Fourteen years ago, Cory McClenathan was in the winning circle on The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway after winning the Top Fuel title at the 2008 SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals, and the veteran Southern California competitor hopes to be back there this weekend , albeit in a different class and a totally different vehicle.
McClenathan, who has won 34 times in the NHRA’s Top Fuel class and four times in the Top Alcohol Dragster, this time will be behind the wheel of a Funny Car instead of a dragster as he competes in Rick Akers’ Trans Am in the Red Line Oil sponsored Legends Nitro Funny Car exhibit featuring nitro burning Nostalgia Funny Cars from 1979 or earlier.
McClenathan, who has competed for the Top Fuel Championships for over two decades, last ran in Top Fuel at the 2020 NHRA US Nationals, but only as an occasional competitor as he sought support and partnerships, but this year he turned to a new challenge in the popular Nostalgia Funny Car class which is a mainstay of the NHRA Hot Rod Heritage Racing Series.
After so many years for the supercharged nitromethane-burning engine, he finds it an odd thrill to have it on his lap, especially in a shorter wheelbase car to boot.
“When I started trying to drive a nostalgic car, I thought, ‘Man, I’ll get the hang of this pretty soon,’ and it was definitely a struggle learning to drive it,” said McClenathan, who previously made this year made his debut in Bakersfield at the acclaimed March Meet. “They’re not what you think they are.”
Although the car ran as fast as 5.78, stopping early at 1,000 feet, it was a tough sled ride for the fan favorite.
“I did a lot of test drives, got my driver’s license and everything was fine, then we started wearing some parts, and [crew chief] Glenn Mikres started to put a little more effort into it, and we found some weak links and fixed them,” he said. “And now we have a good solid car. It has all the ‘big show’ parts and some of DSR’s guts in it, and now it runs great and doesn’t hurt.
“We think we really have something, and I’m excited because not only am I learning to drive a Funny Car, but I’m excited to learn them all and start making some really good passes in Vegas. The opportunity is there.”
Despite making thousands of strides in more than 500 national events, McClenathan, who had to withdraw from the Texas NHRA FallNations due to since-relieved medical problems, admits he was a little anxious on his way to Las Vegas.
“With a Funny Car, you don’t know what’s coming, and it happens so fast, and you have to drive it from the moment you step on the gas,” he said. “Its characteristics put me in a position where I can’t pedal like I was used to a dragster, so I had to rely more on short shifts when I’m in trouble and do it that way. We extended the steering wheel and got it to the point where I can actually try and manipulate the car, but man, if I ever get into a dragster again, I really need to slow down.
“I spoke to some guys like Cruz Pedregon and Jack Beckman, and they told me that this is a harder car to drive than the ‘big show’ car because it struggles where a big show car has so much power. .”
Fans of old will immediately recognize the familiar blue with checkerboard pattern and the name Mac Attack that McClenathan flew in Top Fuel in the early 1990s.
“Bringing back to the Mac Attack schedule just seemed like the right thing to do,” he said. “It’s an iconic Kenny Youngblood design from the era that goes with this car. I can’t say enough about the team, from Rick Akers, who owns the car, to Greg Landwehr, who helps finance him and handles the clutch, to Glenn Mikres and the crew.”
Sponsorship comes from a variety of sources, including Lucas Oil, Fat Headz Sunglasses and Cascade Automotive, as well as Akers’ own Akers Demo and Construction and McClenathan’s RaceGlass companies, and he looks forward to the exposure they all will gain in Las Vegas.
“This is a good class to have at the national event,” he said. “It’s a nitro car and we get to drive behind Funny Car or Top Fuel in qualifying [whatever’s running first on those days]. It just gives the spectators something different to look at from the past.
“It’s like stepping back in time for all of us. We have two engines and we have to be careful with that. These guys are all running on a shoestring budget, but I love being back on the track with the people I started out with, like Pat Austin and Bucky Austin, who have their kids in the car, so of course I’m the old man of the bunch, but I’ve been there before. And what I don’t know on the track, I definitely know at the start line, so that’s what makes it interesting. I think the fans and NHRA will be very happy with what we have to put on the table.
“I’m so looking forward to Vegas because I think I’m going to get right back into my ‘Let’s get this done’ driving mode, and this is where I belong. Then my next thing will be that I wanted to drive a ‘big show’ Funny Car and get my driver’s license. Now that I’m back in this thing, I’m determined to get my Funny Car license and do some races.”