Top Fuel drag racer Terry McMillen embodies the credo, “Persistence will outweigh resistance”
Terry McMillen wasn’t born into a racing family, but by the passion he has for going fast in a straight line, you’d think he came straight from drag racing royalty. Terry’s introduction to the sport came in the form of a Hemi-powered ’32 Model A drag car languishing in the driveway of a customer to whom Terry delivered newspapers on his urban Chicago paper route. Young Terry was fascinated by the purpose-built machine, and he made a point to hand-deliver newspapers to the owner, capitalizing on each chance to discuss the car. When Terry was merely 15 years old (and yet to be issued a drivers’ license), his clever tactic resulted in the opportunity to buy the vintage Ford on a payment plan. Terry’s dad, pleased with his son’s initiative to earn the car, helped him get the Model A running. His first quarter-mile pass in the Hemi-powered Ford would begin a racing career lasting over 35 years to date.
Terry quickly gained a reputation as a skilled mechanic, and the money he earned working on others’ cars helped finance his fledgling racing effort. Drag racing is very much a family sport, and many racers are more than willing to share parts and even crew members with competitors in a time of need. Maybe it was the fact that Terry met the right individuals who recognized his drive and ambition or that fact that he never gave up despite setbacks that got him where he is today, but he is very involved in the education and mentoring of young racers. Terry credits his father’s guidance and support for instilling a strong sense of community within him. Terry’s son grew up at dragstrips with his dad and his 11-year-old granddaughter, Adeline has won 5 of her first 7 races driving her own Junior Dragster. Terry beams when talking about his family participating in racing with him. “I’m in a blessed position to be able to race and mentor the next generation.”
Turning a wrench on his own car from such a young age taught Terry the value of spending money on quality parts the first time as opposed to buying cheap components and suffering consequences come race day. Now that he’s racing Top Fuel, this is more important than ever. Terry’s Amalie Motor Oil InstiGator Top Fuel dragster is an 8,000 horsepower machine capable of catapulting Terry down the quarter in less than four seconds at 320 MPH. Such violent and brutal acceleration subjects Terry to more than 4g’s of force, a considerable amount for the human body, but nowhere near the amount of punishment endured by the dragster’s driveline. Considering the fact that the nitro-methane which powers Top Fuel dragsters was once used as rocket fuel, it should come as no surprise that in the course of a single pass, a dragster’s engine actually consumes critical engine parts like spark plugs, valves and bearings. A $4,600 crankshaft is reduced to scrap after four passes. Each time Terry advances to the next round of competition, his crew has less than one hour to completely rebuild the $60,000 engine, pressure-test hydraulic lines, refinish all of the clutches and replace all of the dragsters fluids. One component that isn’t routinely changed, however, is the Motive Gear ring and pinion in the dragster’s differential.
When Terry first started running Top Fuel, the ring and pinions he was using lasted a maximum of 20 runs before they were scrapped. “The old gears would start cracking after three or four runs.”, Terry recalls. Motive Gear engineers partnered with Terry’s team to evaluate and analyze gearsets for structural damage and wear. This led to improved racing gearsets used by Terry and other racers for their dragsters. Through this collaborative effort, Terry now gets many more passes out of each gearset. “The Motive Gear engineers check each ring and pinion in their lab after 70 runs.” says Terry. “They’ve told me we could probably get 100 passes.” Anytime Terry or his fellow racers can save money while improving safety and consistency, it makes the choice on which parts to run pretty easy.
Terry McMillen embodies the spirit of persistence and drive that makes drag racing special. He races on a much tighter budget than many of his competitors do, but the support of his family, friends, fans and his sponsors make him among the richest guys at the dragstrip. Motive Gear is proud to be a part of Terry’s team.