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NHRA Notes: McClenathan Needs To Hustle Points

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, October 29 2010

Cory McClenathan still has hopes to win this year's Top Fuel championship. (File photo courtesy of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Cory McClenathan will be points-racing without apology this weekend in a late-season bid for his first NHRA Top Fuel world championship.

McClenathan trails two-time champ Larry Dixon of Al-Anabi Racing by 89 points heading into the opening two rounds of qualifications Friday afternoon for the 10th annual NHRA Las Vegas Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Eighty-nine points translates into five rounds of racing with only eight rounds remaining in the Countdown to the Championship, NHRA’s six-event playoff. Every point available – including qualifying bonus and national-record points – are more valuable than ever.

“You know, 89 points is still not insurmountable,” said McClenathan, a three-time winner this season in the FRAM Dragster fielded by Don Schumacher Racing. “It’s still a doable thing for me as far as I’m concerned.  If Al-Anabi, if they slip up at all, you know, or if Larry has a bad day with his car, then we’re going to be right there when it goes into Pomona.”

The 2010 Full Throttle Drag Racing Series season will conclude with the 46th annual NHRA Finals in Pomona, Calif., Nov. 11-14.

Cory Mac, who made his NHRA debut in 1991, is a four-time championship runnerup (1992, 1995, 1997 and 1998) while racking up 34 national event victories. He has qualified No. 1 five times this season.

“Obviously, it’s hard to go out there and say, ‘Well, let’s qualify No. 1 or 2, and we’ve got to wait until the finals to race each other,’ ” said McClenathan, 47, who has yet to defeat Dixon in any round this season. “It’s going to be kind of up to other people to do my dirty work for me. We need somebody to help us a little bit with Larry, that’s all there is to it.

“I think (crew chiefs) Phil (Shuler) and Todd (Okuhara) may be a little more aggressive when it comes to Friday night tuneups, and we need some of those small qualifying bonus points (three, two, one points for the top-three in each qualifying round). Those small points can add up to where you can earn a round advantage. We can’t afford to lose any of those going into Pomona.

“The odds should be working in my favor now, I think. And we have my DSR teammate, Tony Schumacher, behind us. We know how strong he and the Army team can run at any given time, so we’ll be looking over our shoulder.” Schumacher, the seven-time and reigning Top Fuel world champion, is third in the standings, 65 points behind McClenathan.

Johnson not so hands-on: Larry Dixon won Top Fuel world championships in 2002 and 2003 driving for NHRA legend Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, a four-time Funny Car champion who closed-out his career in Top Fuel.

Dixon said “Der Snake,” who shut down his team before the start of the 2010 season due to a lack of sponsorship, was very much a hands-on owner. That’s been a major difference with Alan Johnson, owner/manager of Al-Anabi Racing. Before starting Al-Anabi with His Highness Sheik Khalid Al Thani of Qatar, Johnson forged a reputation as an eight-time NHRA Top Fuel championship crew chief, including five consecutive titles with Tony Schumacher at Don Schumacher Racing.

“Alan, he relies on the guys to handle their areas,” said Dixon, who has bagged a staggering 12 wins in as many final-round appearances this season. “So from that standpoint, there’s not as much interaction that goes on with Alan. Sheikh Khalid, he had this goal of his, a long-term goal to build championship-winning teams, and we almost even got it done in the first year (2009). So I think Alan is obviously in a better position as far as being in charge, you know, managing our two-car operation.

“He relies on his people. I guess where he’s hands-on is the manufacturing side of the things, with AJPE (Alan Johnson Performance Engineering).  He manufactures the blocks, the heads, clutches and manifolds and fuel systems and clutch systems, and probably sells to 75 percent of the teams out there.  The same parts that are on our cars go on other cars that we compete against.  So from that standpoint, our cars, sometimes it’s a test model for components that he eventually goes out there and sells.

“But as far as the micromanaging and in the middle of everybody, he doesn’t do that.  When I had trouble driving the car last year…he wasn’t in there.  He has driven cars, but he wasn’t in there telling me how to do it or anything like that. He was behind me 100 per cent and he let me know we are in this together, what we have to do, let’s make it happen.  We got things sorted out and you know, the rest is history.”

Rookie vote deadline near: Voting for the 2010 Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award closes Wednesday, with Jeff Diehl (Funny Car), Shane Gray (Pro Stock) and LE Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle) vying for the NHRA’s top rookie honor.

More than 150 auto racing journalists have been invited to vote in a system based upon number of events participated in, performance on and off the racetrack, participation in NHRA promotions and relationships with fans, sponsors and media.

Tonglet, a 20-year-old resident of Metairie, La., has ridden his Nitro Fish Gear Suzuki to four victories in five final-round appearances. He trails three-time PSM champion Andrew Hines by 72 points through four of six Countdown to the Championship events. Tonglet’s older brother, Gary Jr. or GT, won the award as a PSM rookie in 2001.

Diehl, a 46-year-old resident of Salinas, Calif., has become a fan-favorite for his old-school burnout procedure in his black-and-red Rimz One Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS. Gray, a 38-year-old resident of Artesia, N.M., has driven his Tire Kingdom Pontiac GXP to runnerup finishes at Englishtown, N.J., and Brainerd, Minn.

The award, which offers a $20,000 cash prize and trophy, will be presented during the NHRA’s annual championship ceremony at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Los Angeles on Nov. 15.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, October 29 2010
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