Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – LAS VEGAS, NV – Using the momentum of last season’s first career NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Top Fuel win and sixth-place finish, Clay Millican is setting an impressive pace to open the 2018 season.
The Top Fuel fan favorite has posted two No. 1 qualifiers, setting the E.T. world record with an incredible run of 3.628 to open the season, advanced to two semifinals and currently sits third in points. While it is still early in the season, Millican, who has also gone 335.23 mph in 2018, feels nothing but good vibes in his 10,000-horsepower DENSO/Parts Plus/Great Clips dragster heading into this weekend’s 19th annual DENSO Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and marks the debut of the four-wide racing experience for fans on the West Coast.
“I would definitely say we’re further along than any group I’ve ever had to start the year,” said Millican, who qualified No. 1 at Gainesville. “It really feels good. We’re way further ahead than we were at this time last year, and all things considered we’re in really good shape. When we go down the track, we’re pretty awesome. Everyone has a good handle on everything and I’m having a blast.”
Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Tommy Johnson Jr. (Funny Car) and Tanner Gray (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including finals coverage starting at 6 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, April 8. It is the fourth of 24 races during the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.
Four dragsters flying down the lanes at 330+ mph simultaneously provides one of the biggest thrill rides in motorsports and Millican is excited to take in the atmosphere this weekend in Las Vegas. He has sensed the brewing excitement building up to the event and is ready to put on a show at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Millican said. “I’ve really paid attention on social media and they’ve done so much work to the facility, and the place looks awesome. I wouldn’t be surprised if we had another sold-out crowd. I really like the chaos of the four-wide, all the crazy staging. It’s fun. When it’s all said and done, we’re there to make the fans have a good time. When you have something new like this, it’s a good chance there’s some new people watching, and I love showing fans what they’ve been missing.”
What they might have missed is a strong start from Millican, who has posted several standout runs thanks to a team led by crew chief David Grubnic. The next step is picking up wins against the likes of defending event winner Brown, reigning world champion Brittany Force, Phoenix winner and points leader Steve Torrence, Tony Schumacher, Leah Pritchett, Gainesville winner Richie Crampton, and Pomona winner Doug Kalitta. But Millican feels good about what his team is building and he is confident that will pay off throughout the 2018 season.
“Obviously the goal is wins, but if we keep knocking down semifinals all summer, come the (Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship), we’ll be in a good position,” Millican said. “I feel like there will be some wins along the way, but it’s all coming together. We started the year with a chassis we didn’t know, but it looks like (Grubnic) has found more power. I know we have a car that can outrun anybody and that allows me to concentrate on just doing my job. It is really a lot of fun.”
Defending Funny Car event winner Johnson is after his first win of 2018, facing off against Pomona winner and defending world champion Robert Hight, Phoenix winner Courtney Force, and Gainesville winner Jack Beckman.
Gray became the youngest Pro Stock winner in NHRA history a year ago and just won in Gainesville. He’ll face off with points leader Bo Butner, Jason Line and Erica Enders among others.
This event will play host to the K&N Horsepower Challenge for eight top Pro Stock drivers. Bragging rights and a hefty $50,000 paycheck are on the line for the Saturday specialty race. Greg Anderson has won two consecutive K&N Horsepower Challenge races.
The event also features competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, as well as the Mickey Thompson Tires NHRA Top Fuel Harley Drag Racing Series. After nitro qualifying on Friday, the Segal Motorsports Fire Starter, American Freedom Fighter & Lucas Oil Muy Caliente Jet Cars will thrill the fans. Known for their pre-run flame shows and after burner pops, jet cars are thrust driven vehicles propelled by jet engines.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to 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 in motorsports 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-like atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. on Friday, April 6 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, April 7, at 12:10 and 2:45 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled to begin at 12 p.m. on Sunday, April 8.