'I love it up here'

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, Last Updated: 7:37 AM ET

Maybe it's because Terry McMillen sees the best of us. We wait a long winter for it, and when the weather turns nice, Albertans are as nice as people can be.

"Ever since they moved the Nitro event here, we've been here," said the Chicago- born, Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin-based, drag racer known as Gator.

"I'd move here, except the winters are too cold for me," he said, barelling out a big laugh. "But I love it up here and we've had tremendous luck."

Enough that the IHRA stalwart is always willing to give up a July 4 weekend in his homeland to keep the Rocky Mountain Nationals on his schedule.

"This is the event to come to. The fans are just incredible. The week I was heading up here I received over 200 e-mails from fans up here already."

Helps when you're the defending Top Fuel champ at the event.

"I'm hoping we can capitalize and go out there and win our second Top Fuel and have a back-to-back, because I don't know what that's like yet. But I believe this is a race we can do that at.

"I think what drives you here is the fans, the dedication," McMillen said. "I was here a couple of years ago and the rain came down hard and yet we still continued to get the race in. The bleachers were full. The fans never left."

But the team co-owner (with wife Rhonda) began to feel his double-duty on the track was 'two' much.

"Last year I drove the alcohol Funny Car and the Fuel car. But it was kind of hard for me to take care of the sponsors and all that the way I believe I need to. So we kind of looked through the guys that we thought were really talented and Paul ... he was the best leaver in the business in that class, so it just made sense that we put something together.

"With Les Mellows and Paul and that crew, we certainly have an opportunity."

The Paul he is referring to is London, Ont., racer Paul Noakes. He's a "rookie" pro in IHRA and is behind the wheel of McMillen's popular InstiGator with its scales and fangs paint job.

"This is actually my 21st year racing alcohol Funny Cars," Noakes said.

The mechanic and auto teacher described himself as a "hobby guy" who'd "compete as much as we can," until a couple of seasons ago.

He hooked up with Mellows and things clicked.

"It really stepped up my performance." Noakes said. "Which then had people looking at (us) with a car that used to be a mediocre car and was now one of the top-of-the-class cars - on as small a budget as is out there.

"Terry started considering being a full-time Top Fuel pilot (and) he was trying to get (Les) to come over.

"Somehow I got thrown into the deal and now I've got this opportunity

"Les informed me, and I knew what Terry was doing. It's not like he was a real high-paid crew chief working for me. We did something with very little and made it live and run real quick.

"To have that opportunity for Les ... we've been best of friends for years. The way we bicker, you might even say we're brothers. So it's awesome that we're sticking together. And the car needed a couple of crew guys so it ended up that I brought my whole team over."

The start has been a learning curve for both Noakes and his boss.

"No one has has ever driven (my car) before and I have to tell you, it's really weird standing on the outside of your own car," said McMillen.

"I've never seen it go down the track before!"


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