It’s been a little over five months since Terry McMillen claimed his first NHRA win, and the Chicago native believes he’s just getting started.

McMillen, a team owner and driver of the Amalie Motor Oil Top Fuel Dragster, is hoping to build on the momentum from his first win at last fall’s NHRA Toyota Nationals at his sponsor’s race — the 49th Gatornationals, beginning today and running through Sunday at Gainesville Raceway.

Demonstrating the capabilities of the XTERMIGATOR dragster Wednesday at the Holiday Inn University Center, McMillen affirmed his belief that his best performances on the track are ahead of him.

“The one thing that we’re here to do is win,” McMillen said. “That’s what you prepare for all year long, is to come out and compete at every race.”

McMillen’s crew dismantled the hot rod before reassembling it — something that’s done before each event — for the crowd of spectators, giving those in attendance a front-row view of just how much work goes into each race.

“The unique thing with the Top Fuel cars is that when we make a run, we come back and we disassemble the motor,” McMillen said. “We take the pistons out, the heads off, the blowers, the clutch is out, and we’ll re-build it. Forty minutes later we’re ready to run the car again. Most people can’t even change their spark plugs that quick, so I have a really great team that performs all that service. That’s what makes our sport so unique. It’s like poetry in motion.”

McMillen had a shot at winning Gatornationals in 2016, as the 63-year-old competitor found himself in the final round before Brittany Force narrowly claimed the Wally trophy. Force would go on to defend her world championship in the sport, yet McMillen and Co. believe some critical changes to the dragster by Amalie Motor Oil’s Top Fuel team could leave the competition in the rearview come Sunday.

“You really have to trust the team,” he said. “I have to trust the guys and gals behind my team, and because without them, who knows what would happen? I just know that every time they put this car together, they’re giving me the best equipment and the best opportunity to go out there and win. So that certainly adds confidence as a driver and just lets us build momentum.”

With the event being the third of 24 races in the 2018 season, Gatornationals gives McMillen an opportunity to create some separation in a Top Fuel class that is fraught with talent behind the wheel. And McMillen, a former electrical engineer now wrapping up a decade behind the wheel in the Top Fuel series, has a personal goal in mind — his first career run in the 3.60s is a possibility, which didn’t seem realistic several years ago.

“I think you’ll see a lot of records fall, just because of the conditions,” McMillen said. “The conditions are going to be amazing this weekend. It’s going to be a little cooler than normal, it’s going to be dry. So that means we’re going to make a lot more horsepower.”

His start to the NHRA season puts McMillen’s expectations in perspective. At the NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, California, in February, McMillen finished seventh despite a first-round loss to Tony Schumacher, who stands as the winningest racer in NHRA history. But McMillen only narrowly missed matching his career best time of 3.723, and he set a career mph record when the beams registered 328.09 mph. If anything set him back, however, it was a mechanical failure — a broken wrist pin in his fourth qualifying attempt cost McMillen and the team a broken engine and blower, setting them up for elimination. Even so, he still managed a 3.752 elapsed time that came in at 328.06 mph — a better mark than any performance in 2017. So it’s easy to see why McMillen believes his best performances on the track are still in store, starting with a showcase he believes is one of the circuit’s premier events.

“We’ve been on a tear. Last year was our best year ever. We had some goals — that was qualifying in the top 10, to win a race and to qualify at all the races. And we did just that,” McMillen said. “So we’ve obviously elevated our goal a little bit. We want to win a couple more races, and certainly we were here in the final round two years ago, so what better place to start it off than Gainesville?”