Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – JOLIET, IL – After winning on the 20th anniversary of his first career Top Fuel start a year ago, things continue to come full circle for NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series star Clay Millican at Route 66 Raceway, the site of this weekend’s 22nd annual Route 66 NHRA Nationals.
Millican will pilot an 11,000-horsepower Chicago White Sox/Parts Plus dragster for this weekend’s race, 21 years after he sported a White Sox logo on the side of his dragster for his NHRA Top Fuel debut. It’s an exciting time for the fan-favorite driver to reminisce, but also an opportunity for Millican to continue his impressive performances at Route 66 Raceway. With three final round appearances to his credit in 2019, Millican hopes he can crack through this weekend in Chicago.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Millican said. “I started my Top Fuel career there and going to Chicago always makes me smile. We’re doing a lot of cool stuff for the race and I’m really looking forward to it. The entry list is at 21 Top Fuel cars, we’ll be making runs at night, so it’s going to be a lot of fun. Having the White Sox back with us on the Parts Plus dragster, it’s going to be a special weekend.”
Millican (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Jeg Coughlin Jr. (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 final eliminations coverage starting at 5:30 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, June 2. It is the ninth of 24 events during the 2019 NHRA season, and the action includes an exciting “Friday Night On Fire,” with the second nitro qualifying session slated to being at 9 p.m. in Top Fuel and Funny Car.
That will give Millican a chance to perform under the lights in the Chicago White Sox/Parts Plus Dragster, an opportunity he is relishing with the way his team, led by crew chief Mike Kloeber, has performed this season. It was a complete overhaul of team members in the off-season as Millican also reunited with Kloeber, but things have worked incredibly well, especially considering the short timeline. Millican advanced to final rounds in Charlotte, Las Vegas and Gainesville, also picking up a No. 1 qualifier at the most recent race in Richmond.
“For the most part, it’s been a total team effort by a group of people who were thrown together very quickly,” Millican said. “Essentially, we were starting from scratch. But these guys have been so dedicated and they’ve shown they want to do this. I’m having a blast and once we got over the first couple races, it’s been so much fun. It’s been a total blast working with Mike again. One thing we’ve not done is win a NHRA race together, so getting a win is taking top priority at the moment.”
It’s a major reason why Millican, who has three career NHRA Top Fuel wins, termed the 2019 season the “Unfinished Business” tour. He hopes to grab his first NHRA Top Fuel win with Kloeber this weekend, while also making a run for his first NHRA world championship after finishing third a year ago. To have success in Chicago, Millican will have to get past the likes of defending world champ and points leader Steve Torrence, who has three straight wins, 2017 world champ Brittany Force, Antron Brown, Leah Pritchett and veteran Doug Kalitta. But Millican likes what his team has shown this year and believes it will translate well to this upcoming stretch of four straight races.
“This car has been a home run hitter the last few years but we’ve been working on consistency,” Millican said. “What we’re trying to do is make the car go down the track as much as possible. The biggest thing for a small team with four races in a row is making sure we’re careful how we do things. We’re looking out for each other and we race smart because that’s what we have to do, but come race day all bets are off.”
In Funny Car, Robert Hight has three wins and the points lead, but he’ll be challenged in Chicago by the likes of defending world champ J.R. Todd and Ron Capps, who has back-to-back wins.
Five-time Pro Stock world champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. has six wins at Route 66 Raceway, but he’s chasing points leader Bo Butner, who already has four wins in five races in 2019.
Defending world champ Matt Smith will look to get his 2019 Pro Stock Motorcycle season on track as he looks to track down points leader Andrew Hines, who has four victories this season.
The JEGS Route 66 NHRA Nationals also features competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, including the popular JEGS Allstars bonus event. This pits the best NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series racers from across the country in individual and team competition, creating one of the most anticipated and unique weekends in sportsman racing. After Nitro qualifying, stick around to see the spectacular Projet Motorsports “Hot Blade” jet dragster driven by Al Zukauskas. Known for their exciting pre-run flame shows and after burner pops, jet cars are thrust driven vehicles propelled by jet engines.
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.
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 Nitro School to learn more about how the cars operate and reach their thrilling speeds. Route 66 Raceway will 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. A can’t-miss experience of any NHRA event 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 Route 66 NHRA Nationals victories.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 5:30 and 8:00 p.m. on Friday, May 31 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, June 1, at 2:45 and 5:15 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, June 2.