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Then in the semis you and John Smith seemed to have a little staging duel before making the closest side-by-side pass all weekend.

Millican: Yeah, the last time I raced John was in Chicago and he beat me on a holeshot and I was thinking about that a little bit. And, their car, we know because we keep up on this, it can run incredibly quick half-track times. So both of us sat up there and thought about staging a little while, which had to be cool for the fans, a little bit of a staging duel and I’ve obviously been down that road before so I sat there, got myself ready, and went in. What was really cool was, well, the win light came on for my side, but when we got out John came right over and said, ‘Hey, man, we’re not friends when we’re in these cars, and it was for a hundred-thousand dollars.’ And I told him, ‘Hey, I understand. That was fun, that’s the way drag racing is supposed to be.’

Werner Top Fuel crew chief Mike Kloeber described what it took to race and win at Huntsville’s Rocket City Nationals:

“We just raced the track. [Track owner] George [Howard] said we could go out and make a run on Friday if we wanted, but the track was really green where he put in a new launch pad and it just didn’t really come around. So Saturday, we elected to go out and try the racetrack and George let us make a lap early in the day with the Pro Mod session. I really think that made the difference for us, seeing how the track was, finding its strong points, finding its weak points, and getting ourselves dialed in to the track.

“I don’t know that I’d call it a lot, but we learned what we needed to learn. We needed that free shot. We got the tires loose and we could see what we were doing wrong and were able to correct that for that first qualifying session, which put us low, and we were able to get after it a bit for Saturday night to make sure we stayed number one because we wanted that $5 grand. Kenny makes it really sweet for us. We get a little piece of the action that we’re not used to getting, so we wanted to stay number one for our own selfish reasons.

“Hot racetracks are no fun if you’re the crew chief because everybody wants you to go really fast if you can. We’ve run lots of 3-ohs to half track and been as fast as 277.85, and lots of runs at 274 or 275 at half track. But this wasn’t the place where you were going to go 3-oh at 275. We went 262 last night, but we were a little careful. It might have stood a little more, maybe if there were other cars here swinging for the fence, they might have run a little quicker than us, but we’re never going to know and I don’t really care. We won our $106,000, we ran the table, and for a few weeks at least we’ll be the eighth-mile record holders.”

That’s the way bracket racing is; nobody is going to go jump off a roof if they lose. This reminded me of my old bracket racing days, a good, old eighth-mile track surrounded by cotton fields and it’s not too far from home so I had a lot of friends and family down here with me this weekend. The cool thing was I didn’t have to put a dial-in on the car, which is good because I sucked at that. I really hated getting off the gas.

What was the final round like?

Millican: It was good. I didn’t even see Tim, so I didn’t know what happened to him, but my car went straight as a rocket. I was so excited; I just was so thrilled we had done it.

Obviously you’re happy with the outcome and the fans enjoyed the show, but as a driver, how do you feel about racing these cars over the eighth instead of a quarter mile?

Millican: It was exciting as a driver, the reason being that you don’t really think much about it as you get accustomed to racing a quarter mile, but when you cut that race in half, all of a sudden your hands have to move that much quicker. I mean, you stage the car and step on the gas, all that’s just the same, but instead of getting prepared to run 330 miles an hour, you’re literally already grabbing for chutes, brakes, and shutting it down. That finish line comes up in a hurry. I just wish more people would’ve come out and run their cars and seen it for themselves.

Changing focus a little, your team has undergone a major realignment recently with Kenny Koretsky coming on as the new team owner. How did that come about?

Millican: Actually, for a long time Peter [Lehman] had told me, ‘This is not what I want to do forever.’ He knew it’s what I want to do, though, and he gave me such a tremendous opportunity to learn how to do it as a business. He really did. The crew guys joke all the time because I seem to spend a lot of time in the office doing paperwork and going over bills and bills, but once it was announced, they all said, ‘Boy, Peter really groomed you for this job.’ And he had.

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Anyway, Peter told us he had an opportunity to get involved with some huge investment equity firm, big, big money stuff, so he told me and Mike that we needed to start thinking about how we wanted to make the transition. Well, Mike has known Kenny [Koretsky] for years and years and he always joked with him about getting back into a Top Fuel car again. So early this season, me and Mike were together and Mike made some comment again and Kenny said out of the blue—and he had no clue about Peter’s plans—‘I don’t want to drive one, but I sure would like to own one like you all have.’

So, literally from that little comment we just talked a little more seriously about it, without just going, ‘Peter wants to sell the team,’ because that would’ve been wrong. We didn’t want it to get out and be this big thing. Kenny had a little fun saying he was going to buy a Top Fuel team, but no one really knew who it was and it ended up being a really smooth transition.

 

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