It was the most emotionally charged top fuel final round I have ever experienced in person and when Clay Millican charged down the track ahead of Leah Pritchett, the entirety of Bristol Dragway went berserk. There were tears flowing freely, there were people jumping up and down, and there was the realization that we had all seen one of the great drag racing stories of the last decade (or more) play out. Clay Millican had been trying for 19 years and more than 220 events to accomplish what he and his crew did on Sunday.
I got to know Clay as an IHRA announcer in the early 2000s. He was the most dominating force that the sanctioning body had ever seen, racking up half a dozen championships in top fuel and leveling pretty much everyone that got in his way. His team would pop over and try their hands at NHRA events from time to time in that period but their effort was on IHRA. After the landscape changed and Clay was competing full time on the NHRA tour, the world assumed that the Wallys would start to stack up for him hard and fast. They did not.
Clay Millican won in his 11th NHRA final round appearance. He won at the only race NHRA runs in his home state. He won at the track where the IHRA was founded and head quartered for ages. He won on Father’s Day while keeping the memory of his late son Dalton alive and close to him in various ways. He won with his wife Donna, who he has been with since freshman year of high school with him. He won with a single car team that operates out of a shop in team owner Doug Stringer’s back yard called “the nitro barn”.
Clay is an example of how to live your life. I don’t say that as a theory or a guess. I say that as someone who knows him and continues to be inspired by his strength, dignity, and positive attitude on life. He is truly one of the great guys in the world of motorsports, not just drag racing.
On a hot and muggy Sunday afternoon in Bristol, TN we all got reminded that sometimes good guys do finish first.