Terry McMillen knew the moment the pandemic suspended drag racing; it would have far-reaching effects. On Wednesday, McMillen revealed something he hoped wouldn’t happen.
Amalie Oil has suspended his sponsorship program, effectively putting his Top Fuel team on hold for the balance of 2020 after next weekend’s NHRA FallNationals in Dallas, Texas. He has no confirmation the program will return for 2021 at this time.
“This virus has put everybody in difficult times and the economic pressures and trying to still make bottom line, do something positive is really taken its toll on many, many companies,” McMillen explained. “I don’t even think we’ve seen the end of this. It’s just companies are struggling to survive. And even though they are a big business and sell a lot of products, when you start going down in percentages, it’s difficult. You got to look at what you got to do. I get it. It’s just business.”
In a world where McMillen admits he’s tried to control his destiny, he realizes there’s not much he can do in this instance.
“Unless I find a new marketing sponsor, I won’t be racing,” McMillen said. “This is heartbreaking. You look back, and we’ve had this 20-year relationship. Everything has been going along well. The racing has been getting better. Amalie has been getting bigger as a company, and stronger, and owning more market shares and blending facilities. And it’s been a beautiful ride. Then this pandemic showed up, and that has absolutely turned things upside down.
“It’s difficult because Amalie is a great company. And while they’re suspending my contract indefinitely, it’s definitely not for good, but certainly, this is going to have an impact. All my employees who I love, it hurts me to have to even have to explain to them what’s going to happen and how it’s going to go down. I’m still reeling it in. We were shocked, but I can’t say anything negative about Amalie in any way. They’ve been a great company. I will continue to support them because I believe that as this clears up there’ll be another day for us to come back. That’s what we’re hopeful of.”
McMillen said he understands the situation Amalie faces, and really cannot blame them.
“I think this is the times that we’re in,” McMillen said. “You look at, like in AMALIE’s case, 63% of the people are not driving today. They’re working from home. So what does that mean? Well, obviously, they’re not selling oil. And then when you look at maybe other venues that we sell oil and that’s been negative or very slow, it just makes you become concerned and started putting your company in a safeguard mode. I can’t fault them for that. I honestly, I can’t. I guess because I’ve been so involved within Amalie over the years, I understand 100% where they’re coming from. I understand what they’re going through. It was a very difficult situation for them to even have to come to me and tell me that this is what’s going to happen.”
McMillen said his partnership with Amalie had been more than just a signed contract for a marketing agreement.
“I can tell you honestly that there was tears on both sides because the relationship is bigger than that for us because it’s been a family,” McMillen explained. “There have been synergies that we had both personally and in the business. I think that ultimately if that keeps that company going and then employees keep working, there’s going to be another day for us. I’m convinced of that.”
The relationship of two decades, and the support through the difficult times is something McMillen will never forget.
“I’m going to be in their corner all the way, and I’m going to help them all the way because that’s just what family does for each other,” McMillen said. “When finances get back to a safe zone again, and that they don’t have to ever worry about having to lay off employees or something like that, because that’s the ones that keep me out here is every employee in there working, building this product, and shipping it out, and the customers buying it. That’s what keeps us out here. And when that tide turns to such a drastic measure, then we got to do what we got to do. And unfortunately, it is what it is.”
McMillen understands Amalie could have pulled the plug on the program a lot earlier, and he believes this says a lot about the integrity of the independently-owned, family-based oil company.
“While this whole epidemic was at its peak and race teams were laying their employees off, and cutting wages, and doing all those things, Amalie paid to keep my employees working. My guys never lost a day of work. My team never lost one day of work. They were paid, and they were working, and it really helped our team, all the things that they did, all the great things they did. But ultimately, that’s a company right there that doesn’t foresee this happening because they were behind us supporting us when they could’ve just shut the door back then. But just to show the integrity of such a great company, they paid all the wages all the way through, no hiccups, no nothing. And that just shows you the quality of the company.”
Right now, McMillen said at this point; he is in limbo to the point he cannot make plans for 2021.
“The thing that I’m very scared of is that because I’m not going to be able to keep my team intact because obviously, the loss of income, they’re all going to have the chance to go anywhere they want,” McMillen admitted. “That’s unfortunate because I have the best team that I’ve ever had. And I had the best future that I’ve ever had. And the car and everything was just going in the right direction. So what’s really hard for me is that the relationship with my team, it just every individual is important to me. Rob Wendland and his family are important to me. And it’s personal because they’re my extended family. Without them, there is no Terry McMillen racing.
“The tough part about this is that what I’m hoping for is that short-term, we’re able to put a deal together with somebody to keep us out there. Maybe start in March next year, whenever the schedule comes out and start then.”
McMillen understands setbacks all too well, unfortunately. He’s had a few along the road in his career, but this time takes adversity to a whole new level.
“It’s scary because everything I have is located in Indianapolis,” McMillen explained. “I’m not going to be able to afford to continue to pay that rent down there in that building. So now I need to move everything back up to my house. And it’s just really going to be very difficult for me and my team because I love those guys to death, and I wouldn’t be here without them. What I’m hopeful of is that in the next week to two weeks, I’m able to find somebody that’s willing to work with our team and give us the funding that we need to go out there.”
“And then when AMALIE comes back if that partner is still there, they will stay there and we can either A, share the car together or B, I will do whatever I have to do at that point. But ultimately, I think with the virus, hopefully, the election can clear some of it up, but ultimately, companies just got to start making money. There’s too many good businesses closing, too many good people getting hurt in situations like this. And it’s just unfortunate. There’s just no way to recover from that.”
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