July 3, Clay Millican did what everyone pretty much expected
him to do: he won the richest Top Fuel race ever held. Millican
and his Werner Enterprises team, led by co-crew chiefs Mike
Kloeber and Lance Larsen, picked up a $106,000 check for
setting low elapsed time (3.18 seconds over the eighth mile)
and beating Tim Gibson in the fuel final at Huntsville Dragway’s
10th annual Rocket City Nationals.
The win comes on the heels of a major leadership change
at Team Werner, as founder Peter Lehman recently sold the
entire operation to NHRA Pro Stock owner/driver Kenny Koretsky,
with small percentages also going to Millican and Kloeber.
DRO caught up with an obviously stoked Millican shortly after
his big win to chat about what makes his four-time IHRA championship
team so successful.
You just won $106,000!
Millican: Yeah, that’s pretty cool. I know George
Howard’s million-dollar bracket race has paid more
than that, several times, but for heads-up racing that’s
got to be one of the biggest purses ever. It’s certainly
something that I never ever dreamed of doing. And when this
whole race came about, I never once thought we were gonna
come down here and win it; I had no thoughts of that, none
whatsoever because, I mean, I can’t believe that we
didn’t have every car there is out here.
Was the track up to Top Fuel standards?
Millican: The track was wonderful. I mean, yes, it was challenging,
absolutely, but the reason it was challenging was the heat.
The track surface, when we first looked at it, it scared
us, but we came to find out it’s got a pretty good
grip. All my bracket racing buddies were telling me the track’s
pretty fast, but when I first got here and looked at the
concrete I thought, ‘Oh, we’re in trouble,’ but
on Saturday night when the temperature went down it was wonderful.
And Mike Kloeber is one of the best, as far as I’m
concerned. Our car ran like a bracket car, going 3.20-something
every lap. And yeah, when everybody reads this they’re
going to say, ‘Well, we normally run 3-ohs,’ which
is true, but you’ve got to keep in mind we were dealing
with 140-some degree track temperatures.
But everybody here worked really hard to give us a good
racetrack. If you think about it, there was very little tire
smoke, very little. That goes back to Mr. George Howard.
I mean, he poured a new concrete pad just eight days before
we got here. Like I said, initially me and Mike and Lance,
we were scared when we first got here, but these guys did
a wonderful job with this racetrack and I hope the next time
we’re here we’ll have every car there is in the
country. How can you not come and race when there’s
$106,000 on the line? Where else are you going to win that?
You actually dodged a bullet when you redlighted in
the first round against Roger Dean.
Millican: That was a crazy deal. Roger obviously left before
the tree activated and it was so loud that it made me go.
But as I was driving by I turned my head and when I saw the
red light it actually made me happy, because I knew I got
a tree. I knew when I saw my red light that I was okay. I’ve
had that happen before (an opponent leave early), but although
the track here is wide, I think the grooves for the cars
may be a little closer because it was exceptionally loud
when Roger hit the gas pedal. Between that and actually seeing
his front wheels it just made me go way early, but I knew
I had won then, so I just stayed in it to give Mike another
run to tune from.