NHRA: Top Fuel driver Terry McMillen ready to go racing again

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The extended layoff caused by the COVID-19 pandemic significantly has impacted NHRA drag racing, particularly many of the smaller teams in the sport.

Not having raced since late February, Top Fuel driver Terry McMillen has been doing what he can to keep himself and his seven-person team busy.

“Basically, our life revolves around racing,” McMillen told NBC Sports. “I’m just making money, just doing whatever I can do to keep funds coming in.

“I have a great partner in Amalie (Motor Oil), and they’ve done everything they can to not let this fail. We’re just weathering the storm, and we’re just going to keep working hard.”

NHRA Top Fuel driver Terry McMillen has been keeping busy during the pandemic hiatus, including fostering puppies. Photo: Terry McMillen Racing.

Among things the Elkhart, Indiana, resident has been doing to keep busy or bring in revenue is working on custom cars and manufacturing parts for other teams – and even fostering puppies.

“We have had about 15 puppies since we started this (in mid-March),” said McMillen’s wife, Cori. The couple already has three dogs and one cat, so the more, the merrier.

But with the NHRA expected to release its updated schedule for the remainder of the season as early as Wednesday, McMillen is ready to get back to racing.

After more than four months off, the NHRA is slated to return to competition with two races in mid-July on consecutive weekends at Lucas Oil Raceway in suburban Indianapolis.

“We’re all ready to go race,” McMillen told NBC Sports. “None of us have been used to being in the office or shop this much for this long a period of time.

“We’ve been (down) an awful long time now. But we’re forging forward. The team has been working on projects, servicing our trucks and doing a lot of things that we’ve always wanted to fix but really haven’t had the time up to now, or doing things that weren’t a priority.

“Now, we’ve gotten all those little things done. So mentally, everybody is sound, but certainly, we’re ready to get back to the racetrack.”


And with fans in attendance, though NHRA is still working on how many will be at-track.

Unlike NASCAR, which for now is racing without fans, NHRA must pay for its own TV production costs and needs paying fans to help with those costs as well as to pay expenses related to putting races on.

“We need the gate,” McMillen said. “Would I race without fans? Absolutely. But it does us no good if we can’t get some kind of TV exposure for the marketing partners, so we’re going to be predicated on race fans attending.

“If they’re able to come together, that would be great and exciting. I know we’re ready for it. We have a brand new car that we haven’t even ran yet down the track. We can’t wait to debut it, so yes, we’re extremely looking forward to it.”

Ironically, the NHRA originally announced in late April that it would return to racing this weekend in Gainesville, Florida. But because of governmental pandemic restrictions at the time, the schedule was abruptly pushed back just five days after it was originally announced.

But now, it appears NHRA is indeed ready to go forward next month – albeit with some changes.

One of the most significant is NHRA plans to cut many race weekends from three to two days, with one day of qualifying (typically on Saturday) and one day of eliminations (typically Sunday).

Doing so is kind of a dual-edged sword for smaller teams such as McMillen’s. On the one hand, instead of four qualifying rounds across the first two days of a race weekend, NHRA will reduce qualifying to only two runs in just one day. If a team struggles in those two runs, it won’t have two additional runs to improve speed and elapsed time – or potentially runs the risk of not qualifying at all.

But on the flip side, that also means a significant financial savings when it comes to travel expenses, with fewer days on the road, as well as less wear and tear – invariably slowing down replacement – on costly parts for McMillen’s 330-mph dragster.

Photo: Terry McMillen Racing

“(The pandemic hiatus has) certainly put a strain on everything in the entire motorsports industry,” McMillen said. “But then when you start breaking it down, we’re probably more fortunate than maybe Don Schumacher, John Force and the Kalittas who have multiple employees, while we just have a small core group.

“The biggest concern that you have with the program is that you really can’t afford to lose your team. Rob (crew chief Rob Wendland) and I built a team and created this foundation that we want to keep at whatever cost.

“It’s been apparent that we have to take care of that, make sure that they’re not being laid off and when it comes time to go, we’re going to have a team to go out there and do battle with. So that’s probably been the biggest thing, keeping cash flow moving and keeping the team together.”


Because NHRA has eliminated its six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs this year, every driver is eligible for the championship in their respective class, be it Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock or Pro Stock Motorcycle.

“Going without a countdown, I kind of like that,” McMillen said. “I think it’s going to make it interesting and maybe we’re going to learn something there – or maybe not. It’s part of the unknown.”

At the same time, some teams – particularly smaller teams – may try to skip a race here or there if they can still be in contention for the championship but also save money as well.

Not McMillen and his team. They’re in it to win it, all the way.

“You can’t afford to miss a race, but you can only run with what you have,” McMillen said. “Our intention is to go out and run all the races and with the schedule being reduced to one qualifying day, we might pick up some savings in other areas. That’s what we’re hoping for.”

Then the 65-year-old McMillen added with a laugh, “I’m super excited to go back racing. I’ve been doing wheel stands on my lawnmower.

