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Make or B.R.A.K.E.S. Techniques

In Dalton’s Memory, Clay Millican Teams with Parts Plus to Host Teen Defensive-Driving Event Near Hometown

MILLINGTON, TENN., October 22, 2018: For Parts Plus driver Clay Millican, it was a bittersweet homecoming of sorts over the weekend, as the Tennessean returned to Memphis International Raceway, his home track and the site of some of his early IHRA triumphs and classic drag-strip duels with the likes of fellow competitive driver Doug Herbert back in the 1990s.


Little did Millican and Herbert know then how their lives would eventually be forever linked by separate tragedies and, eventually, by a shared determination to ensure others wouldn’t suffer the same losses as their respective families had endured.


On January 26, 2008, 40-year-old Herbert was in Phoenix testing, after recently tying his career-best finish with a No. 6 ranking in the NHRA’s ’07 Top Fuel standings. While Herbert and his team were miles away looking for an edge, his sons, Jon, 17, and James, 12, stayed behind at their mother’s home in Cornelius, N.C.


Doug’s oldest boy had shown a keen interest in his father’s work, as Jon had helped his dad fix up some cars the previous summer before his senior year at SouthLake Christian Academy. James also had racing in his blood, jokingly referring to himself as “Jameszilla”—his daredevil name—when he and his buddies would fearlessly attempt stunts on their skateboards, bicycles and motor bikes.


Around 10:10 a.m., the Herbert boys were traveling on a four-lane road headed east to grab breakfast, when Jon attempted to pass another vehicle using the westbound lane—against traffic—when his Mazda3 collided with a Hummer traveling west.


In an interview with The Charlotte Observer, Herbert says, “It was a Saturday morning. My older son, Jon, told James, ‘Hop in the car with me. Let’s go get a biscuit at McDonald’s.’ And they never came back. We’ve all been teenagers before. Jon was just driving too fast and too recklessly. He put other cars on the road in danger. I wish my younger son had said, ‘Hey, let me out of the car. You’re being dumb. I don’t want to drive with you.’ But kids don’t do that. They don’t want to embarrass themselves, to be called a chicken.”


Herbert’s boys are believed to have been killed instantly from the impact of the collision. Afterward, Jon’s best friend described the young man as “the best driver I know—always in control, no matter what.”


When Millican heard the heartbreaking news, he reached out to Herbert and not only offered his condolences to his former rival but also anything he could do to help. Months later, after a period of mourning, Herbert took Millican up on his offer when he started B.R.A.K.E.S. in earnest after discovering some sobering statistics from the North Carolina Highway Patrol: 50 percent of new drivers have some sort of an accident within their first month behind the wheel; teen drivers are 89 percent more likely to have an accident; drivers 16 to 19 are most likely to be involved in fatal crashes; and more than 5,000 teenagers lose their lives each year nationwide in traffic accidents.


Millican began arranging his busy schedule throughout the season, so he could appear as a special instructor for B.R.A.K.E.S. classes to help drivers 15–19 more effectively master defensive techniques to avoid traffic accidents.


“I grew up in the river bottoms, sliding on gravel behind the wheel with my daddy—heck, we did that for fun,” Millican says. “But a lot of kids don’t grow up like that so they don’t know what to do when your car starts skidding on a slick road or how to apply the brakes when another vehicle pulls out in front of you. Sometimes you begin to believe you’re invincible, teens and adults alike.


There’s no way Clay could have foreseen how his involvement with the B.R.A.K.E.S. organization would one day take a painful, personal turn. In August 2013, Millican lost a son of his own, 22-year-old pro-racer Dalton Millican, in a motorcycle accident near the family’s hometown of Drummonds, Tenn. From that moment forward, Millican’s participation with B.R.A.K.E.S.—and his message to young students taking classes—became far more personal.


At a B.R.A.K.E.S. fundraiser dinner months shortly after Dalton’s fatal accident, NHRA Pro Stock Champion Allen Johnson challenged attendees to help fund classes near the Millican family’s hometown. Millican and his wife, Donna, were pleasantly surprised when an Arizona couple, whom they had never met previously, pledged $10,000 to help pay for B.R.A.K.E.S. classes in the greater Memphis area in memory of their beloved son. That donation ensured the Memphis classes would remain free of charge, with only a refundable deposit required to reserve a spot.


“It goes to show you that even though you have dark times in your life when you feel alone, there’s always someone watching over you,” Millican says. “Dalton would be super proud.”


During B.R.A.K.E.S. classes this weekend, Millican carefully watched over local teens who got behind the wheel of modified KIA vehicles for hands-on instructions on how to avoid or react to major causes of accidents.


“My message to these kids came 100 percent from my heart,” Millican says. “I had a son who won a national championship in motocross racing and who became a Monster Truck driver. Dalton’s skill level was pretty high, so I tell these kids I don’t care how good a driver you think you are, it can happen to you.


For Herbert to be reunited with Millican at MIR under such circumstances after competing with each other on the same drag strip was very special.


“Memphis International Raceway was a great track for me throughout my Top Fuel career,” Herbert says. “Having our Teen Pro-Active Driving Program in Clay’s hometown, on this track, in honor of his son—well, let’s just take it took on even greater meaning and significance for me and everyone at B.R.A.K.E.S.”


Representatives from Memphis-based Parts Plus and its umbrella organization, the Automotive Distribution Network, were also on hand to assist in conducting free vehicle inspections for participants and those accompanying the teens to B.R.A.K.E.S. class.


“There are more than 280 million vehicles on the road today, and about 80 percent are overdue for some kind of maintenance,” explains Mark Lowry, director of commercial sales/marketing for The Network. “Folks get caught up in day-to-day living, so it’s easy to overlook things like checking your oil and other fluid levels, monitoring tire pressure, and staying aware of minor issues that could lead to big problems, or even a serious accident, down the road.


“Clay is doing his part to keep teen drivers safe. As his friend, his longtime sponsor and as a member of this community, Parts Plus wanted to support Clay in this endeavor and offer free vehicle inspections as part of the B.R.A.K.E.S. classes this weekend.


Personnel from the Millington City Fire Department also stopped by and immediately got the attention of B.R.A.K.E.S. students by demonstrating the Jaws of Life device, which is used to pry drivers and passengers from severe vehicular wreckage.


As the Parts Plus driver typically does over the course of a race weekend, Millican focused on the positive in Millington, informing his students that if they approached the four hours of B.R.A.K.E.S. instruction seriously and graduated from the class, they would drive away that day 64 percent less likely to crash their car during their first three years of driving, according to statistics.


“The more you can learn, the more prepared you are to possibly avoid a life-threatening crash,” Millican says. “My wife, Donna, and I are determined to do whatever we can to make sure something positive comes out of our family’s loss.”