Terry McMillen had planned simply to go 300 or 330 feet on the Wild Horse Pass Motorsports dragstrip Thursday to test a list of new equipment in his Amalie Oil Dragster before the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello season. But the joy on his face was hard to disguise.

“It’s good to be back and for Team Amalie, we’re just going out there and we’re going to hope for the best and try to get some more wins like we did in Vegas last year,” McMillen said, “because that was just overwhelming. I want some more of those overwhelming experiences. So it was really good, and you know, I’m just excited to be back out here and doing what we do.

“It’s just exciting. I can’t wait. Pomona’s a week away. It’s a week away. When we left Pomona, we were what, 90 days out from the next race? Those 90 days felt like about 15 because it’s flown by,” he said.

After years of trying, McMillen made the 2017 Countdown to the Championship field. And that label of “Countdown driver” makes him proud.

“I like that. I like the sound of that, I like the fact that we won a race finally. Hopefully we can go out there and do some more,” he said. “The thing is, it’s going to be tough this year. A lot more cars coming out, some real powerhouses. You know, you’ve got the Scrapper guys [Mike Salinas], and that whole team over there’s going to be tough. And he’s got Alan Johnson helping the deal, and Doug [Kuch] is tuning it. Doug and I won some races in IHRA in Top Fuel.

“So there’s a lot of new cars, a lot of new faces coming out this year. It’s going to make it a little more interesting and guys that are going to run fast,” McMillen said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that our team is going to prevail, and we’re just going to have a great year. We’re ready to hit the gas and get it started.”

McMillen was eager to climb into his dragster for the first time since last November – a car he said has “a lot of changes on it. The thankful thing is all the crew folks are all the same, and all that. But, you know, we have different superchargers and different clutch cans and cannons, and just changed a lot of stuff on it,” he said. Before his first launch of 2018, he said he was ready to “make that hit and get some data so that we know what we have to work with. Right now it’s kind of like you almost go up there with the car detuned, because you know you’ve got a better blower than maybe what you had last year but you don’t know how much better because we don’t have any numbers to work with yet. We’re going to go up there relatively safe and just try and make a hit . . .  just to get a read on everything.

“It’s got a new fuel pump on it. It’s a little bit larger, so we just got to make sure that everything’s doing its thing,” he said Thursday. “So we get to 300 feet it should give us enough information that Rob [crew chief Wendland] can sneak it down there the rest of the way tonight or tomorrow.”





He laughed at his “off-season.” McMillen said, “It was great to get a couple weeks off. And I say a couple weeks off – there was no really off-season, but there were a couple weeks that we were back at home, everybody, and they can sleep in their own bed. But about two weeks after that, everybody’s like, ‘When are we leaving town? When are we going to go?’ So that lull in action, while it was busy at the shop, it still wasn’t getting anybody road time and stuff like that. So we were all really excited just to get to Phoenix and make things happen.

“My hat’s off to my crew because Rob Wendland and the entire team have done a great job. The car started up, everything was flawless on the warmup. We’ll go up and see what we have and, you know, and then we’ll try and get after it,” he said. “Our goal certainly hasn’t changed. We want to be in the top 10 next year. We want to be better than ninth, and we’d like to see a couple more wins. I really believe we have the combination to do it, and now that we have a taste of it, the hunger is even greater than it was before.”

He said passion is at the core of what he and all the NHRA racers do.

“I think sometimes you get in a rut, I know we have. You get in a rut where you know it’s attainable, the car’s running good and all that, and you’re trying to make things happen: you’re trying to force the tree, you’re trying to do whatever you have to do to make something happen,” McMillen said. “While that anxiety is always going to be there – and if it’s not you shouldn’t be here – but while it’s always going to be there, I think it’s relatively important to understand the passion. This sport’s a passion-driven industry. This is what it’s all about.

“And each one of these [crew] guys and gals out here put their heart and soul into this car to make it the best that they can, and they’re proud of the work that they do. I mean, looking back two years ago when some of these folks didn’t even know the difference of clutch disk and fingers, or anything, and now we’re becoming a very seasoned team. It’s just all the leadership and the support from Amalie, and all our other sponsors [including] Ross Pistons, and Flatout Gaskets, and everybody that’s been behind us forever, because without them, we would have never made it this far. They stuck with us when it was really bad and ugly and now we’re kind of like riding back on the top of the wave again. It’s a pretty great deal.”