POMONA, CALIF., February 9, 2015: Sitting in his trailer about to pop open a celebratory bottle of premium root beer, Top Fuel driver Clay Millican is ecstatic following his season-opening elimination round run at Sunday’s NHRA Winternationals. From the big smile on his face, you’d think he’d just won.
“I hate losing, but to me it almost feels like we won,” says Millican, moments after shaking the tires of his Parts Plus/Great Clips Top Fuel dragster in an E1 matchup with red-hot Spencer Massey. “We have a racecar that I haven’t felt this confident about in a long time.”
The Parts Plus team entered the weekend with a plan designed by new crew chief Dave Grubnic, a successful veteran driver in his own right. Instead of coming out of the gate aggressively Friday and Saturday, Grubnic advised Millican to shut the car off early at designated points on his first three runs to get the car qualified and gather more data before tuning the car for a strong Q4. And up until Saturday afternoon, everything had pretty much gone according to plan. Millican shut the car off at the 330-ft-mark in Q3 but still managed a [email protected] 270 mph to coast into the 13th spot in qualifying.
“It’s a bit of a risk to do that in qualifying, but Grubnic had a vision,” Millican says. “He told me that we could run this car to half track and coast to qualifying, which admittedly is sorta crazy, but it worked. I believe in what Grubnic is doing so much that I wasn’t worried about it.”
With Millican’s qualifying spot secured and more data to work with, Grubnic was planning to shoot for a 3.76 to move Clay up into the top half of the qualifying field. But Mother Nature had a plan of her own. Rain quickly entered the area Saturday afternoon, springing the young Parts Plus/Great Clips team into action to make adjustments to the car to deal with slick track conditions. In the end, however, Q4 was cancelled due to the lingering rainfall, leaving Millican in the 13th spot at the end of qualifying, with a first-round showdown vs. Spencer Massey, who qualified 3rd with an impressive 3.745.
“I certainly wish we could have gotten the fourth qualifying run in,” Millican says. “I have a feeling we were about to run the quickest quarter-mile I’ve ever run in my career. Plus, we really needed the information that would have come with another qualifying run. Heck, Sunday was just the ninth time we stepped on the gas all season. To have the runs we’ve had so far is unbelievable. The amount of professionalism on this team is amazing—and it all starts with Doug [Stringer, team owner].”
For Stringer, CEO and president of Stringer Holdings, the Top Fuel weekend in Pomona was a homecoming of sorts.
“I was here about 15 years ago as a crew member, so it means a lot to me to be back here,” he said. “This team perfectly carried out the plan we had in place this weekend. When I hire a crew chief, I look at him as being my quarterback; he makes the calls. That’s why all our qualifying runs were test runs: We wanted to be perfect at 60 ft and then be perfect at 330 and then at half track and then at a full run. We had some parts we wanted to try in the fourth qualifying round, so Saturday’s rain put us behind the eight ball today. But that was out of our control. I couldn’t be any prouder of this team.”
On Sunday morning, with the rain clouds gone and the track surface heating up, the Parts Plus crew was working fast to change the car’s setup from the previous afternoon. Then just as the car was ready to be pulled into staging, the team noticed an oil leak. The crew quickly made the repair but didn’t have enough time afterward to fire the engine. Millican went on to shake the tires around the 100-ft mark in E1, ending his day.
Still, with an all-star lineup of Millican, Grubnic and Lance Larsen, co-crew chief and general manager, the Parts Plus/Great Clips team is on track for a strong 2015 campaign.
“There’s a chemistry building that I haven’t felt since I won six straight championships,” Millican said. “It’s something I can’t quite explain. There’s just something about this combination of talent that Doug has put together. I don’t know how to tell you what that is. It just feels right.”
NEXT RACE: Feb. 20–22, Phoenix