They say that determination and perseverance pays off in the long run, and this last Sunday at Bristol Dragway was the true definition of those two finally paying off. Clay Millican, who is the winningest driver in IHRA history finally nabbed that elusive NHRA national event Wally.
To say that the tension on the starting line was thick on Sunday would be an understatement. I was standing about 100' from the waterbox as Clay launched and we all stood back and waited that entire 3.825 seconds before the boards lit up and showed that Clay had snatched victory away from Leah Pritchett. The crowd and the starting line went absolutely crazy with celebration. I found myself giving high fives to other media members and realizing that we just witnessed one of the greatest finals in NHRA history.
You may ask yourself, or ask me why I would make the statement that the Clay and Leah's run was one of the best in the history of our long and storied sport. Well, there are a few factors that go into that statement. For one, Clay is the winningest driver in the history of the IHRA, which some remember as an actual competitor to the NHRA for many years. He racked up 6 World Championships, and over 50 national event victories while racing there. Yet in all his years in the NHRA, the Wally has eluded him. Then there is the fact that Clay is a hometown guy of sorts. He lives in Drummonds, TN which is on the other side of the state. Long known as a Tennessee boy, this first NHRA victory in his home state, couldn't have come at a better track. The victory was also bitter sweet as it occurred on Fathers Day. Clay suffered the worst lost any parent could, when he lost his son Dalton from injuries due to a motorcycle accident in August of 2015.
This was the eleventh time Clay has made it to the finals at an NHRA event. Yet every other time before, the win light went to the Top Fuel car in the other lane. All day on Sunday you got this feeling that it might be Clay's day. There was just something about the way his car was working and the circumstances of the day. In the back of everyone's mind we all knew that Clay was going to get that Wally one day soon, and we all we silently hoping that it might come on Fathers Day in Tennessee.
To show you how great drag racing is though, the first people to come over and congratulate Clay's team, was the DSR team of Leah Pritchett. They walked over to congratulate Clay's team, his crew chief David Grubnic, and team owner Doug Stringer. The DSR team was an absolute class act after falling short against Clay.
I was standing next to the water box when Clay, Alex, and Ron, were being brought back to the starting line. Watching the pure joy on Clay's face as he pulled up while standing in the back of the truck was joy that I haven't seen in many years in our sport. The love that Clay has for drag racing is something that I don't think can be measured in numbers. It can only be measured in emotion, like the emotion that he had while standing on stage after the race thanking his amazing team, his sponsors, his fans, and his family, including his amazing wife Donna.
Clay is someone that everyone in our industry could use as an example of what every drag racer should strive for. He is quiet, humble, thankful, determined, and endearing. He embodies all the qualities that are missing in not only drag racing, but in humanity as a whole. On Sunday, Clay Stomped That Loud Pedal all while being humble but carrying a big stick.
Also a huge congrats to Clay's sponsors who have stood by and supported him on this journey. They include UNOH (University of Northwestern Ohio), Great Clips, and Parts Plus. They are the ones, along with Doug Stringer that make all this possible. We are sure that it certainly won't take another 250 races for Clay to get Wally another friend either.
STOMP THAT LOUD PEDAL!!!