Must-Watch: Clay Millican’s Storybook Tragedy To Triumph Story

Top Fuel star Clay Millican’s story is one of both rags to riches and tragedy to triumph. Through it all, no matter the life circumstances or the trajectory of his racing career, the Drummonds, Tennessee native has exuded joy and a zest for life that every one of us should aspire to.

A one-time forklift driver with a dream as big as the sky is wide, Millican set out to make it a reality, toiling in the IHRA sportsman drag racing ranks for years before a chance encounter with Peter Lehman forever changed his life. Their partnership resulted in six IHRA Top Fuel world championships, 51 national event victories, and a whole host of virtually unrivaled statistics in the IHRA’s premier eliminator.

He made his first career NHRA national event start in Top Fuel in 1998, driving a Chicago White Sox-themed dragster. For the next 19 years, while dominating the IHRA, Clay also made his bid for an NHRA national event crown — first on a part-time basis, before moving full-time to the NHRA in the late 2000s. With each passing season, he inched a little closer to making the dream come true — but at times, it still seemed so far away. In 2013, he came up short in four final round appearances, never quite able to get over the hump.

#MYJourney: Clay Millican

“Nothing will ever top that win…. Nothing will ever be what that day was." This is Clay Millican and this is his journey. #MYJourney #StompOnThatLoudPedal #PowPow 💥

Posted by NHRA on Tuesday, July 24, 2018

In August of 2015, Millican’s world was rocked to its foundation when son Dalton, who had proudly followed in his father’s footsteps to a career in motorsports, was tragically killed in a highway motorcycle accident. Clay and wife, Donna’s lives had forever been changed again — this time in a less than positive manner. But Millican, a glass-half-full personality type if there ever was one, didn’t see it that way.

Just days after laying his son to rest, Clay returned to the seat at Brainerd, Minnesota in pursuit of that long-awaited victory — that ode to his fallen son. It took nearly two full years for Dalton to deliver his father a gift — fittingly, on Father’s Day — that couldn’t have been scripted any better if in Hollywood, with a memorable victory in front of the home crowd that will live as part of drag racing lore for decades to come.

It’s Clay’s down-to-earth, ever-positive personality and his infectious smile that have endeared him to millions — not his successes or lack of success on the racetrack. Our friend Brian Lohnes, part of the NHRA’s Mello Yello Series broadcast team put it as well as anyone could, sharing, “Clay is as kind and fiercely competitive a man as you’ll ever meet. You don’t go from being a forklift operator to a Top Fuel racer on luck. You do it on guts, heart, and ability. Clay and his wife Donna suffered a nightmarish tragedy and they have handled it in only the way they could. You do not have to have ever given one errant thought about drag racing to appreciate the story of a father and of a man who has achieved and suffered in ways few of us will ever know.”

Clay’s #MYJourney clip is well worth the 8-minute watch!

About the author

Andrew Wolf

Andrew has been involved in motorsports from a very young age. Over the years, he has photographed several major auto racing events, sports, news journalism, portraiture, and everything in between. After working with the Power Automedia staff for some time on a freelance basis, Andrew joined the team in 2010.
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