POMONA, Calif. (Jan. 26, 2000) -- Cory McClenathan believes the old adage, "Time flies when you're having fun," yet finds it difficult to fathom that the 2000 National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) season will be his 10th as a Top Fuel driver. ...
POMONA, Calif. (Jan. 26, 2000) -- Cory McClenathan believes the old adage, "Time flies when you're having fun," yet finds it difficult to fathom that the 2000 National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) season will be his 10th as a Top Fuel driver. "I guess it's a milestone year for me as a professional driver," he said, "but it really doesn't feel like I've raced for nine years. Everything has gone by so fast." What else would you expect from McClenathan, who makes his living driving the Joe Gibbs-owned MBNA dragster? He was, for example, the first to exceed 320 mph (321.77 mph, in 1997). He's also put up some very impressive numbers since 1991:
· Has qualified for 157 consecutive races, currently the best in a very competitive Top Fuel field;
· Won 24 races - third-best all-time in his category;
· Finished second in the point standings four times in the 1990s ('92, '95, '97, '98);
· Tied Top Fuel records in 1997 for most consecutive wins (4), most consecutive final rounds (6) and most season wins (6). He also won six times in 1998;
· Owns a .645 round-wins percentage;
· Won two U.S. Nationals titles (1999, 1996).
There is just one thing missing from that bulging resume - an NHRA Winston Series championship. McClenathan would like to rectify that during the 23-race 2000 season, which gets under way with the AutoZone Winternationals, Feb. 3-6, at Pomona Raceway. He has a new crew chief (Wes Cerny, who filled the same position with Gibbs' Funny Car in 1998-99), crew and racecar ready for battle. "We are focused on winning the championship this year," said McClenathan. "This is what I want, what Wes wants, what Joe Gibbs and MBNA want. I know Wes is going to give me a quick, fast racecar." Cerny, returning to Top Fuel tuning for the first time since 1997, sent McClenathan on preseason test runs at Phoenix and Tucson, searching for a combination that will make the team a bona fide title contender. "Considering the things Wes was working with - the new NHRA fuel rule (limiting the nitromethane fuel to a 90 percent mixture), the motor combination and a new racecar, we were pleased with testing results," McClenathan said. "He made a lot of combination changes to see how the engine and car responded. "We'll definitely have to lean on the car when we get to Pomona, but our goal during testing was to get down the track without hurting any parts and get adjusted to the 90-percent fuel mixture," he added. "We were mostly working on our 60-foot and half-track numbers." McClenathan and Cerny believe they will improve upon 1999's ninth-place finish. "We won six races in both 1997 and 1998 and finished second to Gary Scelzi each time," McClenathan noted, "so we had higher aspirations in mind last year. It looks like there is going to be a lot of close competition out there. I look for Joe Amato, Tony Schumacher, Gary Scelzi and Kenny Bernstein - just to name a few - to be in the mix, and I expect us to be in that mix too." As for his past, McClenathan doesn't dwell on it, but he does think about it sometimes. "Once in a while, when I see what we've accomplished in nine years - and I do mean we, because you are only as good as the people you surround yourself with - I know I've been blessed," he commented. "I've been very fortunate to have good crew chiefs (Wayne Dupuy, Jimmy Prock, Lee Beard, Mike Green, Rick Cassel, Jim Brissette and Cerny), good crews, good sponsors (McDonald's and MBNA) and worked for good people (his parents, Larry Minor and Joe Gibbs). You need all that to be successful. "I remember winning my first race, 1992 at Memphis Motorsports Park, and finishing second to Amato in the standings by the slimmest of margins, 92 points. I remember when I wrecked our car pretty good at Rockingham, N.C., in 1993 and burned my hands pretty good, too. And I remember thinking at the time that I was going to have a pretty short career if I kept doing things like that. "Fortunately I haven't," he concluded, "and now I'm ready for another season. Maybe this one will bring us a championship."