Millican, Capps, Laughlin grab wins at Thunder Valley Nationals

BRISTOL, TN- Clay Millican raced to an emotional first career NHRA Top Fuel victory Sunday at the 17th annual NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at historic Bristol Dragway.

Ron Capps (Funny Car) and Alex Laughlin (Pro Stock) were also winners in their respective categories at the 11th event of 24 in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

Tennessee native Millican powered his Parts Plus / Great Clips dragster to a final round winning performance of 3.825 seconds at 316.38 mph to defeat red-hot Leah Pritchett, who finished in 3.881 at 307.09 in her Papa John’s dragster. Millican, a resident of Drummonds near Memphis, became the 103rd different driver to win in Top Fuel. It was his 254th NHRA Top Fuel start and the ninth final round of his career.

“I love what I do,” said Millican, who won more than 50 races and six IHRA series crowns before making the move to NHRA full-time in 2007. Since then Millican has raced to multiple final rounds, his most recent in 2013, when he advanced to four finals but failed to win.

“There were times when I wondered if this was ever going to happen,” said Millican, while Rocky Top played in the background during his victory celebration in front of an enthusiastic Thunder Valley crowd. “I don’t deserve this credit. I’m really happy for [crew chief] David Grubnic and all of the boys who work on this car and I mean that one-hundred percent.”

Millican, who battled battled past Kyle Wurtzel, Brittany Force and Steve Torrence en route to the finals, shed some tears during his interview in Winner’s Circle when he dedicated his Father’s Day victory to the memory of his late son, Dalton, who was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident in August 2015 near his home of Drummonds.

“I believe everything happens for a reason and I know this is how it was supposed to be,” said Millican who moved to seventh in points with the victory. “I tried not to think about Father’s Day today because it’s really tough on a parent to lose their kid. I know he was watching from above today.”

Pritchett, who outran Troy Coughlin Jr., Scott Palmer and defending winner Shawn Langdon, moved from third to second with the runner-up finish. No. 1 qualifier Torrence now has possession of the Top Fuel points lead.

Defending Funny Car world champion Capps raced to his fifth victory this season in the NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger R/T. Capps used a proven car from the past and a holeshot start to earn a victory against Don Schumacher Racing teammate Jack Beckman, who trailed in his Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger R/T with a pass of 4.054 at 317.05.

“We’ve gotten a few lucky rounds, but it’s been preparation in the off season,” said Capps, who increased his series lead with the win. “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.”

With the win, the 55th of his career, Capps tied John Force for the most Funny Car victories at Bristol Dragway, at four apiece.

Capps defeated Alexis DeJoria, Robert Hight and teammate Matt Hagan in earlier rounds before reversing the outcome of the final at Englishtown, N.J. with Beckman one week ago. Beckman reached his second consecutive final of the season by defeating Cruz Pedregon, Courtney Force and teammate Tommy Johnson Jr.

In Pro Stock, Laughlin clinched his first Wally of the season and second of his career with a perfect reaction time in the finals. He powered his Gas Monkey Energy Chevrolet Camaro to a 6.718 at 205.04 to defeat Bo Butner in his Jim Butner’s Auto Chevy Camaro. Laughlin is the eighth different Pro Stock winner this season.

“We didn’t really have anything handed to us; we had some good matchups all day,” said Laughlin, who beat local favorite Allen Johnson, No. 1 qualifier Jeg Coughlin and rookie sensation and rival Tanner Gray in early rounds. “I definitely feel like I had a point to prove. We have a competitive car on the starting line. I came into this weekend with the confidence to win.”

Butner, who increased his series lead with the runner-up finish, lined up against Wally Stroupe and two-time world champion Erica Enders en route to his fourth final round appearance this season.

In other racing Sunday, two-time champ Troy Coughlin raced to the Pro Mod victory and Tii Tharpe earned his second Top Fuel Harley win of the season and first at Bristol. Coughlin drove his turbocharged JEGS.com Corvette past the hard-charging Pontiac Firebird of No. 1 qualifier Shane Molinari to take his 10th career victory and first at Bristol, while Tharpe beat defending world champ Jay Turner in the nitro Harley category.

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

Courtesy: Bristol Dragway Communications

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