CORONA, California (January 21, 2017) – Cory McClenathan spent over 25 years working to become one of the best Top Fuel dragster drivers in National Hot Rod Association history. He was the first to go faster than 320 miles per hour in a quarter of a mile, the first to go down the quarter-mile track in less than 4.8 seconds, and he’s got 34 Top Fuel victories on his resume.
These days, however, his need for speed is being satisfied behind the steering wheel of the Pro Lite truck he drives in Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series regional competition. He is the only person in memory to try to move from straight-line pavement drag racing to rough-and-tumble short course off road.
“I’ve always just thought ‘man, these (off road trucks) are awesome,’” said McClenathan, who has a long friendship with Fabtech owner Dave Winner. “I kept talking back and forth to Dave and he finally said ‘alright, the spare truck is up and running if you really want to try this.’ So I got all the gear and jumped in it and found out ‘man, do I have a lot to learn.’
“I’ve turned this thing over, I’ve rolled it, I’ve flipped it and I’ve caught it on fire already. Everybody was cracking up. It was like ‘well, it’s not for lack of trying,’ but oh man … This has been the hardest learning curve of anything I’ve ever driven, by far.” McClenathan will be 54 on January 30. That’s a little less than three weeks before he’ll begin his second full season of racing with Fabtech and teammate Cory Winner in the Lucas Oil Southern California Regional Series. The Huntington Beach, California, resident ran three regional races in 2015, with a fifth in his second start that remains his best finish to date. He was sixth three times in eight starts last season and sixth in the point standings. This season he’ll be back in the number 66 Fabtech entry with Revchem Composites, Nordic Boats and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 47 adding sponsorship to General Tire, Maxima Racing Oils, Dirt Logic Shocks, Flesh Gear, Impact and others. The truck, currently sporting a Ford Raptor body, will have a new Nogrady motor and a different chassis setup.
“We’re going to stick with it and run hard this year,” McClenathan said. “We’re going to kind of clean the thing up and fix a few things and change some stuff to make it easier for me. Now that I have more laps I’m starting to figure out what I like and what I don’t like.” Not surprisingly for someone who spent so many years driving in a straight line, McClenathan said he still struggles with “turning, trying to get in there and get in there solid and not turn it over.” He said he also wishes “they all would have told me to begin with that the Pro Lite is the hardest truck to drive.”
“It kills me not to be sitting on the podium,” McClenathan said. “Last season I finished sixth and I was only seven points out of fifth so it was not a bad season, really; just not where I want to be. I want to be on the podium somewhere. I’ve gone to the Cory Kruseman (driving) school and done the Sprint Cars and tried to gain some car control that way. I’ve done a lot of go-karting, just trying to get back to things that might help me do better in the truck.
“There are a couple of things that really stand out for me. I love the jumps. Being in the air like that is awesome. It’s the coolest feeling. The turns are a little tough.
“To be honest with you, I struggled last year. I didn’t improve as much as I thought I would. Everybody keeps telling me I’m getting better, but I really thought I’d finish well in the top five and didn’t. I’m bringing out the textbooks, I’m watching all the other (regional) racers, I’m watching all the national guys.
“This (regionals) is where the kids start, this is where everybody comes and gets their feet wet before nationals and I see that. I want to be good. I want to be able to go out to a national and be (at least) middle of the pack. I don’t want to run in the back and be told ‘hey, you need to go back to the regionals for a while.’”
Drag racing still has a hold on McClenathan. But like many others his Top Fuel career has been impacted by rising costs and declining sponsorship and last year he drove in only three events in Australia. He said “I still love it, I still watch it, I still go,” but “unless I can get a full deal and do it the right way, at my age I just don’t want to do it.”
McClenathan said one advantage of being semi-retired is that with daughter Courtney, 26, living 20 minutes from him in one direction and father Dick, 80, 20 minutes away in another direction he is “trying to make up for some lost time, all those years of traveling and not being home and all that stuff.”
He’s also enjoying the challenge of adapting to short course racing.
“I’ve been welcomed in there and I haven’t been batted around too much,” he said. “I try to stay out of their way. I’m trying to learn and do my thing and let them do their thing. The more I do it the closer I get to being middle of the pack and seeing the guys in front. I’m like ‘OK, this is a lot better than it was three or four races ago.
“I’m enjoying the heck out of myself.”