“I even had to get in the motorhome just to start it just to hear it run. I’m doing all these crazy things. I’m stressing out. I’m ready to race.”

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Eli Tomac wins Houston Supercross: Hunter Lawrence takes early 250 East lead

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With his 47th career victory and third of the 2023 season in Houston, Eli Tomac closed to within one win of tying Ricky Carmichael for third on the all-time Monster Energy Supercross list.

Tomac rebounded from last week’s crash by earning the holeshot in both his heat and the Main. At the start of the big show, he couldn’t shake Aaron Plessinger in the first four minutes and actually was in the process of losing the lead as a red flag waved for a crash involving Tomac’s teammate Dylan Ferrandis when he overjumped an obstacle and landed on Ken Roczen’s back fender as they raced for eighth.

“That was a tough race,” Tomac told NBC Sports’ Will Christien, referencing his loss to Chase Sexton in the heat. “And honestly, I was just beat down after that heat race and was searching quite a bit and was basically losing speed everywhere. I just rode better, straight up in the Main. I felt better.”

In their heat, Sexton passed Tomac at the two-minute mark and then simply rode away from the field. At the end, he had an almost eight-second gap on Tomac.

“It wasn’t great by any means,” Sexton told Jason Thomas. “I feel like the strengths I had all day, I really lagged in the Main event between the whoop and the sand section. I think I could have walked through it faster. It was still a good ride; it wasn’t great. I expected after the heat race he would be fired up.”

RESULTS: How they finished for the 450 Main in Anaheim 2

Jason Anderson scored his second consecutive pole, but he was not happy to finish third behind the two points’ leaders.

“We should be thankful every time we get to be up here,” Anderson said. “They’re making it tough on me, but all I can do is give my best.”

Tomac had to withstand a red flag and the distant second place finish in his heat to win the Houston Supercross race. In the post-race conference, he indicated that he did not make any changes to the bike and simply rode better.

Aaron Plessinger and Cooper Webb rounded out the top five.

Ferrandis was fitted with a neck brace, but still able to walk to the medical cart. He was still being evaluated by the medical staff as the night came to a close.


In 250s Hunter Lawrence entered the 250 East opener as the consensus favorite to win the championship this year with Christian Craig making the move into 450s and his brother Jett Lawrence in the West division. He answered quickly with a huge lead in Heat 1, but it almost went awry in the Main.

Lawrence got a good start, but he was passed early in the race by two-time MXGP champion (2020, 2022) Tom Vialle, who was making his Supercross debut this week. Vialle passed Lawrence on the first lap. When Lawrence tried to pass him back, Vialle scrubbed speed off a jump and pushed Lawrence wide, over the Tuff Blox.

Championships are made out of Lawrence’s response. He kept his composure and did not overcorrect before methodically working his way to the front.

“We had a little off track excursion. I wasn’t sure how hard across Tom was coming so I thought I’ll just go left, but then saw that was the side of the track. Thankfully I didn’t hit the Tuff Blox and got back on track safely. … Good start; put myself in position.”

Click here for full 250 East Main Results

Making a move from the 450 class to 250s, Max Anstie had immediate success. He finished second in his heat behind Jordon Smith and lined up with a great gate pick. He had to overtake Vialle in the opening laps and lost ground on Lawrence, that cost enough time to keep him from pressing Lawrence. This is Anstie’s first podium in the United States

“Honestly, I’ve dreamed of this for a long time to come up on these steps and man it’s a great feeling. I’ve really enjoyed the day and being on this 250, I feel like an 18-year-old kid. Everyday I’m learning.”

Smith backed up his heat win with a podium finish.

“It feels good to be back up here again,” Smith said. “It’s been a long time; a lot of injuries.”

Haiden Deegan proved the hype surrounding his debut in the 250 class was not unfounded. He finished fourth in his heat to advance to directly into the Main. During the early laps, he was circling the track in a podium position until a minor mistake sent him off the box. In the closing laps, he narrowly made an aggressive pass on Jeremy Martin and narrowly missed the podium with a fourth-place finish.

Martin held on to round out the top five.

Vialle was running in a podium position when went down with a 1:30 left on the clock. He ended his night seventh.

Chance Hymas was also making his 250 debut and scored a top-10 in eighth.

2023 Race Recaps

Anaheim 2: Triple Crown produces new winners Chase Sexton, Levi Kitchen
San Diego: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence double down
Anaheim 1: Tomac wins opener for the first time

Houston coverage

Houston by the numbers
Supercross unveils 16th edition of a Ricky Carmichael designed Daytona track
Power Rankings after week 3
Malcom Stewart out for “extended duration” after knee surgery
Haiden Deegan makes Supercross debut in Houston, Justin Cooper to 450s
Talon Hawkins set to relieve injured Jalek Swoll in Houston
Jalek Swoll out for an indefinite period with broken arm
Ken Roczen urgently needed a change
Chris Blose joins Pro Circuit Kawasaki in 250 East opener
Seth Hammaker to miss Houston with wrist injury
Jo Shimoda joins Seth Hammaker, Austin Forkner on injured list