Houston Cory McClenathan Preview

Defending champ McClenathan looking for smooth ride in Houston HOUSTON -- (April 2, 1999) -- This NHRA season hasn't begun with the excitement Cory McClenathan was hoping for. But it hasn't been boring, either. McClenathan, the winner of 12 ...

Defending champ McClenathan looking for smooth ride in Houston

HOUSTON -- (April 2, 1999) -- This NHRA season hasn't begun with the excitement Cory McClenathan was hoping for. But it hasn't been boring, either.

McClenathan, the winner of 12 races the last two years, hasn't been able to get the Joe Gibbs-owned MBNA Top Fuel dragster past the second round of eliminations after three of the 22 Winston Series events. He's had, however, some interesting experiences.

McClenathan missed Saturday's two qualifying sessions at the season-opening Winternationals in Pomona, Calif. due to a gastro-intestinal virus that sent him to the hospital.

At the second race in Phoenix his qualifying streak (now at 138 straight races) was in jeopardy until he put the MBNA dragster into the field on the final qualifying pass.

During the third qualifying session at the Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla., a broken crankshaft lifted the engine out of the car's frame rails and plopped it on the track next to McClenathan. Major damage to the chassis forced McClenathan to run the team's backup car in Sunday's eliminations.

Since his 1999 car is currently under repair -- getting a new back half -- McClenathan will run his backup car at the upcoming O'Reilly Nationals, April 9-11 at Houston Raceway Park.

"Things haven't been as smooth as we would have liked," said McClenathan, who is the defending champion of the O'Reilly Nationals. "But we'll work ourselves out of this. Regarding the old car, I don't feel we'll be at a disadvantage. I feel comfortable in it. I like the way it drives and responds when I hit the throttle."

McClenathan only had one run in the backup car during the Gatornationals because he lost in the first round of Sunday's final eliminations. But McClenathan did get a few runs in the next day during a test session. The MBNA team is also planning a test session at the Texas Motorplex on Tuesday, April 6.

"We made runs to 330 (feet), half-track and about 1100 feet during our Gainesville test session," McClenathan reported. "Our best run was a 4.59 (seconds), and I shut it off early. We're getting closer to where we want to be."

Crew chief Mike Green has been trying to solve oiling problems in the engine in addition to integrating a five-disc clutch into the tune-up. The best run McClenathan has made in 1999 is 4.583 seconds, a few hundredths slower than his career best run of 4.559, set at Houston Raceway Park last spring during his final-round victory over David Grubnic.

At the Gatornationals, McClenathan said he was on a new career run until the crankshaft broke, enveloping the engine in a ball of flames. The force of the explosion lifted the complete engine - minus some of the crankshaft - out of the chassis and onto the racetrack. The car hit the right guard wall and eventually came to rest with the engine next to the driver.

"According to the computer numbers, we were on our quickest run of our career. When the crank broke, it took out the left rear tire and twisted the motor out of the frame rails," McClenathan recalled. "Something hit me on the back (the engine), and shoved me into the safety harness, but that was all. I wasn't even sore the next day."

The MBNA crew will be looking for better performances when O'Reilly Nationals qualifying begins Friday at 1:30 and 5:30 p.m., and continues Saturday at 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. The finals on Sunday get underway at 11 a.m.

Cory McClenathan

1999 Top Fuel Record Standing: 8th, 137 points Round Record: 2W -3L Quickest ET: 4.583, Phoenix. Fastest Speed: 318.92 mph, Phoenix

Career Top Fuel Record First Season: 1991 Best Season Finish: 2nd - '92, '95, '97, '98 Races Qualified: 147 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: 138 consecutive races Quickest E.T.: 4.559, 1998, Houston I Fastest Speed: 322.92, 1998, Phoenix

At Houston (Spring Race) Best Finish: Won event, 1998 Best ET/Speed: 4.559/320.74, 1998

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

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Series NHRA
Drivers David Grubnic , Cory McClenathan