CONCORD, N.C. — Terry McMillen and his Amalie Oil Top Fuel team headed into the NHRA 4 Wide Nationals full of hope and optimism on the heels of a career best performance just two weeks earlier at the Gator Nationals in Gainesville. While zMax Dragway provided his first round win last season, this trip to Charlotte wouldn’t be as kind.
“I was excited about four wide racing before I got here,” McMillen explained. “I just struggled all weekend trying to get comfortable staging the car. I just never felt comfortable in my own car.” For the first time in McMillen’s racing career he was timed out at the tree for not staging the car quickly enough, losing his third qualifying attempt. He also had uncharacteristic slow reaction times.
While a few teams adjusted well to the new conditions, most struggled along with McMillen to find the right staging procedures. Red light starts, timed out attempts and smoking tires seemed more than normal.
“There’s more to staging these Fuel cars than meets the eye,” McMillen explained. “You just don’t want to be up there with the clutch out forever. On top of that you worry about running the car low on fuel and upsetting the balance of the car. We’re not going to make excuses, we’re just glad it’s behind us.”
McMillen successfully qualify the Amalie Oil Top Fuel dragster on the strength of his first attempt on Friday with a 3.95 second pass. That run would be strong enough to qualify the team in the 14th position for Sunday eliminations. The car would rattle the tires during the first round run, ending McMillen’s day early.
“Losing our third round qualifying attempt really hurt,” McMillen said. “Our clutch was being really temperamental this weekend and we needed all the data we could get. It was just a frustrating weekend for all of us.”
The final round of eliminations have been postponed due to rain and tornado warnings, which also eliminated any chance for McMillen’s team to work in a test session at the track. Instead, McMillen will take his team to Rockingham Dragway for a test and tune session this Saturday. “We’ve got some issues to work out with our clutch and some issues to work out with our driver,” McMillen chuckled. “We’re going to run the wheels off of it in Rockingham so we’re ready for Houston.”
McMillen was also thrilled with the fan reception for his team at the zMax Dragway. “The NHRA fans have really been great to us everywhere we’ve been this year,” McMillen said. “The zMax fans treated us like this was our home track. I’ve already autographed more handouts than I ever have for an entire year and we’ve only ran 4 races. We’re still having fun, we just want to give these great fans something to really get excited about.”
The next stop for the Amalie Oil Top Fuel dragster is April 9-11 at the 23rd annual O’Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals, held at Houston Raceway Park in Baytown, Texas.