Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – INDIANAPOLIS, IN – A year later, the moment is surreal for Terry McMillen. The Top Fuel veteran broke through with the biggest win of his career with his Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals victory in 2018, and it’s a weekend that is still vivid in his mind.
But for McMillen, the best way to remember it is to have another spectacular Indy moment on drag racing’s biggest stage, and it would go a long way in helping his Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship chances as well.
McMillen currently sits 10th in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Top Fuel points standings heading into this weekend’s 65th annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis. But it’s just seven points ahead of Scott Palmer and only 41 points in front of Billy Torrence heading into the last race of the regular season. With an increased amount of points via the points-and-a-half system at the Big Go, McMillen knows he needs another impressive showing in his 11,000-horsepower AMALIE Motor Oil XTERMIGATOR dragster at Indy.
“Having the opportunity to win this race and go back as the defending champion, it’s still unbelievable,” McMillen said. “I look forward to getting back there and I hope the testing we did last week (in Indy) will allow us to go back and have a good chance. We just have to match everybody out there. If Billy starts going rounds, we have to match that. If Scott goes rounds, we have to match that. They both have great cars, so it’s about going up there and being as consistent as we can. It’s going to be a dogfight and that’s how it should be at Indy.”
McMillen (Top Fuel), J.R. Todd (Funny Car), Tanner Gray (Pro Stock) and LE Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of a race that will be shown on the FOX national broadcast network and Fox Sports 1 (FS1), including a live broadcast of eliminations on both FOX and FS1 on Monday, Sept. 2. It is the 18th of 24 races in 2019 and with only 10 drivers making the postseason, it’s going to be a wild weekend in Top Fuel at the sport’s biggest race.
Richie Crampton sits in ninth, currently 77 points in front of McMillen, so there’s the potential for plenty of excitement to ensue at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. Palmer, the driver of the Magic Dry Organic Absorbent dragster, is simply thrilled for the chance to compete at the biggest event of the year as he races for his first career Top Fuel victory.
“There’s no more pressure because we’re just going to try to win Indy, just like anybody else,” said Palmer, who has back-to-back playoff appearances on the line. “We’re on a mission to try to win a race this year and we’ll take the consequences of what that’s cost us. We’re trying to learn to win aggressively and that’s a harder process than people think. Our car runs good enough and we’re going up there trying to win. Whatever that costs us, we’ll live with it.”
Palmer advanced to his first Countdown to the Championship two years ago and nearly picked up that first win this year in Epping before losing to points leader and defending world champ Steve Torrence in the final round. He remains confident that a victory is coming and Palmer will make sure he’s ready for any situation this weekend as well.
“Everything that we have that is new or we could get new is in the trailer for this race,” Palmer said. “We’re going to go up there and run as hard as we can. We’ve had some parts problems that have hurt us, but we’ve regrouped and we feel good. Now we’re going there to try to win, and it’s going to be exciting and cool to be a part of it. We’re definitely going to make sure we enjoy it.”
In the midst of fighting for a top-10 spot, there will be a huge field of standouts in Top Fuel. There will be 21 dragsters competing this weekend, including the likes of S. Torrence, Leah Pritchett, who just won in Brainerd, Antron Brown, Mike Salinas, Doug Kalitta, Brittany Force, Austin Prock and Clay Millican. But McMillen believes his team is capable of winning. The team has performed well at times this year, it’s just a matter of everything coming together on one weekend.
“We’re just going to keep throwing things at it and we’ll get this thing to turn around,” McMillen said. “I truly believe we’ll get a win before the end of the year and it would certainly be great if it was Indy. It’s such a prestigious race and when you look at the people who have won this race, it’s just still mind-boggling that we’ve won it. It’s got a good ring to it and we’re going to keep working hard.”
Funny Car’s Todd will look for a third straight win at Indy as he prepares to defend his world title. Standing in his way are stars like points leader Robert Hight, John Force, who recently earned his 150th win, Ron Capps, Tommy Johnson Jr., Bob Tasca III and Shawn Langdon.
Greg Anderson has the most wins of any active NHRA driver at Indy, as the four-time Pro Stock world champ has six Indy wins. Trying to prevent a seventh will be points leader Bo Butner, Alex Laughlin, five-time world champ Jeg Coughlin Jr., Deric Kramer, Jason Line and Erica Enders.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, points leader Andrew Hines has two Indy wins and is in the midst of a dominating year with seven wins in nine races. He will look to enter the playoffs on a strong note against Eddie Krawiec, defending world champ Matt Smith, Hector Arana Jr. and Karen Stoffer.
Drivers in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series and the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Series presented by J&A Service will also look to become winners of the prestigious event. It is the ninth of 12 events during the 2019 Pro Mod season, and points leader Stevie “Fast” Jackson is the defending event winner. The fastest Super Stock cars will challenge for ultimate bragging rights and bonus purse during the popular Dodge HEMI Challenge as well. Fans can check out special pit areas for Copo Camaros and the HEMI Shootout.
Racing in the Mickey Thompson Tires NHRA Top Fuel Harley Drag Racing Series will also take place in Indy, as well as the popular SAMTech.edu NHRA Factory Stock Showdown category, which will include a special 32-car field at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals.
NHRA fans can take part in the Mello Yello Walking Tour to see the teams hard at work in the pits. Fans can also attend a number of different NHRA schools throughout the weekend, including Nitro School, to learn how the cars and motorcycles operate and reach their thrilling speeds. Factory Stock School will take place on Friday, while Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle Schools follow on Saturday. Pro Mod School and Nitro School will both take place on Sunday, giving fans an incredible behind-the-scenes learning experience throughout the weekend.
Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis will also host a Mello Yello autograph session and allow fans to meet their favorite drivers. Another can’t-miss experience is the winner’s circle celebration on Monday after racing concludes. NHRA fans can congratulate the winners as they celebrate their Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals victories.
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.
The first of five Mello Yello Series qualifying sessions is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 30. Two more sessions will take to the track on Saturday, Aug. 31 at 1:15 p.m. and 4:15 p.m., and the final two qualifying sessions will take place on Sunday, Sept. 1 at 1:15 p.m. and 4:15 p.m. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 2.
FOX national broadcast and FS1 will televise coverage of the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, starting with qualifying on Sunday, Sept. 1 on FS1 at 2 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. EST. The broadcasts continue on FS1 with two hours of live coverage of eliminations on Monday, Sept. 2 starting at 11 a.m. EST, continuing live on FOX at 1 p.m. EST.