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Record-Breaking Champion Clay Millican To Be Inducted Into The IHRA Hall of Fame

Wednesday, 12 May 2021

Clay Millican was nearly unstoppable in the International Hot Rod Association Top Fuel competition in the early 2000s.

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With a record six-straight championships from 2001-06 and a record 51 professional victories, Millican is honored as part of the inaugural IHRA Hall of Fame class.

Fifteen years after his last championship, the Drummonds, Tenn., racer recalls the determination of the Peter Lehman-owned team.

“What we did in the IHRA, that’s the stuff you dream of,” he said. “In 2000, we learned to win and we almost won the championship that year, losing to Paul Romine by less than half a round of competition. After that, it was ‘game on’ and the flood gates opened.

“It was about attacking the car, attacking the race track. We had a bunch of guys who were about taking care of each other and turning the win lights on. It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever been a part of. Those guys were so dedicated to that race car. They had the want-to; they wanted to win and I wanted to win.”

Despite racing against stiff competition like Romine, Bruce Litton, Jim Bailey and others who drove Doug Herbert’s cars, they expected to win every week. Even Millican’s special friends, the Lagana family, had a tough time matching the Werner Enterprises dragster.

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“When we showed up and didn’t win, we were all disappointed,” Millican said. “I had raced enough in the Sportsman series to know you weren’t supposed to win like that, but somehow it kept happening. It was an incredible run, not often that comes around. I’m awful proud of my IHRA record.”

Millican was chosen to drive the car after racing in the IHRA Modified Series. There were so many great moments that he couldn't pick out one that stood above the rest.

He does recall the time he won two races at Rockingham in one weekend after the spring race had been rained out. There are other big moments, like beating a well-funded NHRA interloper at Norwalk and one of the sport’s legends for his first victory.

“We beat Cory McClenathan in the NHRA Fram car at Norwalk, that was our Daytona 500,” he said. “I remember my first IHRA Top Fuel win against Shirley Muldowney in Grand Bend, Ontario. There were about 50-some highlights because every win was so special. When you won an Ironman, it was huge.”

Millican grew up in a racing family. His father was a fan of all forms of motorsports, which was passed on to Clay, who named one son after three-time NASCAR champion Cale Yarborough. He remains a big fan of stock car and sprint car racing, although he and sister, Leigh Millican Hubbard, the 2020 Top champion at Memphis International Raceway, always gravitated towards drag racing.

“I don’t even remember the first race I went to. Whether it was NASCAR, sprint car, drag racing, if it had a motor in it, my daddy absolutely loved it,” Millican said. "We’re a motorsports family top to bottom, but drag racing was always the thing.

“My first vivid memory of a Top Fuel car, “Big Daddy” Don Garlits was at Lakeland Dragway near Memphis. That thing was so loud, so powerful, I never saw anything like it.”

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One of Millican’s greatest victories came at the 2003 IHRA Northern Nationals at US131 Dragway in Martin, Michigan, where he passed his hero Garlits for first-place on the Top Fuel all-time win list.

He also raced in the NHRA, scoring his first win at Bristol in 2017. It was on Father’s Day weekend and less than two years after the death of his son Dalton in an motorcycle accident. A man of faith, Millican sees the timing of the victory as part of God’s plan.

Millican feels blessed to make a living, driving a 300-plus mph rocket down the track. It’s something he could only dreamed of when he started bracket racing with a 1969 Dodge Charger, which was a replica of the General Lee from the Dukes of Hazzard television show.

Bracket racing remains something dear to Millican’s heart, even doing commentary for the Great American Bracket Race at Memphis in 2020.

“I still love bracket racing and go to the bracket races every chance I get,” he said. “But, when I got the opportunity to go Top Fuel racing in 2000 and we chased the IHRA championship full-time, it was beyond anything I could have asked for. I never really thought about driving one, let alone it turning into a career where I was winning and paying my bills thanks to it.”

Last modified on Tuesday, 18 May 2021

 

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