MEMPHIS, Sept. 11, 2007 - As the NHRA POWERade Series heads to Memphis Motorsports Park for this weekend's 20th annual O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals, Cory McClenathan, driver of the Fram/GMC Top Fuel dragster, reflects on an impressive record...
MEMPHIS, Sept. 11, 2007 - As the NHRA POWERade Series heads to Memphis Motorsports Park for this weekend's 20th annual O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals, Cory McClenathan, driver of the Fram/GMC Top Fuel dragster, reflects on an impressive record during his tenure as an NHRA competitor. McClenathan made his Top Fuel racing debut at the 1991 Winternationals in Pomona, Calif., and finished 10th in the points standings in his rookie campaign. In May 1992, McClenathan won his first national event at Memphis and ended the year second in the points, just 92 points out of first despite the fact he missed the NHRA Nationals in Montreal. In his 16 years as a Top Fuel driver (excluding 2001 when he entered just one event), the Southern California native has earned 29 victories, has raced in 50 final rounds, earned 30 No. 1 qualifying awards and captured 398 round wins. The 44-year-old McClenathan has ended the season in second place four times (1992, 1995, 1997-98), twice in third place (19 94, 1996), in the top five of the points standings eight times, and 15 times in the top 10 (the most top 10s by any current Top Fuel driver). In both 2005 and '06, McClenathan was part of a GM Racing contingent of NHRA drivers that visited American troops stationed in Germany.
Earlier this season, McClenathan advanced to his 50th career final-round appearance at the O'Reilly NHRA Midwest Nationals in St. Louis, and he is currently in 11th place in the POWERade points standings, 35 points behind 10th place Dave Grubnic and 53 points behind ninth-place Melanie Troxel. McClenathan is a two-time winner at Memphis (1992, 1995) and a three-time winner of the O'Reilly NHRA Fall Nationals in Dallas (1996-97, 2000).
Are you pleased with the progress of your race team over the last month? "I'm fairly excited with how things have gone here lately. We've only gone one round per race for the last three races, but if I actually looked back on that, I went seven races in a row where I won only one round. Considering we put this program together in a week's time, and now I'm pretty much in charge of the whole situation, I feel pretty good about it. The Fram Top Fuel Dragster is really starting to show some promise. We've qualified at every race we've gone to, and like I said, we've won at least one round at every race, been very competitive, pretty much qualifying in the middle of the pack, and the logical thing would be to put a deal together in five or six days and be lucky to qualify. Well that's what I was thinking - let's just try and go qualify. Everything was brand new, from the trailer to racecars to parts, you name it, it was brand new. The guys all did a great job and I feel good about the car. Keith Adams is tuning it and he and I are starting to develop a nice relationship. Tony Shortall is the assistant crew chief and Tony and I have a great relationship. That part of it has made it easy for me. The biggest challenge is trying to make the car consistent each and every day. It's one of those things where I think we've made a lot of progress, and I have to thank all our sponsors for sticking with me because it has been a tough season. Now we're in a position where we can try and make it hard on those top eight guys that are trying to go for that championship, while at the same time, getting ready for next season."
You do have an opportunity of being a spoiler. "That makes it fun for me. Go out and qualify well, and race those guys as hard as we can and make it hard on them. Right now the best thing I can do is go for ninth place, win as many races as I can and make as much money as I can. Just because we're not in the Countdown doesn't mean we're not trying as hard to be competitive. As a matter of fact, we can take some shots somewhere and be as aggressive as we want to be. I think that puts us in a unique position right now."
Are you getting back into the groove of running your own team again and everything that entails? "It's kind of been a trial-and-error type of thing, but I think we're starting to get the right guys in the right places, and obviously we have everything we need to work with as far as parts and equipment. We have so many different avenues that we can utilize these days, blower dyno, clutch dyno, I've never had that or been in that position. With this lease program comes a lot of great things for us, and I'm excited to be able to give that back to my sponsors and all the guys on this team. The guys are like kids in a candy story. Every guy in each department has so much to choose from as far as data, and so many different parts to choose from. We're getting quicker and quicker in between rounds, and I'm getting more comfortable in the racecar as well as with running my own race team."
With the season winding down, what do you hope to accomplish before we close out 2007? "The first and foremost thing that comes to mind is to be running as good as Tony Schumacher, Brandon Bernstein, Larry Dixon and the others that are competing for this year's championship. I want to be able to run as good at the end of the season as they are knowing that next year we can be ready for the championship and that top eight. It's one of those things where I feel like I control my own destiny right now and I'm excited about that."
You've had a long relationship with GMC that goes back to the mid-'90s. "It's a tremendous relationship with Fred (Simmonds) that has been nurtured and grown over the years. It's now grown to a point that we're starting to go above and beyond what we do on the track, going to Germany to visit with the troops at Landstuhl, or seeing kids at a children's hospital, and these are things I look forward to every year. Now it looks like we're getting ready to go back for another visit with the troops at Ramstein and all the folks who are over there making sacrifices for us. It's all about taking one hour or one minute and putting a smile on a face so that they can feel better for at least that one day. That to me, nowadays, is more important than what we do on the racetrack, making sure that we represent GMC the best that we can, and that's what has made our relationship stronger."
You're coming up on a pair of venues that have been good to you over the years - Memphis and Dallas. "I got my very first national-event win at Memphis back in !992 with Jimmy Prock as my crew chief. It is still special when we go there and we'd like nothing more than to go to Memphis, go some rounds, enjoy ourselves and maybe get the win. The other thing we'd like to do is go to Dallas and do well there. We've set the national record there in the past. In fact I was in the first car to run over 320 mph, we won the event, qualified No.1 (1997), it was an awesome weekend so I can only hope to have another race like that. We have two very important races coming up back to back, and I think it's a big deal for us to go there and do well for all of our sponsors and GMC, especially if we're going to crack into that top 10."
You're approaching a pair of career milestones; 400 round wins and 30 victories. Can you reflect on that and your ability to compete for so long? "It used to be there were five or six good racecars out there, and if you ran well you knew you could win a race sometime during the season and you could be there at the end for the championship. Now there are up to 18 good cars out there all the time trying to qualify and any one of those cars can actually win. It's one of those situations where things have changed quite a bit since I first started. I've been able to watch and see NHRA POWERade Drag Racing grow to where it is today versus what it was 16 years ago when I first stepped into a fuel car. It's more of a show now with more Fortune 500 companies involved and I've been very, very fortunate to make this my career - my life. I enjoy it. I enjoy the fans, I enjoy the people, all the sponsors and putting a deal together. But it is hard to be competitive and stay in that top 10, and finishing in the top 10 would be a very big deal for this Fram Top Fuel Dragster, and GMC, Mac Tools, Nordic Boats and Jegs, and everybody on board. It's very important for us to finish in that 9th or 10th spot and get ready to get after it for next year."
Do you still enjoy racing? "I do. There's a lot more work behind the scenes than there ever has been. My biggest part of it and the most fun for me is still to get inside that racecar. Even though it's only four and half seconds at over 300 mph, and it's done that quickly, it's still my favorite part of the job."
-credit: gm racing