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MOTOR RACING

Drag racer Cory McClenathan flies under radar

With the NHRA's premier series set to begin in Pomona, the veteran prefers to stay out of spotlight.

February 06, 2009|Jim Peltz

Change has been a constant for veteran top-fuel drag racer Cory McClenathan, and this season is no exception.

"Cory Mac" has driven for several teams, endured an up-and-down career and, at the start of this year, found himself surrounded by a new crew. McClenathan joked that during preseason test runs, "I needed name tags because I didn't know anyone on the team."

But none of that has dissuaded McClenathan, 46, from believing he'll again be strong in the National Hot Rod Assn.'s premier Full Throttle Series, whose first race is the Kragen O'Reilly Winternationals on Sunday at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona.

Rain canceled the event's first round of qualifying Thursday. That round is now set for today, followed by two more rounds Saturday. The final eliminations are Sunday.

McClenathan drives for the team owned by Don Schumacher whose son, Tony, has won the last five consecutive top-fuel titles and six overall.

But as this season arrived, Schumacher's crew chief, Alan Johnson, left to form his own team with two-time champion Larry Dixon as his driver.

That prompted Don Schumacher to shift Mike Green, McClenathan's crew chief last year, and the rest of Green's crew over to Tony Schumacher this season.

The result: lots of speculation about how Schumacher and Green would fare this year, with little mention of McClenathan, even though McClenathan finished third in the title standings last season.

"I kind of thrive on that," McClenathan said about staying under the radar. "It just gives me more to prove. We'll let the car speak for itself and go out there and do the best we can."

And despite his admiration of teammate Schumacher, McClenathan said the challenge faced by Schumacher and Dixon in melding with their new teams gives him a better opportunity to win.

"It definitely does that," said McClenathan, whose new co-crew chiefs are Todd Okuhara and Phil Shuler. "We'll have two cars," his and Schumacher's, "that will be very close to each other."

McClenathan, who grew up in La Habra and now lives in Indianapolis, began his career in the NHRA's top series at Pomona in 1991. He has won 30 races and finished second in the standings four times but has never won the championship.

McClenathan wants to win one title before he retires, after which he would like to be a television announcer. But first he wants to prove he's competitive at Pomona despite a new crew and fighting a recent bout of pneumonia.

While everyone is talking about Schumacher and Dixon, he said, "they forget there are other players in this deal."

Etc.

The NHRA and ESPN said they agreed to a five-year contract extension to keep the Full Throttle Series on cable television through 2016. ESPN typically broadcasts a same-day, delayed program that compacts the day's racing.

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james.peltz@latimes.com

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