INDIANAPOLIS — Fresh off the best season of his NHRA Top Fuel career, Clay Millican is getting some reinforcements heading into the new season.
Longtime team owner Doug Stringer has sold two-thirds of the Stringer Performance team to former IHRA President Scott Gardner and J.J. Koehler.
The team will operate as the Straightline Strategy Group and has also formed a marketing alliance with teams at different levels of the sport and hired industry veteran Steven Cole as its vice president of marketing and strategy.
It was announced several weeks ago that Millican will be reunited with crew chief Mike Kloeber, with whom he enjoyed tremendous success in the past. The pair dominated the IHRA Top Fuel ranks for nearly a decade.
SSG will also manage the McLeod Racing Funny Car team for veteran driver Paul Lee, who will return to the seat with a limited schedule this season under the leadership of crew chief Jim Oberhofer, who will split his time between assisting Kloeber on Millican’s machine and leading Lee’s effort.
As part of the marketing alliance, NHRA Pro Stock racer Matt Hartford and his Total Seal Camaro, Street Outlaw racer Jeff Lutz and Pro Harley rider Janette Thornley will also operate under the SSG banner.
“Simply put, there is strength in diversity and numbers as it concerns marketing partners,” Cole explained. “We can bring expanded exposure opportunities through multiple major platforms (classes) in drag racing that will no doubt prove beneficial for sponsors.”
Millican is understandably stoked about the changes to his team.
“This is just a great opportunity for me and Doug to keep doing what we do,” he said. “We kind of grew the family a little bit, which is great. I have known Scott and J.J. for a long, long time. It’s cool that they wanted to grow the whole thing, which in turn gives me a Doug a chance to win more races and hopefully win that NHRA championship.
“It’s good people coming together, with everyone working toward winning that championship.”
Lee will return to competition this season after missing two years recovering from a heart attack.
“I’m thankful that I am here. Two years ago, when I got home from this show I had a heart attack, 100 percent heart failure,” Lee explained. “I wasn’t thinking about racing, I was just happy to be here. But now after a lot of rehab, two years later I am back.
“I realized how much I missed drag racing,” he added. “NHRA drag racing is truly a family. That’s what I missed. Driving the car is a lot of fun, don’t get me wrong, but it’s all the people that make NHRA so great.”
Oberhofer, meanwhile, thought he was finished with drag racing when he left Kalitta Motorsports earlier this fall.
“I had 31 great years at Kalitta Motorsports. I was blessed to have those opportunities,” Oberhofer said. “I owe a lot to Connie Kalitta. When I left Kalitta Motorsports, I was done racing. I started the very next day working on my next endeavor down in Texas, where I am going to own a chain of Victory Lane quick change oil centers.
“Then I get a phone call from Doug Stringer and he started talking to me about this program that is going on … and then Paul Lee – one of my best friends out here – and he’s a bad-ass Funny Car driver,” Oberhofer added. “I started thinking about this. I told Doug that I was doing this business thing and he said it’s no problem, that I could do that too. So, it is kind of like I get to have my cake and eat it too.
“NHRA drag racing is a drug. You can’t get rid of it, and as much as I thought I could, you get sucked back in.”
SSG also announced the hiring of Misty Starkweather as hospitality director.