No hard feelings after departure of NHRA tuner David Grubnic from Clay Millican team
David Grubnic emerged from an NHRA Top Fuel driving hiatus to become one of the class’ brightest and most effective tuners. This year he has orchestrated Clay Millican’s best NHRA season and kept Millican the only one who could stay close to steamroller Steve Torrence through the Countdown to the Championship.
But following the penultimate race of the season at Las Vegas two weeks ago, Millican’s Stringer Performance team dropped a bombshell that it is bringing in Mike Kloeber as crew chief starting in 2019. It made no mention of Grubnic. So naturally, the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series community has been buzzing about the circumstances that might be in play as Millican will rejoin Kloeber, who tuned him to six consecutive IHRA series championships.
Team owner Doug Stringer said Friday during the Auto Club NHRA Finals at Pomona, Calif., that Grubnic’s departure from the Parts Plus / Great Clips / Strutmaster Dragster was the crew chief’s choice and a natural by-product of the sport.
“Nothing happened . . . Evolution, life,” he said. “It was a mutual agreement. Everything was mutual.”
Stringer and race-team partner Scott Gardner said they don’t know what team Grubnic is headed to, and no announcement has emerged following news of the change last week.
“We hired David four years ago, and he started out as a crew chief for us. At the time he wasn’t working, so we were very fortunate to hire him on here and to help develop and build a system to operate our race car. He had aspirations of being a fulltime NHRA Top Fuel crew chief. We had aspirations of being an NHRA Top Fuel race team. It all fit together very well,” Stringer said.
“We didn’t buy a tune-up from anybody. We developed this model and a tune up for this race car as an individual race team on our own,” he said. “It has been really successful. David’s been really successful.
Four years is a long time in the motorsport’s arena. David’s got a lot of opportunities out there, where [he] can take what [he has] learned here and the experience gained here and help mold more of a future for [himself],” he said. “And with that is economics. We strongly believe that every individual that ever works for us should better themselves at any opportunity there is in life. And so he has an opportunity to better his position, to better himself as an individual by progressing in the sport to a larger opportunity.”
Stringer said Grubnic “actually has refused one [offer] last year to stay with us for a year, and we’ve talked numerous times about ‘Don’t do that again, because it’s about your individual life, too.’ So it’s just time. It’s time for us to evolve into another program, another team with new people. We’ve taken on two business partners with J.J. Koehler and Scott Gardner, and it’s time for this program to grow, and for life to go on.
“We’re excited for what the future holds for us,” Stringer said. “There’s a long relationship between Mike [Kloeber] and Clay, so there’s a huge comfort level there. Mike’s got some unfinished business out here, as does Clay. People say, ‘Wow, they’re changing crew chiefs, their direction.’ Yes, people are moving on and people are moving in, but our direction is to win the championship next year.”
Gardner said the proof is that “Mike’s here this weekend and David’s here. I mean, obviously you would never have, if there was a problem there wouldn’t be the two guys here at the same time. I think Doug said it perfectly and eloquently that it was an opportunity for David. And what’s really important for us. We want to build people. Every business that I’ve owned, whether it was my racetracks or when I was at the IHRA, we built teams of people. And sometimes people would go somewhere and you would miss them, but you knew it was better for them and that’s really what we’re about. Yeah, we want to win the championship, but we want our people to succeed. The last thing we want to do is stop or hold people from their opportunities. So, I think it’s great for us. We feel very happy with what we have going on. It’s some exciting stuff and I think it’s going to be great for David and the guys that are going to leave with him.”
Promised Stringer, “No hurt feelings. No hard feelings anywhere. My feelings aren’t hurt. I’m excited for their successes. I’m excited to see where they go in life.”