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25 Years In: Clay Millican Recounts the Day Nitro Racing Became his Career

Clay Millican is celebrating a major milestone in his drag racing career. The veteran Top Fuel driver just notched 25 years of piloting the machine that makes the ground shake beneath your feet. 

Millican’s path is a unique one. On a recent episode of The Wes Buck Show, he opened up about his journey to Top Fuel. 

“I’m thinking to myself, May 10th – what’s special about May 10th?,” Millican explains to co-hosts Wes Buck, Mike Carpenter and JT Hudson. “I’m looking around and go; this marks 25 years since I threw in the towel on a regular job and in the real world and decided to go – and this is the really truly unique part of the story – go nitro racing, to go become a professional drag racer.”

According to Millican, that’s not even the craziest part. He continued, “It was really my wife’s decision.”

Millican was working a good, stable job at a Kroger Food Warehouse in Tennessee. He drove a forklift and did other odds and ends things around the stockroom when needed. However, things changed for the experienced sportsman racer one day after he got the chance to jump into a Top Fuel Dragster.

“I got the opportunity because I became friends with a young man named Peter Lehman to get my Top Fuel license,” Millican said. “When that happened, and the day I got my license, May 10th, 1998, Donna said, ‘It’s time to quit your job. You can always find another job, but if you’re going to do this, and I know how badly you want to do it, it’s time to take the jump. Let’s just do it. Let’s just see what happens.’”

Millican admits that he was concerned about quitting his job for numerous reasons. “I was nervously excited that she was the one that came up with that deal because I’m married, I got little ones, you know, I’ve got a house note – I got all the normal things that everybody has,” he said. 

“I literally quit my job,” explained Millican, sharing that Lehman, a college student at the time, didn’t influence his decision. They were only going to enter one race and didn’t have a plan after that.

“She’s a strong woman because she continued to work a job and was our security blanket for many, many years after that because I certainly wasn’t making no money,” Millican said, crediting his wife, Donna.

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During that ’98 year, Millican continued pursuing bracket racing while looking for a full-time ride in a Top Fuel car. However, Millican admits that hindsight is 20-20, and he probably should’ve focused solely on a Top Fuel career.

“Remember we used to get credit cards in the mail, and they would come pre-approved with two grand, fifteen hundred bucks or whatever?” Millican asked his WBS co-hosts. “That’s how we were paying our bills, which is stupid. Any 401k that Donna and I had, we spent it all. Peter and I ended up doing a couple more races here and there when I got the opportunity. I went to Germany and drove a car for Donnie and Barbara Holbrook.”

Then, Millican finally got his break, and all the pieces started to come together. His long-time crew chief, Mike Kloeber, entered the picture, as well as some consistent funding. Millican went on to have of the most successful careers in the IHRA. 

Furthermore, Millican explained that with the blessing of his primary sponsor at the time, Werner Enterprises, he entered some NHRA events. But it took 19 years and more than 250 races for Millican to secure his first Wally. 

He never gave up, and because of his perseverance, Millican now has a career spanning over two decades. He ended the show with these final goosebump-inflicting words of advice.

“This is straight from my mama’s mouth to all y’all’s ears. If you want to do something, you’ve got to have the want to. When people would ask mama, how did he get to where he’s at? How has he done this? How does he continue to do it? You’ve got to have the want to,” he said.

“That lady fixing to open up her own haircutting shop, you just got to have the want to. You got to want to do it worse than breathing,” Millican said. “If you want to do it, you can make it happen. So those of you racers out there that are watching this, if you’ve got enough want to, I’m 25 years in, and I still want to.”

This story was originally published on May 25, 2023. Drag Illustrated

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