NHRA: Clay Millican looks to cash in big this weekend in Las Vegas


One of the greatest beauties of NHRA drag racing is a driver not just earning his/her first win, but also where they go from there.

Top Fuel driver Clay Millican is among the most recent to enter that category. It took the Drummonds, Tennessee native nearly 20 years before he earned his first national event win.

Ironically enough, it couldn’t have come at a better place: it was 2017 and at Millican’s home track of Bristol Dragway, directly across the street from it’s well-known older brother, NASCAR’s Bristol Motor Speedway.

Clay Millican.

After chasing the dream of making it to victory lane for nearly two decades, Millican was rewarded for his patience and perseverance.

But it’s what has come after that which has only made his story even better.

Millican, who made his first Top Fuel start in 1998, came out of virtually nowhere to not only win two other races in 2018, he finished a career-best third in the final Top Fuel point standings.

Fans have gone from saying, “Clay who?” to “Man, that Clay can drive.”

Indeed, the 53-year-old Millican can drive.

And now, as he prepares for this weekend’s DENSO Spark Plugs Four-Wide Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Millican is ready to continue showing it’s never too late to be a winner and potential champion in NHRA drag racing.

Millican comes into this weekend’s event eighth in the points, but he’s also riding momentum. After two disappointing first-round exits in the season-opening race at Pomona, California, and two weeks later at Chandler, Arizona, Millican had the pedal to metal two weeks ago at Gainesville, Florida, finishing a close runner-up to race winner Richie Crampton.

Millican will make his 295th national event start. In addition to his three wins over the last two seasons, he also has 10 runner-up finishes in his career, along with 44 semi-final finishes and 81 quarter-final finishes. He also has qualified No. 1 20 times in his career, a significant improvement over the 24 DNQs (did not qualify) he suffered through primarily earlier in his career.

In addition, Millican holds the national Top Fuel elapsed time record of 3.628 seconds over a 1,000-foot long drag strip.

Millican is particularly looking forward to this weekend’s race because with four lanes of cars competing against each other, it kind of takes him back to his roots in bracket racing before moving on to Top Fuel.

I love the confusion on the starting line,” Millican said. “I’m a bracket racer at heart.

I love the race and I love the huge crowds at an event like that. It’s way more fun to show out in front of a packed house and last year was a packed house.”

And he also has to do what he did at Gainesville two weeks ago, as well as for much of last season.

We just have to maintain consistency going down the track,” Millican said. “If we do that, we’ll turn win lights on. If we can maintain consistency, that consistency will get us wins.”

Millican’s slow start in the first two races isn’t a complete surprise. Even though they previously worked together several years ago, he and new crew chief Mike Kloeber had growing pains together until they were able to take a big chomp out of the competition at the Gatornationals.

I knew it was going to be okay,” Millican said. “There were plenty of naysayers to hiring a guy who has been out of it a while, but we were confident.

There was no question in our mind in our mind Mike was going to be able to get this going. Winning rounds was not a surprise, but as far as what we’re doing, going to the finals doesn’t change anything. We want to keep winning rounds.

We made six straight competitive runs from Saturday through the final round (at Gainesville), and that was huge. Mike was able to get a handle on what the car wants and needs. That let us know as a group we can be thrown into the fire and get it done. They got through the fire together and it gives us confidence we can do this as a group.”

NOTES: Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), J.R. Todd (Funny Car) and Vincent Nobile (Pro Stock) are defending winners of this weekend’s event, the fourth of 24 races during the 2019 NHRA season and marks the second four-wide race in Las Vegas.

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Roger Penske vows new downtown Detroit GP will be bigger than the Super Bowl for city


DETROIT – He helped spearhead bringing the town a Super Bowl 17 years ago, but Roger Penske believes the reimagined Chevrolet Detroit GP is his greatest gift to the Motor City.

“It’s bigger than the Super Bowl from an impact within the city,” Penske told NBC Sports. “Maybe not with the sponsors and TV, but for the city of Detroit, it’s bigger than the Super Bowl.

