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First NHRA win softens painful Father’s Day for Millican

STEVE WILMOTH, TriCitiesSports.com • Jun 19, 2017 at 12:56 AM

BRISTOL, Tenn. — Father’s Day isn’t the easiest day of the year for Top Fuel driver Clay Millican.

A little less than two years ago, his 22-year-old son, Dalton, driver of Blue Thunder in the Monster Jam Series, was killed in a motorcycle accident near the family’s hometown of Drummonds, Tenn.

Understandably, Millican was hesitant to participate in the Father’s Day activities that preceded Sunday’s final eliminations the 17th annual Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway.

“To be totally honest, I didn’t even want to hear anything about Father’s Day this morning,” he said. “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.”

Father’s Day may be ever-so- slightly less painful now for Millican, who earned his first career NHRA victory after 19 years and 254 races in the series.

“Dalton, I miss you, but I knew you were riding with me today, buddy,” Millican said. “He was riding with us and he got us four win lights.”

Millican compiled six series titles and over 50 wins in IHRA before moving over to NHRA in 1998. Making his ninth NHRA final appearance, he powered his Parts Plus/Great Clips dragster past three-time 2017 winner Leah Pritchett by 0.019 seconds.

“I love what I do whether I ever won one of these or not,” Millican noted. “Certainly, there were times I was like, ‘Man, is it ever going to happen? Maybe it’s not meant to be.’ But Mama always told me, when the time is right it would happen.

“There is no such thing as a coincidence. This was supposed to happen. When the time is right, it was going to happen and today that time was right.”

Millican’s Top Fuel victory capped a trio of thrilling finals that saw the three winners hit the stripe just a collective 0.072 seconds ahead of the runner-up.

Pro Stock saw the largest margin of victory: Part-timer Alex Laughlin topped Bo Butner by 0.049. In Funny Car, Ron Capps won by four one-thousandths of a second over Jack Beckman.

Millican serenaded the victory circle crowd with a rousing rendition of “Rocky Top” after the win on his “home” track.

“I’m such a Tennessee boy,” Millican said. “My family lives here. We’ve never moved. I’m proud that everybody calls this my home race even though I live 500 miles away. This is my home state and I’m proud of this place. I raced on the old track here that is 20 feet below this one. Both of my boys played in the creek down there when we raced in Sportsman here.

“What’s Dorothy say? ‘There’s no place like home,’ and this is home.”

Millican beat Kyle Wurtzel in the first round, Brittany Force in the quarterfinals and top qualifier Steve Torrence in the semifinals. Torrence kept the Top Fuel points lead, but Pritchett regained second with her runner-up finish.

Capps and Laughlin both won their titles on reaction times. Laughlin was a perfect 0.000 on his and Capps was 0.026 at the line to Beckman’s 0.044 to overcome Beckman’s 0.014 ET advantage.

After a tough first day of qualifying on Friday, Capps’ team brought out a brand new NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger R/T on Saturday morning.

“Friday night, (crew chief) Rahn Tobler asked about driving a backup car,” Capps said. “The car we had upstairs was brand new and usually with a new car, you go test, make some laps. You don’t get in it in the middle of a race and go 320 mph. So what a decision to make on Saturday morning.”

Capps faced a gauntlet of Funny Car drivers in his path to the finals, including Alex Dejoria in the opening round, Robert Hight in the quarters and Matt Hagan in the semifinals.

“Four runs on Sunday against four of the toughest cars, drivers and crew chiefs combined,” noted Capps, who increased his series points lead to 163 over Hagan.

Capps’ victory was his fifth of the season, 55th of his career and fourth at Bristol Dragway, tying John Force for most Funny Car wins at Thunder Valley.

“He (Force) has owned this place,” Capps said. “To be mentioned with him in the amount of wins here ... it’s a special place.”

Laughlin, competing in just his third Pro Stock event of the season, handed Greeneville’s Allen Johnson another tough Bristol loss in the first round. Despite posting the second-lowest ET of the round, Johnson’s dogged pursuit of a Thunder Valley title ended by just 0.002 seconds.

Laughlin then took out top qualifier Jeg Coughlin and rookie Tanner Gray in the semifinals before besting series points leader Butner.

