Cory McClenathan Interview 1999-09-23

CORY McCLENATHAN TELECONFERENCE MBNA/Pontiac Top Fuel Dragster TOPEKA, Kan. (September 23, 1999) - Cory McClenathan drives the MBNA/Pontiac Top Fuel Dragster on the 22-event NHRA Winston championship schedule. He is a member of the Joe...


TOPEKA, Kan. (September 23, 1999) - Cory McClenathan drives the MBNA/Pontiac Top Fuel Dragster on the 22-event NHRA Winston championship schedule. He is a member of the Joe Gibbs Racing team that also fields the Interstate Batteries Pontiac Firebird Funny Car driven by Tommy Johnson Jr.

Since 1991 when he first competed in the class, McClenathan has established for himself a winning reputation finishing in the top 10 every year with his best seasons coming in 1992, 1995 and 1997-98 when he finished second in the points standings. That experience will come in handy during the final months of this year's campaign as the war for the Top Fuel championship is shaping up to be one of the hardest fought battles in NHRA history. Coming into Topeka, any one of the drivers in the Winston top 10 has a legitimate shot at claiming the title with the spread from first place to 10th place a mere 168 points (or less than nine rounds of competition). With 20 potential rounds of competition remaining, McClenathan lurks behind the front runners in seventh place with 964 points, just 126 points behind points leader Tony Schumacher who has 1090. McClenathan is looking to repeat at Topeka where he is defending champion and where he experienced similar success in 1994. This season Cory Mac has a pair of wins at the Pennzoil Nationals in Richmond and the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis. He has 24 career victories which places him third on the NHRA's list for all-time wins by a Top Fuel driver.

The 11th annual Advance Auto Parts Nationals is the 18th race on the 22-event NHRA Winston championship schedule. Television coverage of qualifying highlights can be seen on Speedvision on Saturday, October 2, beginning at 8 p.m. Eastern. First-round coverage can be seen on Speedvision on Sunday, October 3, beginning at 2 p.m. Eastern, and final-round coverage will be telecast on FOX Sports starting at 5 p.m. (local time). Check your local listings for specific play dates and times in your area.

Is the team capable of putting together the kind of streak you had in 1997? "I think we're capable of doing that. Right now it would only take a streak of two races. If we could go out and win two of the last five races, and then just stay in until the semi-finals, then I think we could actually win this championship. There are seven to 10 other guys who are thinking the same thing. Because we've been in this position before, and been in a tight points challenge, it's a little bit easier for me to do this because I've been there time and time again. It may be weighing on some of the other drivers who have never been in this position. Tony's (Schumacher) in a great position as far as leading the race right now, but it's going to get really tough on the drivers, mentally more than anything else. I think that we might have a little bit better attitude there as far as our team goes, but then again we need to be consistent to win those races and that's what we're after."

Topeka has been a good race track for you. "Yeah, it really has. I've had great success there. Last year with the final round being at two o'clock in the morning, that was one of the strangest races that I've ever had, but interesting all the same. The weather played it's role, and hopefully we won't see any rain there this time. But you never know what you're going to have when you get to some of these racetracks. We've been plagued by different weather at every racetrack this year, so that's up to God and the clouds above. But I tell you one thing, I'm excited about going to Topeka. I feel like the last few races we've had here have been strong races for myself and my team."

Coming off the high of winning Indy, is there a little mental let down that you guys can pick up going into Topeka? "Mentally and physically, Indy really renewed our whole team. We have struggled this year there's no doubt about it. By this time last year we had already won five or six races and we were much better off in the points race. We're going to see a title chase this year that's going down in the history books. It's so competitive and there's so much parity in the class right now. People say that Pro Stock is a tough class, but with all these Top Fuel cars running this close together, and the points being what they are, this is incredible. Right now, I feel that we have a little bit of an edge in certain areas. For one, we have three brain trusts on our team with Wes Cerny, Jim Brissette and Rick Cassel, that I think are all great, and I believe in all of them. On the other hand, we're coming off a win, everybody's a little more rejuvenated, Tommy Johnson won this last weekend, and I'm happy for them also. That's what is nice about having a teammate. I didn't have such a good weekend and he did great. When he doesn't have such a good weekend, I did well in Indy. It's a give and take. But I think we can get on a roll here. I feel good about things, I feel good about my driving, and the guys on my team are some of the best."

When you battle with consistency, does that affect the way you approach the car? "You will find yourself second guessing sometimes and that's the nature of the beast - it just happens. It will get in your head, and you'll start to wonder about certain areas of the track whether you feel something like a vibration, or you feel that the car is letting you down on one part of the track or another. That all has to do with track conditions and what they're like when we get to a specific track. At Topeka I never have to worry about that. It's awesome on the starting line, it's awesome in the middle of the track, and it's going to be great at the top end, so that won't play on my mind. On the other hand, when the car's struggling a little bit, I find myself having to reach down a little bit deeper, and maybe having to come up with a good light to hopefully try and win on a holeshot. As a driver, it gives me more of an edge. I like to have the pressure because I always feel that I do a better job of driving with the pressure. If we were running two-tenths quicker than everybody, then maybe I might get too lax and make a mistake. I'm hoping that's not going to happen."

