McCLENATHAN EYEING ELUSIVE NHRA FULL THROTTLE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP CROWN AS FRAM TEAM OFF TO HOT START GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Veteran Top Fuel driver Cory McClenathan, who has accomplished much during his highly-decorated NHRA racing career, still...
McCLENATHAN EYEING ELUSIVE NHRA FULL THROTTLE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP CROWN AS FRAM TEAM OFF TO HOT START
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Veteran Top Fuel driver Cory McClenathan, who has accomplished much during his highly-decorated NHRA racing career, still needs to check off two pesky items that stand out near the top of his drag racing bucket list.
Item one -- A win at the tradition-rich Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals, one of NHRA's major events
Item two -- An NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series Top Fuel world championship title
If early season performance indicates anything, the Anaheim, Calif. native may be well on his way to crossing both off the list in 2010.
He's called his FRAM dragster a "bracket car" for its incredible consistency early on this season. Crew chiefs Todd Okuhara and Phil Shuler have mastered the tune-up and can dial up a 3.81 when needed almost at will. Factor in McClenathan's years of driving experience, and the combination could produce a champion's trophy by year's end.
McClenathan opened the season as the No. 1 qualifier at the NHRA Winternationals, then posted a semifinal finish at the Southern California season-opener before claiming his 32nd career victory one week later in Phoenix.
He heads to historic Gainesville Raceway for the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals, March 11-14, as the Top Fuel points leader, a position he hopes to hang on to for the entire 10-month season. Larry Dixon (Top Fuel), Bob Tasca (Funny Car), Jason Line (Pro Stock) and Hector Arana (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are the defending winners of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event, which will be televised on ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD.
"Right now we're the points leader and we're going in there with the same attitude of, 'Let's qualify very well, let's try to keep lane choice on race day, and try to put this FRAM car in the winner's circle,'" McClenathan said. "The FRAM car is definitely the car to beat right now and I think people know that and they're taking notice of it. Obviously our teammates' cars, Tony's (Schumacher) and Antron's (Brown), are running well; Larry Dixon's running good also; and Doug Kalitta, obviously."
Amazingly, McClenathan's effort last season is his only final round appearance at the Florida track. He posted a runner-up finish to Larry Dixon. He knows the importance of the Gatornationals in NHRA lore and he would love to add his name to the impressive list of winners.
"We've done fairly well there in the past," McClenathan said. "Every time you go to a track you never won at you want to walk away with that Wally on those weekends. And if you have been driving as long as I have been, you want to win at every single race track on the tour, and that's one that has eluded us. We had some very good weekends there, we qualified well there, went to a final, but we never seemed to be able to make it to the winner's circle there."
And after he qualified No. 1 at Pomona, McClenathan made it very clear what his objective was for the season. He said at the time he wanted to make his presence known early on and not lurk in the background. He said he wanted to go toe-to-toe with the competition from day one. At the same time, he is very respectful of the competition.
"We're not taking anybody lightly from here on out," he said. "We're just going to run our own race, but at the same time it definitely feels good to be the points leader for a (while) before we do roll into Gainesville. We're kind of going with the flow. Yes, it's nice to be the points leader; we're only there by a few points and it could change every single weekend, and we know that. I think nowadays when we look at the Countdown we would like to be points leader the whole season and have those few extra points when we do go into the Countdown. But at the same time it's about winning races, going rounds, and trying to take home as many trophies as we can before the Countdown starts."
And about that 320-mph bracket car? He's having a great time driving it. He hopes to put it in the Wally Parks NHRA Museum one day as the 2010 Top Fuel world champion.
"I think in testing we did exactly what Todd and Phil wanted to do," McClenathan said. "And, in the off-season we all looked at what the car really needed and that was to shed some weight and be real close to the minimum weight. And now we have a weight bar on the car and we're able to control that, and a lighter car goes quicker and faster. That's all there is to it."
"We kind of parlayed two different things into one and that's really worked out great for us," he continued. "The more runs that Todd and Phil have in the dragster the more confident they become, the more competent I become behind the wheel, and I think that will just keep on getting better."
In Funny Car, 14-time world champ John Force has advanced to two consecutive final rounds, winning at the Winternationals, and currently leads the point standings in that category. Jack Beckman earned the Phoenix win, while teammate Ron Capps has also been strong early on in his NAPA Dodge Charger. Others to watch include defending world champ Robert Hight, Ashley Force Hood and two-time series champ Tony Pedregon.
During Gatornationals qualifying, eight Pro Stock racers will simultaneously continue the rain-delayed eliminations from the NHRA Arizona Nationals. The highlight of those pairings include a quarterfinal meeting between defending world champ Mike Edwards, the winner of the season-opener, and three-time world champ Greg Anderson.
The race will showcase the season-debut of the Pro Stock Motorcycle category. Defending world champ and event champ Arana will try to continue his recent success on his Lucas Oil Buell. His competition will be stout and include past champs Eddie Krawiec, Andrew Hines and Matt Smith. Others to watch in the two-wheel category include Doug Horne, Karen Stoffer, Craig Treble, Steve Johnson and David Hope.
* SCHEDULE: Full Throttle Series qualifying sessions are scheduled for noon and 2:45 p.m. on March 12 and March 13. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, March 14.
* TICKETS: Tickets are available for the 41st annual Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals. Call NHRA at (800) 884-NHRA or visit www.ticketmaster.com to purchase tickets.
* ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise two hours of qualifying highlights at 2 a.m. (ET) on Sunday, March 14; that show also will re-air later the same day at 10 a.m. (ET). ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise NHRA Race Day, a 30-minute pre-race show, at noon (ET) on Sunday, March 14. ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise three hours of eliminations coverage beginning at 6 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, March 14.
* LUCAS OIL SERIES: The 41st annual Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals also will feature competition in seven categories in the NHRA Lucas Oil Series, where the future stars of the NHRA Full Throttle Series earn their racing stripes. Lucas Oil Series qualifying begins at 7:30 a.m. on March 11. Lucas Oil Series eliminations begin at 7:30 a.m. on March 12.
* GET SCREENED AMERICA PRO MOD SERIES: NHRA's newest touring series will make its debut at the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals. The series will feature some of the world's fastest and most unique doorslammer cars, featuring an ecclectic mix of vintage and late model body styles, in quarter-mile competition.