillen to start the 2020 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season on a good note. The Top Fuel veteran responded with his quickest career run at the NHRA Arizona Nationals, giving McMillen plenty of momentum heading into perhaps his favorite race of the year, the 51st annual Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals, which takes place March 12-15 at Gainesville Raceway.
As the driver of the 11,000-horsepower Amalie Motor Oil XTERMIGATOR dragster, racing at his sponsor’s race at one of the most iconic tracks on the circuit means a great deal to the popular McMillen. Knowing his dragster is capable of running well, McMillen hopes it leads to what would be one of the biggest wins of his career.
“For me, it’s great to see the smiles on all the faces of the Amalie employees when we get to showcase everything,” McMillen said. “The fans there are certainly great and there’s just something about racing the Gator car at the Gatornationals in Gainesville. The people love it and I’ve met a lot of great folks. It’s been very cool and exciting to see it all come together.”
Richie Crampton (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Bo Butner (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are defending winners of an event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1 (FS1), including finals coverage on Sunday, March 15 at 9:30 p.m. (ET). It is the third of 24 races during the 2020 season and the action will start early with the thrilling NHRA Prime Time during the second qualifying session on Friday.
McMillen had a strong showing in Phoenix, running a career-best 3.691-seconds, which was precisely the type of progress the team hoped to see early in 2020. Things didn’t go as planned during the middle portion of the season in 2019, but a solid finish had McMillen thinking they weren’t far off from a big turnaround. That turned out to be true and now McMillen and his team, led by crew chief Rob Wendland, are ready for more.
“We learned some things at the end of last season and finished well, and that gave us a stepping-stone to where we’re at now,” McMillen said. “All of this is a confidence-builder. I can go up to the starting line and stay focused on what I need to do. It takes a lot of pressure off. Now it’s a matter of taking advantage of everything. We have to keep the car 100 percent and ready to go, maintained properly and we can’t make mistakes.”
McMillen, who has two career Top Fuel wins, knows he will need to be flawless in Gainesville to get a victory. That’s the nature of the Top Fuel class, which is loaded with top-tier talent like back-to-back world champ Steve Torrence, who won in Phoenix, Pomona winner Doug Kalitta, Shawn Langdon, 2017 world champ Brittany Force, Austin Prock and Clay Millican. But McMillen believes his team is heading in the right direction, which could lead to a strong showing in Gainesville.
“I think we’re in a really good place,” McMillen said. “The car is running so good. It’s been a process to get here, and Rob is doing a tremendous job. He’s got the car in a good place and it’s exciting. We’re proving that this car can run with anybody. We had a great off-season and the new guys have really gelled. It’s like a family right now. Those things set the tone and I believe our future is good.”
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 2:30 and 5:30 p.m. on Friday, March 13 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, March 14 at 12:45 and 3:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, March 15.
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.