Cory McClenathan - Gatornationals Preview

Patient McClenathan Optimistic With New Combination GAINESVILLE, Fla. March 12, 1999 - In a sport where quickness and speed are paramount, sometimes it's difficult to take things slowly. Such is the quandary facing Cory McClenathan and the...

Patient McClenathan Optimistic With New Combination

GAINESVILLE, Fla. March 12, 1999 - In a sport where quickness and speed are paramount, sometimes it's difficult to take things slowly.

Such is the quandary facing Cory McClenathan and the Joe Gibbs-owned MBNA Top Fuel team.

When the 1999 NHRA season began, McClenathan and crew chief Mike Green knew the changes made to the dragster - new clutch system, a reworked, higher front end and other new parts - necessitated a setup as different as the parts themselves. A new combination wasn't going to happen overnight.

Two races into the schedule, McClenathan finds himself sixth in Winston Series points with 106, 89 behind first-place Mike Dunn going into the Mac Tools Gatornationals, March 19-21, at Gainesville Raceway.

A year ago, McClenathan came to Gainesville following an impressive win at Phoenix, where he registered what was then the sport's fastest speed, 322.92 mph. Although he was upset in the first round of the Gatornationals, McClenathan went on to win six races and finish second to champion Gary Scelzi for the second straight year.

The engine-clutch combination Green used then is no longer viable; hence the cautious approach to the new setup.

"We haven't done well at Gainesville. I've never been to the finals there," McClenathan said. "On the other hand, we know we're onto something with our new combination. It's just one of those things. We could turn it around and run great at Gainesville."

McClenathan has been competitive in his first two outings, running 4.63 seconds at Pomona, Calif., in the first race and 4.583 at 318.92 mph at Phoenix. He qualified eighth at both races and lost to the No. 1 qualifier each time (Mike Dunn and Joe Amato), and each driver went on to win the event.

"It's early in the year. We have to look down the road and try to forget counting (series) points right now," said McClenathan. "We are about five- hundredths (of a second) off what the top cars are running, and no one has come close to running the 330.23 mph that Tony Schumacher ran at Phoenix.

"One of the good things is we aren't blowing up any parts. Mike [Green] is working to step up the pace. We need to be able to run in the mid 4.50s at 320 mph consistently to win races."

Dunn, for example, won the Winternationals with runs in the low 4.50s and Amato won in Phoenix with runs in the mid 4.50s. And Schumacher's speed is the NHRA's fastest. The previous best was Gary Scelzi's 326.44 mph.

McClenathan credits perfecting the five-disc clutch with driving the times lower and the speeds higher. "It has made a huge difference," he said. "We aren't where we want to be with it yet. When you change one thing like the clutch, you have to change the entire combination. Throw in the changes to the front end and it definitely takes a while to find the right combination."

The MBNA team will have four qualifying opportunities to test its new setup - 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday - before Gatornationals eliminations begin Sunday at 11 a.m.

Cory Mac At A Glance

1999 Top Fuel Record Standing: 6th, 53 points Round Record: 2W -2L Quickest ET: 4.583, Phoenix. Fastest Speed: 318.92 mph, Phoenix

Career Top Fuel Record First Season: 1991 Races: 146 Wins: 22 (tied for third in all-time Top Fuel victories) Runners-up: 12 Last Win: Oct. 17, 1998, Topeka Last Final: Oct. 17, 1998, Topeka No. 1 Qualifier: 24 times Last No. 1 Qualifier: 1998, Brainerd Qualifying Streak: 137 consecutive races he has entered. Last time he did not qualify was September, 1991, at the U.S. Nationals Quickest E.T.: 4.559, 1998, Houston I Fastest Speed: 322.92, 1998, Phoenix Best Season Finish: 2nd - '92, '95, '97, '98

Personal Age: 36 Birthdate: Jan. 30, 1963 Residence: Anaheim, Calif. Children: Courtney (10/25/90)

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Series NHRA
Drivers Mike Dunn , Tony Schumacher , Joe Amato , Gary Scelzi , Cory McClenathan , Cory Mac