While Jim McMillan knew how his 1957 Chevy handled on the street, he wanted to know how it would handle on the strip, so in 1968, he took the car with a 283 cubic-inch engine and three-speed transmission to a dragstrip near his home in Minnesota.
It ran fifteens in the quarter mile all day and all night, and it was then that McMillan decided to make a name for himself in motorsports.
He went on to own a 1964 Malibu SS, 1967 Oldsmobile 442 and 1969 Camaro Z28, and it was in the latter that he introduced himself to NHRA Stock Eliminator in 1971. Within two years, he was in a 1967 GTX belonging to his friend, Jay Smalley, in NHRA Super Stock Eliminator, while continuing to run an automotive machine shop he owned in Minnesota from 1975-1981. In 1982, however, the lure of living in a home on a lake took him from Minnesota to Cable, Wisconsin.
“I took a break from drag racing from 1975 to 2005, but for much of that time, I was racing snowmobiles on the asphalt and ice because I owned a Yamaha dealership,” said McMillan. “I ran 9.90 in the quarter-mile, and I was very competitive.”
When McMillan purchased a vacation home in Florida in 2005, he discovered Bradenton Motorsports Park.
“I went there to see if I wanted to get back into racing, and as it turned out, I did,” said McMillan, with a laugh. “So, I went bracket-racing in a 1970 El Camino with a 496 cubic-inch engine and a four-speed automatic transmission, and I ran 11.20s.”
He went on to have what he referred to as “several cars,” but in June of 2010, after a friend told him about a 1969 Camaro that was for sale in Minnesota — and how stunning it was with its original body panels, LeMans Blue paint and black vinyl top — he gave his friend money to purchase it for him without having seen it. Tucked under its hood was a 540 big-block Chevy engine and tucked under its chassis was a TH400 automatic transmission.
“The previous owner had bought the car to be a street car, but he found out that it had too much power to be a street car,” said McMillan. “We made arrangements to have the car brought to Wisconsin, and after I had a chance to look it over, I decided I wanted to run it down track, but there was no way it would pass tech. There were 39 different issues with it.”
McMillan had the car delivered to Autokraft Race Cars and Restorations in Wisconsin, which is owned by LME Street King and MagnaFuel Open Comp standout Kurt Anderson.
“Kurt installed a six-point chrome moly cage in the car with bars that swing out on both sides because at the time, we were thinking about taking the car to car shows and it would be easier to get in and out with the swing-out bars,” said McMillan. “Kurt did a great job, but when he was done and I got the car home, I noticed that the previous owner had eight feet of rubber fuel line, wiring that was not up to spec, original suspension bushings, steering tie rod ends and ball joints from 1969. I also noticed that one of the exhaust headers had been smashed completely flat to clear the steering, the motor mounts were broken and the alignment was off.”
So, McMillan installed stainless steel fuel lines, rewired the car, outfitted it with new springs, Afco shocks and Del-A-Lum bushings, as well as Calvert split mono springs.
“Around that time, I did a cylinder leakdown and a compression test on the engine to see where I stood because I really didn’t have any information on it, and it ran fairly good,” said McMilan. “I could tell it was a strong engine.”
When the car was ready to rock and roll that October, he loaded it up and headed to Rock Falls Raceway in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, which until 2015 was owned by ATI Nostalgia Super Stock, LME Street King and ProForm Rumble driver Al Corda.
“On the first pass, the vinyl roof started to lift up, and I’ll tell you, my beautiful car looked ugly with that vinyl roof lifting up,” said McMillan, who was trying drag radials rather than slicks. “I was still in love with the car though.”
After quickly — very quickly — having the troublesome vinyl roof replaced, McMillan swapped from drag radials to slicks, and took the car to Bradenton Motorsports Park, and proceeded to post stout 10.30s.
“I knew I had wiggle room at that point, so I tried 6.50 index racing,” said McMillan. “I wasn’t competitive because the rules changed, and I was running against cars that were 1,000 pounds lighter and had no wheel spin, but I still loved the 6.50 index racing, so I suffered through it for all of 2011.”
In the spring of 2012, McMillan took his engine to MAS Performance in Wisconsin to be dyno-tuned, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that it was cranking out 723 horsepower.
“It was more than I thought,” said McMillan. “But when we disassembled the engine, we found some issues, like the cam was starting to pit and the lifters were pitting, so I replaced parts and freshened everything, and sent the Dart Pro 1 heads out to be ported. When we put everything back together, we put the engine back on the dyno and it picked up to 776 horsepower.”
Around the same time, McMillan had his Turbo 400 freshened by John Freuler of Master Transmission in Minnesota, who also installed a transbrake in it. Then, that summer, he took the car back to Autokraft Race Cars and Restorations, where Anderson installed mini-tubs so that McMillan could fit 30X10.5 slicks under it and relocated the rear Afco shocks.
McMillan gave NMCA and MagnaFuel Open Comp a go in 2013 when the series swung by Bradenton Motorsports Park, and laid down 10.teens as he learned the lay of the land.
“I started to have traction issues in 2014 and the car wasn’t lifting as quickly as it should, and I found out it was the front springs and I reached out to Santhuff’s, who makes long-travel quick-lifting front springs and they helped a lot,” said McMillan, who has now run MagnaFuel Open Comp, in addition to Bracket 2, at NMCA events for several years and has jumped to 9.90s.
McMillan, who has been married for 41 years to Bonnie and has a daughter, Lisa, added that while he’s not quite sure where he wants to be competitively, he’s working on getting there, and is looking forward to the 2017 season.
Owner and driver: Jim McMillan
Hometown: Cable, Wisconsin and Palmetto, Florida
Occupation: Former owner of Lakeside Sport in Cable, Wisconsin
Class: MagnaFuel Open Comp, Bracket 2, 6.50 eighth-mile index
Crew: Robert Wilson
Engine: Big-block Chevy
Engine builder: MAS Performance in Ellsworth, Wisconsin
Block: 502 cast iron
Crank: Callies Dragon Slayer
Rods: Manley H-beam
Cylinder heads: Dart Pro 1
Valvetrain: Jesel shaft rockers
Camshaft: Solid roller
Carburetor: 1050 Dominator
Fuel brand and type: Pump gas
Headers and exhaust: Hooker Super Comp headers and Flow Master mufflers
Transmission: Turbo 400
Transmission builder: John Freuler of Master Transmission
Torque converter: PTC
Rearend: Strange 12-bolt
Body and/or chassis builder: Cage, minitubs and suspension by Kurt Anderson of Autokraft Race Cars and Restoration
Suspension (front): Santhuffs springs, Afco shocks and Del-A-Lum bushings
Suspension (rear): Calvert split mono springs and Afco shocks
Brakes (front): Wilwood disc
Brakes (rear): GM drum
Wheels (front): Billet Specialties 15X4
Wheels (rear): Billet Spectialties 15X10
Tires (front): Mickey Thompson 24 inch
Tires (rear): Hoosier slicks 30X10.5
Body modifications: Minitubs
Vehicle weight: 3235 without driver
Quickest ET: 9.91
Best 60-foot: 1.39
Fastest mph: 1.35
Feature from the Jan. 2017 Fastest Street Car written by Mary Lendzion with photography by Kevin DiOssi.