SOME OF THE WORDS THAT HAVE BEEN USED TO DESCRIBE JOURNEYMAN TOP FUEL DRIVER TERRY MCMILLEN INCLUDE “DETERMINED,” “TENACIOUS” AND “PERSEVERING.” And after participating for many years and almost 200 races in drag racing’s premiere category, you can add “winner” to the list. As a result of a strong performance at the NHRA Toyota Nationals at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the distinctive alligator-themed Amalie Extermigator dragster earned Terry his firstever NHRA Wally.
If that isn’t enough, just prior to the race Terry tied the knot with his long-time girlfriend, Cori; so, the win was a wedding present most can only dream about.
For McMillen, who was born in Chicago but grew up in northern Indiana, the long (and hard) road to the NHRA winner’s circle began when he saved up his earnings as a paperboy and bought a ’32 Ford at the tender age of
15. With help from his dad, the McMillenprepped, Chrysler-powered Deuce made its debut at the fabled U.S. 30 drag strip in Gary, Indiana, with young Terry behind the wheel. Needless to say, he was hooked.
After matriculating at two of Indiana’s best-known institutions of higher learning, Purdue and Notre Dame Universities, Terry entered the workforce as an electrical engineer. However, the lure of the 1320 never waned.
In the ’70s he raced a small-block Chevy-powered front-engine dragster that eventually got him into the low eights, but he wanted more. So in 1978, he jumped into a Chrysler-powered nitro-burning Corvette Funny Car and hit the IHRA circuit.
Early on Terry recognized the importance of bringing marketing partners to the sport, and he devoted every minute he could spare to the pursuit of sponsorships. In fact, he sat things out for several years, only occasionally racing the flopper—now on alcohol—to maintain his racing fix.
After an abbreviated return to the sport with support from Canadian telco Mitel (which was sold), Terry finally found the
marketing partner he’d long sought in Amalie Oil. The company had earlier success in drag racing with its name emblazoned on the flanks of Texan Gene Snow’s cars, but in Terry they found someone who’d give them 110% effort from the promotional side.
Terry adopted the gator graphic theme early on, and his Alcohol Funny Car became a solid winner and fan favorite. In fact, he was named IHRA’s Sportsman of the Year in 2005. Subsequently, Terry teamed up with Paul Noakes, and in 2007, they doubled-up with Terry winning T/F and Paul the alcohol F/C title at IHRA’s Great Bend race.
This brings us to Terry’s arduous journey on the NHRA circuit, which began in earnest in 2010. After years of steady improvement, he has become a solid contender, qualifying for every race, making it to the final round three times, winning Las Vegas, and finishing in the Top Ten in 2017 Mello Yello points. Terry’s win in Vegas, at age 63, provided another highlight: becoming the oldest driver to win an NHRA national event in Top Fuel, supplanting Texas legend Eddie Hill, who was a mere 57 at his last win.
When asked what has made him a genuine threat, Terry told us, “surrounding myself with the right people.” He added, “For the first years I raced with NHRA, most everyone on the crew was part time. But now that Rob Wendland’s come aboard full-time as crew chief, we also have a full-time crew to back him up.” Terry hastened to say, “Success didn’t happen overnight. We have grown together. I believe in them.”
What’s in the future for the Hoosier Thunder team? Terry allowed that, “As great as 2017 was, our goal is to improve upon it, go more rounds and try and win more races.”
And then there’s the matter of Terry and Cori’s young son, Cameron, who’s being groomed for his first ride in a Jr. Dragster next season. The McMillen cycle can start all over again.
During the final round win at Vegas, Brittany was leading because she left early.
Terry’s first nitro ride harkens back to 1990.
Terry, Cori and crew look happy as clams following their Vegas victory.
This is one of Terry’s earliest racing ventures from the ’70s.
Then and now: Terry’s NHRA T/F ride in 2009 and his current mount.