“We’ve got to give back individually and collectively, and I think we as a company in Michigan and in Detroit, it’s something we know how to do. It shows we’re committed. Someone needs to take that flag and run it down through town. And that’s what we’re trying to do as a company. We’re trying to give back to the city.”

After 30 years of being run on Belle Isle, the race course has been moved to a new nine-turn, 1.7-mile downtown layout that will be the centerpiece of an event weekend that is designed to promote a festival and community atmosphere.

There will be concerts in the adjacent Hart Plaza. Local businesses from Detroit’s seven districts have been invited to hawk their wares to new clientele. Boys and Girls Clubs from the city have designed murals that will line the track’s walls with images of diversity, inclusion and what Detroit means through the eyes of youth.

And in the biggest show of altruism, more than half the circuit will be open for free admission. The track is building 4-foot viewing platforms that can hold 150 people for watching the long Jefferson Avenue straightaway and other sections of the track.

Detroit GP chairman Bud Denker, a longtime key lieutenant across Penske’s various companies, has overseen more than $20 million invested in infrastructure.

The race is essentially Penske’s love letter to the city where he made much of his fame as one of Detroit’s most famous automotive icons, both as a captain of industry with a global dealership network and as a racing magnate (who just won his record 19th Indy 500 with Josef Newgarden breaking through for his first victory on the Brickyard oval).

During six decades in racing, Penske, 86, also has run many racetracks (most notably Indianapolis Motor Speedway but also speedways in Michigan, California and Pennsylvania), and much of that expertise has been applied in Detroit.

“And then the ability for us to reach out to our sponsor base, and then the business community, which Bud is tied in with the key executives in the city of Detroit, bringing them all together,” Penske said. “It makes a big difference.

“The Super Bowl is really about the people that fly in for the Super Bowl. It’s a big corporate event, and the tickets are expensive. And the TV is obviously the best in the world. What we’ve done is taken that same playbook but made it important to everyone in Detroit. Anyone that wants to can come to the race for free, can stand on a platform or they can buy a ticket and sit in the grandstands or be in a suite. It’s really multiple choice, but it is giving it to the city of Detroit. I think it’s important when you think of these big cities across the country today that are having a lot of these issues.”

Denker said the Detroit Grand Prix is hoping for “an amazingly attended event” but is unsure of crowd estimates with much of the track offering free viewing. The race easily could handle a crowd of at least 50,000 daily (which is what the Movement Music Festival draws in Hart Plaza) and probably tens of thousands more in a sprawling track footprint along the city’s riverwalk.

Penske is hoping for a larger crowd than Belle Isle, which was limited to about 30,000 fans daily because of off-site parking and restricted fan access at a track that was located in a public park.

The downtown course will have some unique features, including a “split” pit lane on an all-new concrete (part of $15 million spent on resurfaced roads, new barriers and catchfencing … as well as 252 manhole covers that were welded down).

A $5 million, 80,000-square-foot hospitality chalet will be located adjacent to the paddock and pit area. The two-story structure, which was imported from the 16th hole of the Waste Management Open in Phoenix, will offer 70 chalets (up from 23 suites at Belle Isle last year). It was built by InProduction, the same company that installed the popular HyVee-branded grandstands and suites at Iowa Speedway last year.

Penske said the state, city, county and General Motors each owned parts of the track, and their cooperation was needed to move streetlights and in changing apexes of corners. Denker has spent the past 18 months meeting with city council members who represent Detroit’s seven districts, along with Mayor Mike Duggan. Penske said the local support could include an appearance by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Witmer.

Denker and Detroit GP  president Michael Montri were inspired to move the Detroit course downtown after attending the inaugural Music City Grand Prix in Nashville, Tennessee.

“We saw what an impact it made on that city in August of 2021 and we came back from there and said boy could it ever work to bring it downtown in Detroit again,” Denker said. “We’ve really involved the whole community of Detroit, and the idea of bringing our city together is what the mayor and city council and our governor are so excited about. The dream we have is now coming to fruition.

“When you see the infrastructure downtown and the bridges over the roads we’ve built and the graphics, and everything is centered around the Renaissance Center as your backdrop, it’s just amazing.”