“We didn’t really have anything handed to us,” Laughlin said. “We had some good matchups all day.”

Laughlin became the eighth different winner in Pro Stock this season, a series that has produced fewer than 70 winners since its inception in 1970.

2017 NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals Results

Sunday

At Bristol Dragway, Bristol, Tenn.

Final Finish Order

Top Fuel

1. Clay Millican. 2. Leah Pritchett. 3. Shawn Langdon. 4. Steve Torrence. 5. Scott Palmer. 6. Brittany Force. 7. Antron Brown. 8. Mike Salinas. 9. Kebin Kinsley. 10. Tony Schumacher. 11. Terry McMillen. 12. Doug Kalitta. 13. Troy Coughlin Jr.. 14. Chris Karamesines. 15. Pat Dakin. 16. Kyle Wurtzel.

Funny Car

1. Ron Capps. 2. Jack Beckman. 3. Tommy Johnson Jr.. 4. Matt Hagan. 5. Robert Hight. 6. Tim Wilkerson. 7. Courtney Force. 8. John Force. 9. Del Worsham. 10. Alexis DeJoria. 11. Cruz Pedregon. 12. J.R. Todd. 13. Jonnie Lindberg. 14. Jim Campbell. 15. Jeff Diehl. 16. Bob Bode.

Pro Stock

1. Alex Laughlin. 2. Bo Butner. 3. Erica Enders. 4. Tanner Gray. 5. Shane Gray. 6. Jeg Coughlin. 7. Vincent Nobile. 8. Allen Johnson. 9. Jason Line. 10. Greg Anderson. 11. Drew Skillman. 12. Alan Prusiensky. 13. Wally Stroupe.

Final Results

Top Fuel—Clay Millican, 3.825 seconds, 316.38 mph def. Leah Pritchett, 3.881 seconds, 307.09 mph.

Funny Car—Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 4.054, 317.05 def. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.040, 319.29.

Pro Stock—Alex Laughlin, Chevy Camaro, 6.718, 205.04 def. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.729, 205.79.

Pro Modified—Troy Coughlin, Chevy Corvette, 5.878, 253.09 def. Shane Molinari, Pontiac Firebird, 5.881, 254.76.

Super Stock—Marty Rinehart Jr., Chevy Camaro, 9.980, 129.23 def. Greg Stanfield, Camaro, 8.731, 158.17.

Stock Eliminator—Jimmy Hidalgo Jr., Pontiac GTO, 10.990, 117.12 def. John Leach, Plymouth Roadrunner, Foul - Red Light.

Super Comp—David Morris, Dragster, 8.902, 159.89 def. John Labbous Jr, Dragster, 8.891, 171.75.

Super Gas—Steve Furr, Chevy Camaro, 9.914, 149.75 def. Jacob Elrod, Chevy Corvette, 9.896, 156.34.

Top Sportsman presented by RacingRVs.com—Clayton Roberts, Chevy Cavalier, 7.542, 180.31 def. Jeffrey Barker, Chevy Cobalt, 6.704, 197.28.

Top Dragster presented by RacingRVs.com—Aaron Stanfield, Dragster, 6.370, 210.41 def. Angie Travis, Dragster, 6.288, 213.33.

Top Fuel Harley—Tii Tharpe, Dixie, 6.549, 205.01 def. Jay Turner, Dixie, 7.603, 134.20.

Round-by-round

Top Fuel

Round One—Antron Brown, 3.952, 286.62 def. Pat Dakin, 12.230, 56.62. Clay Millican, 5.313, 139.40 def. Kyle Wurtzel, Broke. Shawn Langdon, 4.183, 255.53 def. Doug Kalitta, 4.414, 206.35. Steve Torrence, 4.280, 203.80 def. Chris Karamesines, 8.710, 63.35. Leah Pritchett, 4.378, 186.51 def. Troy Coughlin Jr., 4.497, 189.26. Brittany Force, 3.897, 310.55 def. Terry McMillen, 4.283, 252.19. Scott Palmer, 3.969, 307.16 def. Tony Schumacher, 4.076, 275.96. Mike Salinas, 3.855, 320.05 def. Kebin Kinsley, 3.850, 317.87.

