VOLUME XXII, NUMBER 3 - MARCH 2020
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Editor & Publisher
CEO Jeff Burk
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DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS
Director: Casey Araiza
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ET DRAG RACING
By Richard Kratz
Photos by Richard Kratz, Roger Richards, and courtesy of Terry McMillen Racing
The Terry McMillen Racing Amalie Oil Gator Top Fuel car launching at the 2020 NHRA Winterationals.
While cars were a part of his growing up -- dad had a ’53 Mercury with a nice flathead with a cam and other upgrades, a ’60 wagon with a 283 in it, etc. -- no one in the family raced. Terry says they still don’t. This leap, this path, it was just for this one McMillen sibling.
Around 1972 Terry moved on to a front engine Super Comp dragster, then a 1968 Camaro. Bracket racing puts a premium on consistency over sheer speed, and that suited Terry just fine. Persistent consistency fitted Terry to a “T”. These days we’d have to say that flipping that around to “Consistently persistent” describes the modern Terry McMillen.
In 1978 Terry made a big decision and a big move: it was time for him to go Pro. He purchased a nitro Funny Car for racing in the IHRA. Terry ran a handful of races a year as he learned the ropes of nitro racing, showing big progress over two years. Before Terry got a chance at a third year, the IHRA suddenly dropped nitro Funny Cars as a class.
Terry converted his Funny Car to alcohol power and did a little racing over the next couple of years. But Terry had come to realize that the old racing adage, “The faster you go the more money you need,” was the truth. Terry needed more funding to continue his career.
Terry looked at successful drag racing stars, like Tom “the Mongoose” McEwen and Don "the Snake" Prudhomme and thought, man, how do they get that money, those sponsors? Terry knew he had to up his skills if he wanted to level up. He set about working on his marketing skills while racing a few nitro races a year. He wrote proposals, researched potential sponsors, sent out his proposals -- usually never hearing anything back. He had no success for what seemed like a long time but he didn’t give up.
Eventually his hard work paid off and Terry landed his first major sponsor, Mitel, a company in the telecommunications business. Terry considered his options and decided to run IHRA full time in the Alcohol Funny Car class. Terry spent the next several years happily running his Mitel-sponsored race car in IHRA competition.
Life is full of surprises, some good, some bad. Life sprung a surprise on Terry in 1999 when Mitel was abruptly sold and he lost his sponsorship. But there’s another well-known adage, “When life closes one door, another door will open.”
One day during the 2000 season Terry ran into the folks from Amalie Oil at a track in Illinois. Amalie is one of the original oil companies, founded back in 1903. They pioneered something that we car enthusiasts take for granted today, multi-viscosity oil, when they introduced their 10W-30 motor oil. [Editor’s note: We love car related trivia, so here’s a tidbit for you, Amalie named their new oil, “Imperial 10W-30,” a very 1950’s sounding brand name don’t you think?]
Terry McMillen and Rob Wendland discussing the tune for the race car before Q1 of the 2020 Winternationals.
Terry and the Amalie folks got to talking and they gave Terry some cases of oil. If you’re a racer you know that free parts or supplies are as good as money because the cash you save can be used elsewhere in your budget.
Terry had a good impression of the people he’d met and their company. So, the next time Terry ran his car he paid to have a big custom-made Amalie decal on the side of the car. Amalie noticed that and the conversation that started at the track progressed, the phone started ringing, and upper management at Amalie took an interest. Terry and Amalie put together a program that has proved to be one of the longer lived and most successful in the sport. The Terry McMillen Racing (TMR) and Amalie association has been together for twenty years and Terry told us that it has been renewed for another four years.
If you know Terry you can see why this partnership has lasted so long. It’s because he puts his all into racing and into supporting his sponsors. We don’t mean just showing up at corporate events and shaking hands, or smiling for photos with fans with the sponsor’s name on his shirt. He does that very well of course. But, we know from our involvement with the automotive aftermarket, that Terry uses the vast network of people and goodwill that he has built over the decades to jump in and help his sponsors with their business. He makes introductions, he listens, and he thinks. When he hears about an opportunity that might benefit a sponsor he jumps on it and ropes it in. Beyond that, he creates opportunities when he can. Racing at the top level is more than just driving a car, it’s a business and Terry has a great acumen for business.
He’s one of the good guys, a straight shooter whose word is his bond, someone that inspires trust and confidence. Terry feels like he’s a part of Amalie and in turn he makes Amalie feel like they’re a part of TMR. Unlike most racers, Terry’s name doesn’t appear on his race car. He feels that, one, putting his name on the car would take up room that is put to better use for the unique ‘Gator graphics, and, two, it’s not about him -- it’s about the team, the race crew, the sponsors, and the fans.
Evolution of the Gator graphics for Terry McMillen. Here we see Terry’s IHRA Alcohol Funny Car in yellow with Amalie logo with a Gator. Terry’s first car, a ’32 Ford with a HEMI was yellow and Terry had a fondness for that color for a while.
The Gator grows. An early version of the Gator jaw graphic theme. The logo still has the Gator and now the front half of the car is what will become the iconic Gator design.
TMR crew chief, Rob Wendland, plugged into the race car’s electronics. Terry credits Rob as a major factor in the team’s success. Note that in this photo taken on the first day of qualifying for the 2020 Winternationals Rob’s left arm is in a sling. Just three weeks before the season opener Rob had to have emergency shoulder surgery. Terry says even one-handed Rob’s the best there is. Put a hook on that hand and Rob fits right in with the pirate theme of our story.
Terry, Cori and their son Cameron at their wedding held in the spectacular Valley of Fire north of Las Vegas, Nevada. One week later Terry won his first NHRA national event race. Talk about your good luck charms.
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