ATLANTA, May 7, 2018: It was almost like Babe Ruth calling his shot when the legendary Yankee knocked the ball out of the park at Chicago’s Wrigley Field in the 5th inning of Game 3 of the 1932 World Series. Last week, Parts Plus/Great Clips/ Strutmasters driver Clay Millican confidently pointed to Atlanta as a turning point for the team’s ongoing success in the 2018 campaign.

Specifically, Millican said he felt Stringer Performance crew chief David Grubnic and his team were driving toward achieving more consistency to ensure the Parts Plus/Great Clips/ Strutmasters “rocket” flies straight down the track and turns on win lights. And that’s no small feat when you’re attempting to harness the power of the quickest dragster in the universe.

“I love this time of year when we start racing week to week. This gives the team an opportunity to get into a rhythm that will keep us on pace to continue this fantastic season. It all starts Friday in qualifying—we’ve got to come out strong, get the straight down the track like we did all last season, and put ourselves into the top five of the field on Sunday. I fully expect us to knock it out the park Friday.”

Indeed, after an aggressive swing and a miss in Q1, Millican suddenly regained his all-star slugger form on Friday. Taking advantage of the cooling temps under the stars at Atlanta Dragway to close out that evening’s qualifying session, the Parts Plus/Great Clips/ Strutmasters dragster launched hard off the line and clocked a record-breaking time at Atlanta: 3.758 at 331.12 mph. Despite a challenge from Brittany Force, Millican held onto the top spot as qualifying wrapped up Sunday. “To go 331 mph in Atlanta is pretty cool,” Millican says. “The car is the quickest in the world, and I’m proud of that. We’ve had a little problem when it’s hot outside. What surprised me is that this car is starting to run speed because last year we didn’t run speed.”

That makes three No. 1 qualifiers for the popular driver in seven races thus far in the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Series and the 13th of Millican’s Top Fuel career. Relive Millican rocketing to the No. 1 spot and the new speed record at Atlanta Dragway over the weekend in the clip below.

“We held in there and got the green hat,” Millican told reporters after securing the No. 1 spot Saturday afternoon. “We are now definitely looking for the yellow hat. We went out and made a nice solid run and Brittany [Force] was knocking on the door of taking the No. 1 spot away.”

Force knocked hard on Saturday, but the door didn’t open. Nonetheless, the Monster Energy dragster’s 3.760@324.28 mph managed to secure the No. 2 spot for Force. Points leader Steve Torrence closed out Saturday’s qualifying session as the No 3 qualifier

Millican’s Q3 run was merely the icing on the cake. While the car didn’t match Friday’s home-run shot, Grubby and the team put their driver in position to do just that. This time, Millican guided the powerful Parts Plus/Great Clips/ Strutmasters dragster straight down the groove en route to a 3.780@315.19 mph—the second best pass of the session.

Most important, that made it two strong back-to- back runs for the team, the kind of consistency Grubby was aiming for heading into Sunday’s eliminations. Even more promising: No. 1 qualifier Millican would be lining up the next morning against No. 16 Audrey Worm, who couldn’t even run on Saturday after hurting crucial parts on her car while qualifying Friday. History indicated an easy win for Millican, as the No. 16 qualifier had not won an opening round on Sunday since the turn of the century.

Millican improved upon his team’s recent history, as he made it three successful passes in a row, with the Parts Plus car again riding that groove all the way to the finish line—and a win light—with a relatively tame 3.832@323.43 mph. “Obviously, we felt like we were in great shape to win this one as long as we got the car down the track, which we did, so I’m happy.” Worm’s woes continued, with her car dropping cylinders almost immediately after the start, effectively ending only her fifth start.

If the team was dealt the equivalent of a home-run pitch Friday night, then Sunday’s second round was a curveball for the crew. Millican appeared to catch a break lining up against Mike Salinas, who owns a scrap-metal and garbage-hauling company in San Jose, and is racing his first full-time schedule in the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Series.

The Parts Plus/Great Clips/ Strutmasters dragster trailed momentarily off the line before seizing the lead, seemingly en route to another win light—then Grubby’s rocket lost traction, and Millican figuratively appeared headed back down to Earth. But then the Scrappers dragster started to mix up cylinders on the top end, enabling Millican to regain the lead. But Salinas and his car lived up to their scrappy reputation and chased down the Parts Plus dragster for the junky-looking upset with a 4.128 pass—the first semifinal appearance of his career. Dr

“Well, that was about as ugly as it gets, but it sure would have looked a heck of a lot prettier had we stolen that one,” says Millican, who collected enough bonus points to remain in the 4th spot in the point standings. “I’d say it was overall a positive weekend—not only because we were the No. 1 qualifier for the third time in seven races but also those three consecutive runs straight down the track in which we pretty much did what we were aiming to do. We’ve still got some things to figure out, but having the quickest car and the best crew chief and team behind gives me heck of a lot of confidence moving forward.”

2018 Mello Yello Series Top Fuel Point Standings (Through 6 of 24 Events)

 

POSITION DRIVER POINTS POINTS BEHIND LEADER VEHICLE
01 Steve Torrence 581 0 Capco Racing/Torrence Motorsports
02 Tony Schumacher 461 -120 U.S. Army Dragster
03 Doug Kalitta 458 -123 Mac Tools Dragster
04 Clay Millican 448 -133 Parts Plus/ Great Clips/ UNOH dragster
05 Leah Pritchett 435 -146 Papa John’s Dragster
06 Antron Brown 390 -191 Matco Tools Dragster
07 Brittany Force 375 -206 Monster Energy Top Fuel Dragster
08 Terry McMillen 336 -245 Amalie Motor Oil Dragster
09 Richie Crampton 280 -301 Kalitta Air/DHL dragster
10 Mike Salinas 275 -306 Scrappers Racing