Quarterfinals—Pritchett, 7.094, 84.32 def. Palmer, Foul - Red Light. Langdon, 4.251, 258.37 def. Brown, 4.310, 263.26. Torrence, 4.000, 309.56 def. Salinas, Broke. Millican, 4.011, 294.18 def. Force, 4.060, 267.85.

Semifinals—Pritchett, 3.798, 319.90 def. Langdon, 3.901, 308.00. Millican, 3.812, 319.90 def. Torrence, 3.949, 303.57.

Final—Millican, 3.825, 316.38 def. Pritchett, 3.881, 307.09.

Funny Car

Round One—Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 4.132, 255.43 def. J.R. Todd, Toyota Camry, 4.305, 240.89. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 4.367, 233.12 def. Bob Bode, Dodge Charger, Broke. Robert Hight, Camaro, 3.985, 322.58 def. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Solara, 6.461, 105.19. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.387, 233.48 def. Jim Campbell, Charger, 6.307, 105.26. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.172, 303.43 def. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.302, 275.28. John Force, Camaro, 4.136, 312.42 def. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.211, 303.43. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.104, 315.34 def. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.246, 278.75. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.105, 314.17 def. Jonnie Lindberg, Camry, 5.901, 122.44.

Quarterfinals—Beckman, 4.321, 276.75 def. C. Force, 4.343, 221.42. Capps, 4.090, 314.31 def. Hight, 4.124, 310.55. Johnson Jr., 4.083, 314.53 def. Wilkerson, 4.220, 262.18. Hagan, 4.202, 306.95 def. J. Force, Foul - Centerline.

Semifinals—Beckman, 4.009, 318.99 def. Johnson Jr., 4.043, 313.29. Capps, 4.045, 314.61 def. Hagan, 5.264, 168.43.

Final—Capps, 4.054, 317.05 def. Beckman, 4.040, 319.29.

Pro Stock

Round One—Alex Laughlin, Chevy Camaro, 6.761, 204.88 def. Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.735, 205.13. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.752, 205.57 def. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.765, 203.74. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.743, 204.54 def. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.748, 204.94. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.736, 204.82 def. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.758, 204.60. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.742, 205.38 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dart, 6.807, 203.61. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.714, 205.79 def. Wally Stroupe, Camaro, Foul - Red Light. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.740, 205.26 was unopposed.

Quarterfinals—Enders, 6.761, 204.88 def. Nobile, 16.442, 49.55. Laughlin, 6.769, 204.54 def. Coughlin, 10.491, 95.69. T. Gray, 6.748, 204.94 def. S. Gray, 6.783, 205.01. Butner, 6.763, 204.76 was unopposed.

Semifinals—Butner, 6.732, 205.44 def. Enders, 6.745, 205.01. Laughlin, 6.767, 204.48 def. T. Gray, Foul - Red Light.

Final—Laughlin, 6.718, 205.04 def. Butner, 6.729, 205.79.

Point Standings

Through 11 of 24 Events

Top Fuel

1. Steve Torrence, 954. 2. Leah Pritchett, 943. 3. Antron Brown, 934. 4. Tony Schumacher, 801. 5. Doug Kalitta, 678. 6. Brittany Force, 649. 7. Clay Millican, 639. 8. Troy Coughlin Jr., 443. 9. Scott Palmer, 432. 10. Terry McMillen, 424.

Funny Car

1. Ron Capps, 1,044. 2. Matt Hagan, 881. 3. Jack Beckman, 748. 4. Robert Hight, 707. 5. Courtney Force, 704. 6. Tommy Johnson Jr., 663. 7. John Force, 641. 8. Tim Wilkerson, 490. 9. J.R. Todd, 476. 10. Cruz Pedregon, 397.

Pro Stock

1. Bo Butner, 945. 2. Greg Anderson, 835. 3. Tanner Gray, 830. 4. Jeg Coughlin, 766. 5. Jason Line, 702. 6. Erica Enders, 657. 7. Vincent Nobile, 617. 8. Drew Skillman, 536. 9. Shane Gray, 434. 10. Chris McGaha, 421.

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