MADISON, IL – September 16, 2019 – (Motor Sports NewsWire) – It’s the closest race on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series tour for Clay Millican and it also comes at a crucial time for the Top Fuel veteran. Those may be the only two reasons Millican needs to do well at the upcoming eighth annual AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals, which takes place Sept. 27-29 at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway.
It is the second of six races in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, and Millican knows the importance of getting off to a good start in the playoffs. He took care of an important part of the task at the playoff opener in Reading on Sunday, beating defending world champ and points leader Steve Torrence in the opening round. But it wasn’t quite the perfect start, as Millican lost a round later in his 11,000-horsepower Parts Plus dragster, putting even more importance on doing well in St. Louis, where Millican will look to put on a show in front of a big pro-Millican crowd.
“It’s really fun because it’s so close to home and you have a lot of family and friends there, but this race is so important because it’s so early in the Countdown,” Millican said. “If you start on the right foot and have a good weekend or get a win, it gives you a legit shot. It’s a pivotal race at this time of the year and we’re going to go in guns blazing.”
Torrence (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Tanner Gray (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (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, Sept. 29. Winning at St. Louis proved pivotal for three of the winners, as Torrence, Gray and Smith all won world titles. Millican would like to repeat that scenario and a win would certainly help his chances.
He’s currently ninth in points, but a wild day in Reading on Sunday means he’s only 88 points behind leader Doug Kalitta. After four final round appearances in 2019, Millican is also ready to break through and grab his first victory of the season. He’s been agonizingly close at times, but the positive is what his team has been able to do this year after reuniting with crew chief Mike Kloeber.
“We’ve been really close and sometimes it’s been a matter of thousandths of a second,” Millican said. “But we’ve taken probably what was perceived as a rebuilding phase and show it wasn’t. We’ve been able to continue to turn on win lights and I’m excited about everything we’re doing. We have as many parts as we’ve had all season and we’re 100 percent prepared to pull out all the stops to try and win a championship.”
If things go as planned, expect something special from Millican in St. Louis. But getting a win will still be difficult in the jam-packed Top Fuel field. Richie Crampton won in Reading, throwing his name into the title mix, while Millican also has to deal with the likes of Kalitta, 2017 champ Brittany Force, Torrence, Antron Brown, Leah Pritchett, Austin Prock and Mike Salinas. All are within 90 points of Kalitta, though a big weekend from Millican could vault him into the top five. It makes for some tense moments, but Millican loves being in the mix of it all.
“I feel really good about our car and what we’ve been able to do,” Millican said. “I definitely feel it’s as competitive as any car out there, so I’m pumped up about (St. Louis). We’ve got a shot at it. Unless you have somebody do what Steve (Torrence) did a year ago (winning all six playoff races), we just need to go rounds. I want our playoffs to have wins, obviously, but I think we can definitely make our way to Pomona and be in this.”
Robert Hight won in dramatic fashion a year ago in Funny Car at St. Louis as his car exploded just past the finish line in the final round. Hight crashed and broke his collarbone, but he returned the next race to compete for a championship. He’ll look to keep his St. Louis momentum going against Jack Beckman, who won on Sunday, John Force, and defending champ J.R. Todd.
Jason Line grabbed the early momentum in Pro Stock, winning the opening playoff race and taking the points lead. He’ll look to keep that going against a talented group of championship contenders, including Bo Butner, Erica Enders, Alex Laughlin, Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Greg Anderson.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Jerry Savoie has won back-to-back races, including the playoff opener, to take a slim lead over Andrew Hines, who was dominant in the regular season. Others to watch include defending event winner and world champ Matt Smith, Hector Arana Jr. and Eddie Krawiec.
The AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals will also feature thrilling competition in the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service, which will have its 10th of 12 races in 2019. The series will be presented by Mr. Race Oil in St. Louis, and the defending event winner is current points leader Stevie “Fast” Jackson. The event includes the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series as well, where the future stars of the sport earn their racing stripes.
NHRA fans can take part in the Mello Yello Walking Tour to see the cars and teams hard at work in the pits. Fans can also attend Pro Stock Motorcycle School and Nitro School to learn how the cars operate and reach their thrilling speeds. World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway will also host a Mello Yello autograph session and allow fans to meet their favorite drivers as well as the Cruising with Castello Sealmaster Track Walk hosted by NHRA announcer Joe Castello. Another can’t-miss experience is the winner’s circle celebration on Sunday after racing concludes. NHRA fans are invited to congratulate the winners of the event as they celebrate their victories.
As always, fans can interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 3:15 and 6:00 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 27, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Sept. 28, at 1:45 and 4:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 29.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call (618) 215-8888. Tickets also are available online at www.gatewaymsp.com. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. For more info about NHRA visit www.NHRA.com.
Headquartered in Glendora, Calif., NHRA is the primary sanctioning body for the sport of drag racing in the United States. NHRA presents 24 national events featuring the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, and E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service. NHRA provides competition opportunities for drivers of all levels in the NHRA Summit Racing Series and the NHRA Drags: Street Legal Style presented by AAA. NHRA also offers NHRA Jr. Street program for teens and the Summit Racing Jr. Drag Racing League for youth ages 5 to 17. In addition, NHRA owns and operates four racing facilities: Atlanta Dragway in Georgia; Gainesville Raceway in Florida; Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis; and Auto Club Raceway at Pomona in Southern California. For more information, log on to NHRA.com, or visit the official NHRA pages on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
Source: National Hot Rod Association