Pomona: Cory McClenathan preview

POMONA, Calif. (November 2, 2000) - Coming off his first points victory of the year at the Matco Tools Supernationals at Houston Raceway Park, MBNA/Pontiac Top Fuel Dragster driver Cory McClenathan feels a surge of momentum heading into the...

POMONA, Calif. (November 2, 2000) - Coming off his first points victory of the year at the Matco Tools Supernationals at Houston Raceway Park, MBNA/Pontiac Top Fuel Dragster driver Cory McClenathan feels a surge of momentum heading into the last race of the year at Pomona Raceway. With only one race remaining driving for team-owner Joe Gibbs, McClenathan would like to end his tenure with the Gibbs organization on a high note. A strong performance at the NHRA Finals would be a nice boost for Cory Mac heading into 2001.

McClenathan is a former winner at the NHRA Finals, driving to victory at the season finale in 1992, and a final-round appearance in 1994. He is also a three-time runner up in the Big Bud Shootout for Top Fuel Dragsters (1992, '94, '96).

For most his professional life Cory McClenathan has been near the pinnacle of the drag racing profession. He began his Top Fuel career in 1991 with the family-owned Mac Attack Racing team, after a Top Alcohol Dragster tenure that saw the California native win four races in 1989-90. Since his move to the nitro ranks, "Cory Mac" has finished in the Winston top-10 every year with his best seasons coming in 1992, 1995, and 1997-98, when he was second in the point standings. His 25 career victories place him third on the NHRA's list for all-time wins by a Top Fuel driver. At Houston last week, McClenathan ran a career-best elapsed time of 4.540 seconds on the way to his most recent win.

The 36th annual Southern California Auto Club NHRA Finals on November 9 - 12 at Pomona Raceway in Pomona, Calif., is the 23rd race on the 23-event NHRA Winston Championship schedule. NHRA Heat can be seen on ESPN2 on Thursday, November 9, beginning at 5:30 p.m. Eastern. Qualifying highlights of the NHRA Finals, including coverage of the Big Bud Shootout for Top Fuel dragsters, can be seen on ESPN2 on Sunday, November 12, starting at 1:30 p.m. Eastern. Same-day coverage of final eliminations begins on ESPN2 on Sunday, November 12, at 6 p.m. Eastern and again at 10 p.m. Eastern.

What did the win in Houston mean to you and the team? "I think that everyone was beginning to wonder if we could do it again, and we at least answered that question. The biggest thing for us is that we felt that we were missing some kind of ingredient with this team, and I think that what we all wish now is that we would've gotten the new car a long time ago. Once you're in the slump for such a long time, you start pointing fingers at different things, and about the last thing we really thought of was the racecar. Once we got the new car, everything changed. The car is tunable, you can make changes, and it does exactly what you want it to do. I can finally drive the car down the track, as to where the other one kept carrying the wheels three-quarter track and going towards the wall. It was undriveable. With all that being said, we're in one of those positions that everything is finally coming together, and it's great to see, but it's just a little bit too late."

How is the team's confidence going into Pomona? "Pretty good. We're really excited about Pomona. We want to see if we can go out and do it again. It's our last chance for the year and we want to go out strong. I think if the car performs like it's supposed too, we could have a good chance at winning again. We're real excited. For me, it just feels good to put another win underneath my belt. Trying to go another year without a win would've been tough. I feel pretty good, and I think we can definitely make it to the semis and hopefully the finals again."

Does the victory take some of the pressure off of you and the team? "It definitely does. Joe Gibbs, MBNA, Pontiac and all the sponsors were really excited to see that we could win one for them before the end of the season. For me, it takes a lot of pressure off. MBNA was really excited and are more than willing to work with me for the next couple of years. It's just a matter of where we're going to end up together."

What are some of the struggles you have had to go through this year? "We've had no racing luck. Every time we needed a break, we didn't get one. I think it's just a matter of having everything going your way when you have a good year, and when you have a bad year you are looking for different things that will help you - whether it be luck or getting the car to stay consistent. We've had none of that kind at all. It seems like every time we did win a round, we felt that we really had to earn it. It's always tough when you have a new crew chief, and new team members as well, but we thought we would be able to work together sooner to get this win a long time ago. It's been frustrating to say the least."

How would you grade this year? "I would have to say a C-. Without the Showdown in Bristol, or this last win in Houston, I would say a big fat F, but that's just how I grade things. I only say that because I'm so used to winning five or six races a season, being second or third in points and fighting for the championship. But this year, and last year, just haven't been that way. I finished ninth in points last year, and this year, if everything goes right, we have the opportunity to move into sixth place. Right now we're in a strong seventh. That's a couple of steps better then last year, but it's still tough. I expect a lot of myself and the people I work with, and I expect a lot of the racecar I drive. I may be a little bit tough on that. I mean, any other person might be happy with winning a couple of races, but not me. Especially when I look at (Gary) Scelzi who's won eight, and some of the other guys that have done well this year."

Have you seen improvements throughout the year with your team? "Small marked improvement. When we ran a 4.54 in Chicago, I thought that things might turn around for us, but it seems like we kept saying that after every race after Chicago. But it never really showed me any marked improvement except for things that Wes (Cerney) would tell me. I look for things to get better all at one time. Maybe I'm spoiled, but that's just how I am."

How do you feel about being in the Big Bud Shootout? "It's great that we're qualified third. One thing we have done this year is qualify the car well. I look forward to going out there and trying to win that 'hundred grand. It would be great to win that for MBNA and Pontiac. They've been there for us through thick and thin, and I just want to do good for them."

What are your plans for next year? "I just want to be able to land in a good team, whether it be in a team car or what have you - that doesn't matter to me. I don't care if I'm in a dragster alone, with a team car, or a Funny Car. It's just one of those things that I want to do well. So wherever MBNA and I land, we want a strong running team, we want to be able to put more sponsors on the car and take care of them, plus build new relationships with people. I'm used to being with one sponsor, and even one owner at one time, but I firmly believe that we'll probably be better off than we are right now. Everything happens for a reason. I'm just hoping that's the direction we're heading in."

If you had your choice between being alone or being with a team which would you choose? "Well the two-car set up has a lot of advantages. The only disadvantage is if they have to meet each other and race. You don't want to take dives. I don't think I could do that even if I tried. Even if someone told me to; I don't think I could do it. I think that's the only downfall I see. On the other side, if they're working together, and have two good tune-ups in them, they can go out there and be number one and two, just like John Force has proven time and time again. Two cars are better then one, and I think if we get in that position, and we have two confident crew chiefs and racecars, I think we could go out there and do very well next year."

How is your confidence as a driver? "Well no matter how long you've been doing this, I learned this a long time ago, that if you're not winning, the confidence of the driver tends to fall down. I've caught myself doing this. I'm not as confident as I used to be. I guess because I never knew what was going to happen when I got in the racecar. But after the Houston race, my confidence is building because every time I got into the car, it did exactly what it was supposed to do. It ran 4.50s consistently and there weren't a lot of cars out there that could do that. I feel better driving the car now then I have in quite sometime."

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Cory McClenathan , Cory Mac