Six-time IHRA Top Fuel Champion Clay Millican recently visited the COMP Cams headquarters in Memphis. Millican is a long-time COMP Cams supporter and a proud Tennessee native who enjoys stopping by to hang out. This particular visit was a special one for COMP, as he spent the afternoon giving the Tech Support Staff a rousing motivational speech followed by a question & answer session and sharing his thoughts on his forthcoming 2016 racing season.
Clay was born and raised in Drummonds, Tennessee, and spent his childhood dreaming of drag racing. He got his first race car at 16 and continued to race in the Sportsman ranks as he married and began a career driving a forklift at the local Kroger distribution warehouse. He often called upon COMP Cams and TCI for technical help, eventually earning a minor sponsorship deal with TCI.
“Raymond King of TCI allowed me to carry a TCI display to the tracks,” he says. “In return I would set it up in my pit area and if a guy needed to return a converter for repairs, I’d carry it back home with me. That relationship with TCI covered my gas and travel, and taught me early on how important a sponsorship relationship could be. I was the face of TCI at the tracks, and conducted myself as such.”
TCI was purchased by Fel-Pro during this time, and, though unbeknownst to him at the time, this venture would greatly affect Clay’s life forever.
“I began bringing both a TCI and a Fel-Pro display with me as I raced,” he says. “One day I was introduced to a young guy named Peter Lehman. Though he wasn’t a car guy, Peter’s father owned Fel-Pro. I was my usual polite self and didn’t put much thought into the meeting until Raymond King gave me his phone number a few weeks later, with the message that he wanted to speak with me.”
Upon phoning Peter, he learned that he was in college and wanted to write a nonfiction story on what it takes to go drag racing. With his next race in North Carolina, Clay said he’d pick Peter up at the Charlotte airport and go from there. Peter said no, he wanted to fly to Memphis so he could see the entire process.
He did just that, and Clay says he asked hours of “why questions.” Why was he spending all of his money to go racing, why did he push so hard, why did he chase his passion so hard, and why was he doing all of this with no foreseeable profit or reward in sight? In short Clay told him that one day he wanted to drive a Top Fuel car. Though young Peter didn’t exactly know what a Top Fuel car was, he was inspired by Clay’s enthusiasm, and even more so after Clay won his Modified Eliminator class that weekend. For the record, Peter earned a B on the paper.
A few years later Peter called Clay to invite him to drive a Top Fuel Car for him. One of his college classes had been a business class and, inspired by Clay’s class win and passion, he’d written a business plan on how to earn a living drag racing. Clay says they followed the plan, and made changes as reality happened, but they were very successful.
Clay shared another story of a man who walked through the pits in flip flops and casual shorts. Clay was his usual polite self as they chatted lightly, and three years later that man in the flip flops ended up purchasing the racing team, enabling him to continue his career as a Top Fuel driver.
The relevance of these two particular stories were conveyed to the Tech Support Staff to remind them that you truly never know who might be on the other end of the phone, or who they might meet at an event. COMP Cams is famous for its outstanding customer service, and reaffirming the basics is always a pleasant reminder of what it takes to honor that legacy.
Another story revolved around COMP’s involvement and participation in staying on the forefront of technology. Clay and Leslie “Buggy” Johnson, COMP’s Tech Office Manager, have been lifelong friends, and Clay knew he needed Buggy on his race team. Buggy was working at COMP at the time. Clay asked COMP Cams owner Scooter Brothers if he would let Buggy go, to which Scooter agreed.
“To my surprise he said ok,” Clay says. “He then added that in a few years when Buggy was done racing he would come back a better employee, so instead of getting mad, as I expected, he was wise enough to let him go.” Their relationship helped both parties, as Buggy was a great teammate, and his connection with COMP helped them all learn more and further the technology in Top Fuel valve trains.
“After every run many things are replaced,” Clay says. “The heads, rods and the pistons all come out. Unless you drop a piston the only two constants are the crank and camshaft. Valve train technology is crucial and nitro engines are completely different than gas. Over the years we’ve worked together to make great strides in both horsepower and durability, and I’ve always felt good because I’ve personally been with COMP, and using their products since I learned to drive and race all those years ago. They are like family, and they are some of the most talented people in the industry.”
The visit was a nice surprise for the guys, and Clay’s infectious energy was contagious.Clay even shared what it’s like to launch his dragster around 4Gs, and then have it pull to over 6 when the clutches fully hook up a few hundred feet out! The group took turns asking questions and getting advice, as well as sharing a few bench racing stories. Like much of life, it’s the people who make things great, and drag racing truly is a better place with guys like Clay Millican. It’s as much fun for COMP as it is for him whenever he stops by!