Does having your teammate win actually pick you up going into the next event? "Even though we have different main sponsors with MBNA on my car and Interstate Batteries on his Firebird, we both have a lot of the same associate sponsors on both cars, so it helps us all the way around. Not only does he make me look good by winning, and I make him look good by winning, but it brings the whole team back together. If you're ever in our pits, and you're watching what's going on, when I got ready to go into the final at Indy, all of the Interstate Batteries guys were over working on my car. Last weekend, when they needed help, and they were in a rush, all of my guys on the MBNA/Pontiac Top Fueler were over there helping Tommy. As far as Tommy and I, we pump each other up. We talk to each other every single round, and we play off of each other. We both want to do well, and we both are very competitive that's for sure. I raced Tommy for a lot of years in Top Fuel and in Alcohol. I think we just play off each other and that's a good thing."

Have you made any changes with your driving style? "I think now I've had to learn how to catch it quicker. Before, if the car would rattle with the four-disc clutch, I wouldn't be as concerned about pedaling it right away because it would drive through it sometimes. Now if it shutters at all, if it gives me any vibration, I have to pedal it right away. I mean it happens so quick that you have to make the decision to do it or not do it. Sometimes it will drive through a little bit of shake, but if you're not right on top of it, and you don't get it quick, it goes into tire smoke fast. Then the rpms come up, it over revs the motor and will hurt the motor. I feel that I've had to become a little sharper on my game at pedaling the car. If you talk to most drivers, I think they will tell you the same thing. I've talked to Gary Scelzi about it, I've talked to Bob Vandergriff about it and we all pretty much feel the same way. The same with Mike Dunn. But with Mike, he grabs the brake. There are two ways to fix this. Grab the brake and slow the wheel speed down, or pedal the car, and it stops the clutch from engaging farther and maybe you can catch it."

Doesn't the tight points battle keep the fans involved? "It really does. I opened up my web site this year at, and the people that visit the site, or send mail to my shop in Anaheim are so excited about how things are going and the tight points battle. If I see someone on the street, or if I'm having lunch somewhere, someone will come up and say, 'Indy was great but I can't believe how close the points are.' It's very exciting and I think we're going to bring the house down. I have a feeling that in Pomona there will still be four or five of us left that can win the championship. That's an awesome thing to see. Can you imagine coming down to the very last round at Pomona to decide the Winston Top Fuel points chase? I think that's a neat thing."

Is there any particular reason why this year is so close? "Other than Joe Amato winning as many races as he has this year, if you look back at the last couple of years, Joe would win a few, Gary (Scelzi) and I won six, and now you're not seeing that. You're seeing some different names stepping up. Mike Dunn has done a fantastic job with the Mopar car, Kenny Bernstein has done a great job at being consistent, and I think the parity in the class is so close and that's made the cars run close. We've had a few people not qualify, and that's made things tighter, but not one guy has run away with this points chase all year long. No one has taken a commanding lead, and I can't help but think that the five-disc clutch, and the trouble that everyone has had with being consistent with it doesn't have something to do with the way this points race has been."

When someone like Joe Amato is trying to win for the first time on his home track, do you find yourself rooting for him? "At this time I have to look at the points, and the way they are, and as much as everybody would like to see Tony Schumacher win his first race, I have to root for the guy who is going to keep the points spread to a minimum as far as me trying to catch up, which was Joe Amato. Plus he's never won at that track and that was a big deal for him. I'm sure they're very excited, and there's some sentimental feelings in there because Jimmy Prock and I are so close. He was my first real crew chief on a Top Fuel car. Jimmy and I did a lot together and had a lot of success. He's a great kid, I love his family and that has a lot to do with it as well. So I would have to say that I was rooting for Joe a little bit."

Your car hasn't been as consistent this year as it has been in previous years when you did win more races. Yet, you're still just as close in the points chase. How does that make you feel? "It does make me a little crazy because if we had more consistency at the beginning of the season maybe we would be the guy in the lead or be a round or two closer. I can't believe that after 22 races, when this deal is going to end at Pomona that we could be within 20 points of winning the championship. A lot of people have never experienced that, but I have. In 1992 I lost the championship by one round of competition to Joe Amato. That was awfully tough, but it was partially our own fault because we decided not to go to Montreal. As exciting as it is now, you can't help but think that if maybe we would have won a couple of races at the beginning of the year, or a couple of rounds here and there that we let slip through our hands, we might be a little closer. But you're going to think about that stuff. You're going to if, and, or but yourself to death, but that's how it is. We always look back and ask, 'what if we had that one round?' On the other hand, I'm very excited because we have a chance to win this thing and I didn't think we were going to."

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Mike Dunn , Tony Schumacher , Joe Amato , Gary Scelzi , Tommy Johnson , Cory McClenathan , Cory Mac
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing