Photo courtesy NHRA/National Dragster
Top Fuel racer Clay Millican hasn’t gotten a chance to use his favorite Christmas present yet.
But he said the Dexter Tuttle-owned Parts Plus Dragster that sits not under his decorated tree in Drummonds, Tenn., but rather nearly 500 miles away in Fort Worth, Texas, should be race-ready by Feb. 6.
That’s the day the National Hot Rod Association opens its 2014 season in California with the Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. And it’s the day Tuttle will make his return to fulltime racing, with new driving partner Millican eager to record his first NHRA victory.
Tuttle will tune the car, collaborating with crew chief Jimmy Walsh and fellow veteran Tony Shortall. Nick Boninfante Sr., known throughout the motorsports industry simply as “Nitro Nick,” will monitor the clutch program.
“Dexter is a very capable tuner himself,” Millican said.
Boninfante, whose reputation includes the vintage U.S. Male Funny Car and 1980s-era Raybestos Funny Car successes, was one of Millican’s early Top Fuel advisors.
[Nick Boninfante Sr.] is like family to me. I was so naïve when I was going to go Top Fuel racing. He just kind of took me under his wing.
“He’s like family to me. I was so naïve when I was going to go Top Fuel racing. He just kind of took me under his wing,” Millican said.
“He is who connected me with Peter Lehman and Mike Kloeber,” Millican said. Together Millican and tuner-engineer Kloeber won six consecutive International Hot Rod Association championships, five of them in the Lehman-owned dragster.
Tuttle has outfitted the Parts Plus Dragster with the latest cylinder heads, newest superchargers, and other upgrades to make it lighter – much of it purchased from Don Schumacher Racing. “And he just got one of the lightest drivers in the business,” the 145-pound Millican said.
So Tuttle, who always has raced in good faith and in good stead with the NHRA and his colleagues but didn’t always have the fanciest bells and whistles, needs to make no apologies for his 2014 dragster. It should run with the best of the class.
“I certainly think it can,” Millican said. “With all the parts and pieces that he has updated, I don’t see why not. He’s got everything in place to do it, and I’ve been down the racetrack a lot of times.”
He has, winning an IHRA-record 52 Ironman trophies. His four runner-up finishes in 2013 and eight overall only have whetted his appetite for that first NHRA Wally statue. He said he’s encouraged by Tuttle’s resume.
“If you look back, when Dexter was out there fulltime, he won races with JR Todd and he was in the top 10 with Steve Torrence [as a single-car entrant, no less]. So it’s going to be good. This is going to be a good car,” he said.
“We are a little bit behind as far as getting things done, because we got this deal done on Christmas Eve, actually. They were working on getting the contract finished on Christmas Eve. We know as far as uniforms and vinyl [wrap for the car] and that sort of thing, we’re behind. But race car-wise, it’s ready to go. Dexter was preparing for this upcoming season, not knowing that it was going to be me driving.”
They found each other, both satisfying a need.
“Parts Plus has been with me going on four years now. Dexter was planning on running his car, and I was looking for a car to drive. It was just a good fit,” Millican said.
“Dexter has a couple of successful businesses (ColorFast and Liquid MPG), but Dexter is a racer through and through,” Millican said. “He has raced for many, many years.”
He said the business-to-business opportunities for Tuttle’s Liquid MPG fuel additives company and Parts Plus certainly exist and that they might be there, as well, for ColorFast: “We’ve been busy exploring those.”
Within the first two weeks after Millican and Tuttle met, Tuttle had visited the Parts Plus headquarters in Memphis to discuss ideas with the decision-makers there.
Parts Plus has been with me going on four years now. Dexter was planning on running his car, and I was looking for a car to drive. It was just a good fit.
Mike Lambert, president of the Automotive Distribution Network, said, “Complemented by a first-rate motorsports marketing program, which includes nationwide hospitality events and promotional opportunities with our primary manufacturer partners, our ongoing partnership with Clay Millican ensures that our Parts Plus members continue to effectively reach the end user—the professional who throws away the box.”
Millican will go to Texas the first week of January to get fitted for the car, and Tuttle will focus on hiring a few additional crew members.
“Everything’s in place. The car’s ready to go. And I’m so excited and ready to go!” he said.
Tuttle hired three-time, between-jobs Top Fuel champion Larry Dixon last September to give the car some shakedown runs during the AAA Texas Fallnationals at the Texas Motorplex.
Millican hadn’t been acquainted with Tuttle before, but if he had any doubts about the move, he got unsolicited reassurance from a prominent racer whose name he declined to mention. The voice-mail endorsement said, “All I can tell you is that Dexter is a really good man. You cannot go wrong with Dexter.”