The 2024 drag racing season unofficially kicked off last weekend in Bradenton, Florida, during the PRO Superstar Shootout, and Rick Ware Racing (RWR) served notice that the speed it displayed last season in the Mission Foods NHRA Drag Racing Series with three Top Fuel victories courtesy of driver Clay Millican would continue in 2024.
Millican promptly set fast time in the first round of qualifying at the PRO Superstar Shootout with an elapsed time of 3.688 seconds and a speed of 336.49 mph, and then remained atop the leaderboard by securing the No. 1 qualifying position. Millican advanced all the way to the final round, a stout performance that highlighted an expanded role this season by longtime partner Parts Plus on the No. 51 Top Fuel Dragster and the addition of NHRA veteran Nicky Boninfante as co-crew chief.
RWR’s first full NHRA season in 2023 featured three Top Fuel event wins – in May at Route 66 Raceway near Chicago, in July at Bandimere Speedway near Denver, and in October at World Wide Technology Raceway near St. Louis – doubling Millican’s career total in the series dating back to 1998. Millican debuted the No. 51 RWR Top Fuel Dragster in September 2022 at the NHRA U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.
The Parts Plus brand, part of the The Pronto Network, the largest and most diverse automotive program distribution group in North America, is continuing its sponsorship of the RWR organization and Millican. In addition to its NHRA program, RWR campaigns successful teams in the NASCAR Cup Series, NTT INDYCAR Series, IMSA’s Whelen Mazda MX-5 Cup, Progressive American Flat Track, and the FIM World Supercross Championship.
“Coming off of our storybook 2023 season, it’s great to continue building with Clay and Parts Plus,” said RWR team owner Rick Ware. “Parts Plus is expanding its role with RWR and we’re utilizing Clay’s popularity and fan base in other venues, as well. Clay is not only one of the greats in drag racing, he is an amazing ambassador for motorsports across all series. RWR and Parts Plus took him to his first Rolex 24 at Daytona, his first Indy 500 and his first American Flat Track race, and we have more in store for this year. Parts Plus has been an amazing marketing partner and they are spreading their wings, canvasing multiple major series around the country.”
Millican’s relationship with Parts Plus began during his part-time NHRA effort in 2011, then grew to a full-season run in 2012 when he drove for MPE Motorsports. Parts Plus joined Millican in victory lane for his first three Top Fuel event titles, the first in 2017 at Bristol (Tenn.) Dragway, and the second and third in back-to-back fashion at Heartland Park Topeka in Kansas and Route 66 Raceway the following year.
“We’re pleased to continue our long-standing partnership with Clay Millican and RWR in 2024,” said Robert Roos, president and CEO, The Pronto Network. “Coming off such an exciting and successful year, we can’t wait to see what this season has in store. Our Parts Plus stores and service centers are extremely proud to be associated with Clay and the entire RWR team.”
“It’s a thrill to have Parts Plus back for the 2024 season. They’ve helped us generate a lot of excitement over all the years we’ve been together,” said Millican, a native of Drummond, Tennessee. “It’s been a special partnership and we hope to elevate it to a whole new level. All the pieces are in place for a solid year.”
The arrival of Boninfante places the native of Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, alongside RWR crew chief Jim Oberhofer and gives the team a powerful one-two punch at the helm of the performance department. This year marks the beginning of Boninfante’s fifth decade in drag racing, the first four of which included working on back-to-back Top Fuel world championship efforts by driver Scott Kalitta in 1994 and 1995, and another with driver Del Worsham in 2015, during two separate tours of duty with Kalitta Motorsports. Most recently, Boninfante was co-crew chief for team owner Worsham on the Nitro Funny Car team driven by Alexis Dejoria from 2020 to 2023.
“Adding Nicky Boninfante to the team is the culmination of a year-long discussion between Jim Oberhofer and myself,” Ware said. “This team, as with all successful teams, is about people and team dynamics, and that is how RWR has been able to grow like it has.
“The Top Fuel field got stronger and deeper for 2024 and we’re ready to fight and battle at the first hit of the throttle. There was an extremely short list of the people who excited Jim, people he felt could fill the void of ‘that thing’ we needed as a team to take us to the next level. Nicky and Jim both have the ability to complement each other, both are leaders, and, for RWR, they have the ability to grow and help us as we expand in the NHRA arena.”
Throughout his first four decades in drag racing, Boninfante has also served in various capacities in the family business, Boninfante Friction, the sole supplier of clutch plates and accessories to NHRA teams.
“Jim and I have a long history together and that’s a big reason why I came here,” Boninfante said. “I’ve also known Clay for a long time, but never had the chance to work with him until now, so that’s exciting for me. I’m also really looking forward to working with Rick. Last year was their first full year and they won three races, so there’s already a strong foundation here. Our goal is to focus on consistency, win rounds, put ourselves in the top-five, then race for the championship come Countdown time.
“Nicky and Jim O., have had such close ties throughout their careers, and both have been successful – I look at it as a double positive. Jim is incredible with the engine of a Nitro car, and Nicky is incredible in the clutch department. Nicky’s coming off a run with an incredibly fast car for Alexis (Dejoria). He’s going to bring some different ideas from running a Funny Car all those years, so he and Jim will be a formidable pairing.”
The 21-event Mission Foods NHRA Drag Racing Series season officially begins March 7-10 with the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville (Fla.) Raceway.
Rick Ware Racing PR