It would be hard to name a more intense National Hot Rod Ass’n Top Fuel racer than Cory McClenathan.
His laser-like gaze is locked in on the track once he approaches the starting line. He glares intently at the computer or whatever part of his Don Schumacher-owned Fram dragster he’s studying at the moment. When he knows he has the car to win and someone else beats him to the finish line, well…just don’t go anywhere near him for awhile.
“Right now, my eyes are on the prize,” he said this past weekend at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at O’Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis.
And that ought to grab the attention of his fellow Countdown drivers.
McClenathan recorded the quickest elapsed time in NHRA’s 1,000-foot era with his 3.752-second blast in June at Englishtown, N.J. He owns two of the five fastest speeds, including his 323.66 miles per hour that gave him the No. 2 qualifying spot for the NHRA’s marquee Labor Day event.
In the so-called regular season, he set low e.t. of the meet five times and top speed of the meet twice, posted four No. 1 qualifying positions, led the standings after three of the first five races and won three times.
With Todd Okuhara and Phil Shuler sharing tuning duties, the Fram team also is benefiting from Don Schumacher Racing’s working partnership with Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis and its School of Engineering and Technology motorsports program.
“Todd and Phil have shown again and again how they work together. They’re very in tune with each other when it comes to what they’re going to do with the set-up,” McClenathan said.
Helping, too, is the ongoing IUPUI chassis development program that has contributed to some technology on his car that DSR Team Manager Lee Beard said eventually will go on the cars of already wicked-quick Tony Schumacher and, Antron Brown and likely on the Abu Dhabi/Yas Marina entry of Hot Rod Fuller.
“These kids are unbelievable when it comes to aerodynamics,” McClenathan said of the IUPUI engineers-in-training. “This car is set up the way they’d like to see things go in the future. This is a tribute to what happens when you put good people together. They may be kids, but they’re smart individuals.”
Surrounding yourself with intelligent, competent individuals is the key to success. For McClenathan, it has translated into this Fram dragster being what he called “one of the better cars I’ve ever had underneath me” in his career. He said this season is offering him “probably my best chance since ’97. I don’t want to say, ‘Hey, it’s going to happen.’ But it would be a lot of fun if it did. I guarantee we’d rock the house down if we could make it happen.”
Four times he has finished second in the series (twice to Gary Scelzi and once each to Joe Amato and Scott Kalitta). He entered this Countdown as the No. 2 driver. He had everything going his way in qualifying at this edition of the U.S. Nationals — until Larry Dixon swiped it from him Saturday night and left him No. 2 in the lineup.
The number “2” is a useful number. Two is terrific when a person needs shoes, socks, skis, gloves and chopsticks. It’s a must for ballroom dancing and drive-in movies. It has its honored place among mathematicians — same with Noah when he was filling up the ark. Two is the perfect number for Valentine’s Day — but not race day and not at the year-end awards ceremony.
McClenathan is tired of No. 2. He’s ready to be No. 1. Dixon knows that. Downplaying the media-induced hysteria about his rivalry with Tony Schumacher, Dixon, a bit puzzled, said about McClenathan, “That’s great car, a great team, the whole deal. Nobody’s talking about Cory.”
But they should be.