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Millican, Capps and Laughlin take home “Wallys” in the NHRA finals at Thunder Valley

It’s been a long time coming for Tennessee native Clay Millican.

thunder valley nhraIn 253 previous Top Fuel starts, the energetic Drummonds, Tenn., product has loved drag racing his entire life. He’s had his share of ups and downs and Sunday being Father’s Day didn’t make things any easier. You see, Millican lost his son less than two years ago in an motorcycle accident and with the Thunder Valley events centered around Dad’s Day, Millican was not in the best of moods.

“I didn’t even want to hear anything about Father’s Day this morning,” replied Millican, choking back emotion in the post race press conference. “I didn’t want to ride in the truck, which I feel bad for not doing that, but it’s a tough day for anybody that’s lost a child.”

Emotionally compromised but focused and on a mission, Millican piloted his dragster to a Top Fuel victory at the 17th annual NHRA Thunder Valley Spring Nationals at Bristol Dragway on Sunday afternoon in his 254th Top Fuel start and tasted victory for the first time in his NHRA career.

Millican raced to a 3.825-second pass and 316.38 mph to defeat Leah Pritchett, who raced a 3.881 at 307.09 in her dragster in the championship. Millican became the 103rd different driver to win in Top Fuel and the ninth final round win of his career.

Millican battled past fellow drivers Kyle Wurtzel, Brittany Force and Steve Torrence to get to the  the finals while Pritchett went up against Troy Coughlin Jr., Scott Palmer and Shawn Langdon before falling to Millican.

All weekend, announcers on the track broadcast kept referring to Bristol Dragway as Millican’s home track. Well, it’s not exactly in Clay’s back door.  In fact, the journey to Bristol Dragway takes about eight hours across the state or 486 miles.

But that’s OK for Millican.  He’ll claim Bristol as his home track now.

“I love what I do,” Millican said. “There were times I ever wondered if this was going to happen. I don’t deserve this credit. I’m really happy for David Grubnic and all of the boys who work on this car and I mean that one-hundred percent.”

Millican is now seventh in points while Pritchett moved up a notch from third to second with the runner-up finish at Sunday’s race. Torrence now has sole possession of the Top Fuel points lead.

Funny Car driver Ron Capps  and Pro Stock driver Alex Laughlin were also winners in their respective categories at the eleventh event of 24 on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

The defending Funny Car champion did not start the weekend off on a good note with a poor qualifying effort on Friday. On a decision by his crew chief, Capps would drive a second prepared Dodge Charger R/T on Saturday and find magic that eluded them on Friday.

“We had runs on Sunday against four of the toughest cars, drivers and crew chiefs combined. You read down the list of people we had to beat in a new car that was prepared. There are not very many teams that are that prepared to pull a car out and have a quicker set-up than we were,” replied Capps to a question asked in the post-race press conference. “We’ve gotten a few lucky rounds, but it’s been preparation in the off season.”

The win on Sunday by Capps was his fifth this season and 55th overall of his career in a Don Schumacher prepared Dodge Charger R/T. Capps beat out fellow racing stablemate Jack Beckman driving a Dodge Charger R/T with a pass of 4.054 at 317.05 mph in the final. In addition, Capps ties the legendary John Force with the most Funny Car victories at Bristol with four apiece.

Capps knocked off Alexis DeJoria, Robert Hight and teammate Matt Hagan while Beckman cruised past Cruz Pedregon, Courtney Force and teammate Tommy Johnson Jr. before having to focus on Capps for the second consecutive final round appearance. In two weeks between Capps and Beckman, they are split 1-1 on wins as Beckman took the win at Englishtown.

Stating that he felt like he “had a point to prove”, part-time Pro Stock driver Alex Laughlin took home his first “Wally” trophy of the season and the second of his career with a perfect reaction time of 0.00 in the finals as he powered his Chevrolet Camaro to a 6.718 at 205.04 mph to defeat Bo Butner in his Chevy Camaro.

Laughlin is the eighth different Pro Stock winner this season in the NHRA and Laughlin said it plain to the media present following the win, “We didn’t really have anything handed to us. We had some good matchups all day.”

The Texas driver added that that he had “a competitive car on the starting line,” and that “I came into this weekend with the confidence to win.” Laughlin raced past Greeneville, Tenn. native and local favorite Allan Johnson, No. 1 qualifier Jeg Coughlin and rookie Tanner Gray before facing off against Butner in the final round.

Butner squared off against drivers Wally Stroupe and two-time world champion Erica Enders en route to his fourth final round appearance this season.

The 2017 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season continues in Norwalk, OH at the 11th annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals June 22-25 at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park.

By Rod Mullins/Augusta Free Press

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