ROCKINGHAM, NC. — When Terry McMillen and Paul Noakes race at the IHRA World Finals at the Rockingham Dragway this weekend (October 17-19), they’ll both attempt to set new career records in their Amalie Oil sponsored machines.
The Hoosier Thunder Motorsports teammates have combined for 10 final round appearances (five each) and 3 wins (Noakes 2 – McMillen 1). The most dramatic of the wins coming when both McMillen and Noakes scored victories on the same weekend in Grand Bend.
“If the season ended yesterday, I would say it has been a great year,” McMillen said. “But there’s some unfinished business and we’re here to finish strong.”
Career best seasons for both McMillen and Noakes have only been hampered by the bumpy start of the season for the two car team that was formed over the winter.
“In any other season both Paul and I would probably being going into Rockingham contending for the championship,” McMillen said. “As it stands right now – we’re fighting for second place.”
While Top Fuel is still undecided, Laurie Cannister took the guess work out of it for Noakes when she wrapped up the Alcohol Funny Car Championship last race.
Still one would think that Noakes and crew chief Les Mellows would have to be weary of multi-time World Champion Rob Atchison just 85 points behind them.
“We didn’t worry about it at the beginning of the season, or in the middle of the season,” Mellows said. “We’re not going to worry about it now at the end. It’s the same for us as it is for Rob [Athcison] and the 8 other racers who compete on Sunday. We’re going to do the best that we can do to go out and win this race. That’s the same for Rob and everyone else.”
As successful as the season has been for the Amalie Oil InstiGator Funny Car team, Mellows has mixed feelings about the season ending. “Although the season was very successful, we’re slightly disappointed,” he said. “We didn’t achieve everything we wanted. We left some stuff on the table, but we did well. As a team we understand each other and the car a lot better than where we were when we started the season. I just wish we could race some more.”
Driver Paul Noakes agrees, “We needed a few more races. It’s such a dream season. I just don’t want it to end. You never really know if it’s realistic to make something special like this happen again. I hope we get a chance to do it again.”
McMillen and his Amalie Oil Top Fuel Dragster are in a long shot battle that could end with McMillen on top of the pack in the championship hunt. In his first season as Top Fuel team owner/driver, McMillen knows his chances are slim. “We’d have to run the table (2 last man standing awards, #1 qualifier and set a world record) and Spencer [Massey] would have to not qualify for us to get it,” McMillen said. “But it’s nice to still have a chance going into Rockingham even if the stars have to line up in order for it to happen.”
McMillen currently sits in third position, 66 points behind Bruce Litton and 131 points behind Massey. Litton becomes the more likely target for McMillen and a chance to tie his team car for a second place finish.
“Catching Bruce is doable,” McMillen said. “Bruce is a great competitor and he has a great team, so I’m sure he won’t just be handing us a second place finish. We’re going to go out there and get it. We’re going to have to out qualify Bruce and beat him in the first round to have a chance at catching him. None of that is a given and there are a lot of other good cars out here that can either mess those plans up or help us too.”
Hot on McMillen’s heals to finish third is Mike Strausburg. Strausburg needs just 58 points to catch McMillen.
McMillen and his team spent the off weeks heading into Rockingham building motors in preparation for the final push. “We’ve got the bullets to keep loading this gun,” McMillen said. “We’re going for it. Who knows if you can ever get this close again to a championship. We’re not leaving anything on the table to wonder if there was something more that we could have done. I’ve got the best crew and the best tuner in the business in Doug Kuch. I told Doug if we needed to offer a sacrifice to the speed gods to do it. What’s a motor when you’re chasing a championship?”
McMillen has experienced a career best break out season with 5 final round appearances and 1 win. In his second season as a top fuel driver and in his first 20 races, McMillen he has collected 3 wins and 7 final round appearances.
The Hoosier Thunder Motorsports team has collected 10 final round appearances and 3 victories in 2008. They hope to add one more in Rockingham. Qualifying for the IHRA World Finals begins at the Rockingham Dragway on Friday, October 17.