There’s one concrete slab amidst the lush, green grass in the Western parking lot at Summit Motorsports Park that remains very special to NHRA Full Throttle Top Fuel driver Clay Millican.
It doesn’t have Millican’s name on it or give any indication of a special spot, but, with a massive smile on face, Millican recalled the origin of the concrete parking spot originally reserved for his IHRA Top Fuel car.
“(Summit Motorsports Park Owner) Bill (Bader Sr.) loved his grass here in the parking lot, so every year we came we had to buy tons of plywood to put the race car on. Our race owner at the time, Peter Lehman, called Bill Sr. and said, ‘Can I not just pave my own pit spot?’ He said, ‘No, I don’t want any paving on my grass, but you can pour concrete,’” Millican said.
“Peter did not waste any time and he got on the phone and called up a concrete company. On the far side of the race track, there is a concrete patch that a Top Fuel car will fit on and that forever more became our pit spot for all the IHRA years.
“Somebody’s probably got a really good pit spot (this weekend).”
Millican won’t be the one using the spot this year at the NHRA Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals, though he still gets a hearty chuckle out of the story.
But when it comes to his relationship with Bader and his son, Bill Jr., there’s plenty more than just humor involved for Millican, who dominated the IHRA Top Fuel ranks to the tune of six straight world championships from 2001-2006.
“The Bader family is by far some of the greatest promoters in all of drag racing. I’ve always had a special relationship with the Baders because of all of my IHRA racing,” Millican said. “To this day, if I get hung up with some problem or question, whether it be personal or sponsor-related, I will still call Bill Sr. and talk to him.
“He’s got a good spirit about him. You call him and think you have something horrible going on, and he’ll see right through it and just tell you that you’re missing something simple. I just respect him so much.”
It’s a big weekend for Millican every time he returns to what he considers one of his home tracks, but a return to Summit Motorsports Park in 2012 might be even bigger.
He’s currently 10th in the Top Fuel points standings and he’s trying to hang onto the final spot in the Countdown to the Championship.
He’s still searching for his first career NHRA win and went 4.526 at 175.50 mph in his first qualifying pass in a brutal heat. Millican improved massively under the lights on Friday, running a strong 3.86 at 313 mph to put him solidly in the field.
As of Friday afternoon, Millican had not met with Bill Sr. yet, but both have been busy. Millican had a display at for his sponsor at a Parts Plus store in Cleveland and, well, the Bader family is always working.
“I bet you this: They’re out here working their tails off. The first year of the NHRA race, I pull in and I’m in the rental car, and I’m going through the parking lot and there’s this guy directing traffic,” Millican said. “He had on blue jeans and a normal shirt, and it will Bill Sr. He was out there parking cars. The whole family is such a big part of this and they’ve been a big part of my Top Fuel career.”
Most of it centers on what has made Bader such a successful promoter as well.
In fact, there are two big lessons Millican always keeps close.
“I still remember vividly a couple of things that he told me. First, you’ve got to make your spectators have fun,” Millican said. “If they want to see two cars go side-by-side they can stand by the highway and watch that, so you better make sure you do your job so people will come and pay to watch two cars go down the quarter-mile side-by-side.
“One of the other things he said to me and I’ve stuck to this, unless you’re being paid to wear those sunglasses, take them off. It can be a brutally sunny day, but if I’m talking to someone or signing autographs those sunglasses are going to be on top of my head. I just respect what he thinks so much I remember those things.”
There’s no doubt brutally sunny is in the equation this weekend at Norwalk.
Like most things that could be considered adverse, Millican will shrug it off. His philosophy is there’s no such thing as pressure, even when it’s racing at a track he cherishes and holds years of history for him.
Millican will simply work as hard as he can, drive as well as he can and hope to entertain Bader – among others – in the process.
“My mindset is to just go down the race track. It’s going to be hot and miserable and my job is to help the car the best I can and depend on the team to give it the best set-up they know how,” Millican said. “It’s going to be a challenge, it really is.”
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