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


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.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Winner Josef Newgarden earns $3.666 million from a record Indy 500 purse of $17 million


INDIANAPOLIS — The first Indy 500 victory for Josef Newgarden also was the richest in race history from a record 2023 purse of just more than $17 million.

The two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion, who continued his celebration Monday morning at Indianapolis Motor Speedway earned $3.666 million for winning the 107th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

The purse and winner’s share both are the largest in the history of the Indianapolis 500.

It’s the second consecutive year that the Indy 500 purse set a record after the 2022 Indy 500 became the first to crack the $16 million mark (nearly doubling the 2021 purse that offered a purse of $8,854,565 after a crowd limited to 135,000 because of the COVID-19 pandemic).

The average payout for IndyCar drivers was $500,600 (exceeding last year’s average of $485,000).

Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Roger Penske, whose team also fields Newgarden’s No. 2 Dallara-Chevrolet, had made raising purses a priority since buying the track in 2020. But Penske but was unable to post big money purses until the race returned to full capacity grandstands last year.

The largest Indy 500 purse before this year was $14.4 million for the 2008 Indy 500 won by Scott Dixon (whose share was $2,988,065). Ericsson’s haul made him the second Indy 500 winner to top $3 million (2009 winner Helio Castroneves won $3,048,005.

Runner-up Marcus Ericsson won $1.043 million after falling short by 0.0974 seconds in the fourth-closest finish in Indy 500 history.

The 107th Indy 500 drew a crowd of at least 330,000 that was the largest since the sellout for the 100th running in 2016, and the second-largest in more than two decades, according to track officials.

“This is the greatest race in the world, and it was an especially monumental Month of May featuring packed grandstands and intense on-track action,” Penske Entertainment president and CEO Mark Miles said in a release. “Now, we have the best end card possible for the 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500: a record-breaking purse for the history books.”

Benjamin Pedersen was named the Indy 500 rookie of the year, earning a $50,000 bonus.

The race’s purse is determined through contingency and special awards from IMS and IndyCar. The awards were presented Monday night in the annual Indy 500 Victory Celebration at the JW Marriott in downtown Indianapolis.

The payouts for the 107th Indy 500:

1. Josef Newgarden, $3,666,000
2. Marcus Ericsson, $1,043,000
3. Santino Ferrucci, $481,800
4. Alex Palou, $801,500
5. Alexander Rossi, $574,000
6. Scott Dixon, $582,000
7. Takuma Sato, $217,300
8. Conor Daly, $512,000
9. Colton Herta, $506,500
10. Rinus VeeKay, $556,500
11. Ryan Hunter‐Reay, $145,500
12. Callum Ilott, $495,500
13. Devlin DeFrancesco, $482,000
14. Scott McLaughlin, $485,000
15. Helio Castroneves, $481,500
16. Tony Kanaan, $105,000
17. Marco Andretti, $102,000
18. Jack Harvey, $472,000
19. Christian Lundgaard, $467,500
20. Ed Carpenter, $102,000
21. Benjamin Pedersen (R), $215,300
22. Graham Rahal, $565,500*
23. Will Power, $488,000
24. Pato O’Ward, $516,500
25. Simon Pagenaud, $465,500
26. Agustín Canapino (R), $156,300
27. Felix Rosenqvist, $278,300
28. Kyle Kirkwood, $465,500
29. David Malukas, $462,000
30. Romain Grosjean, $462,000
31. Sting Ray Robb (R), $463,000
32. RC Enerson (R), $103,000
33.  Katherine Legge, $102,000

*–Broken down between two teams, $460,000 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, $105,500 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing/Cusick Motorsports