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NHRA: McClenathan Says U.S. Nationals Win Key in Championship Hunt

27 August 1998

CLERMONT, Ind. -- This season there will be no emotional motivation to get that first win. A history-making performance won't be the talk of the day, either. For Cory McClenathan, there's only one reason he wants to win the U.S. Nationals.

It's pretty simple. He wants to win his first Winston Top Fuel championship.

Following an uncharacteristic second round loss at Brainerd, Minn., McClenathan enters drag racing's biggest event clinging to a one point lead over closest challenger Joe Amato. Lurking in the distance is defending Winston champion Gary Scelzi, 57 points behind.

Anaheim, Calif.'s McClenathan, who won his first U.S. Nationals title in 1996 in an emotion- filled weekend and was runner-up last year while pursuing a record five straight victories, needs a win in the 44th U.S. Nationals, Sept. 2-7 at Indianapolis Raceway Park if he's going to keep pace with his hungry challengers during the final seven races of the season and earn his first NHRA Winston championship.

The $2.4 million race, drag racing's most historic and prestigious event, is the 16th of 22 events in the $30-million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

"It means a lot to me that we've done well in that race the last two years," McClenathan said. "This season we're going to Indy looking to win, not for any special reason, just to stay in the championship hunt. Everybody does anything they can to win at Indy and that really makes all of us push the envelope that much farther. It's a very special race."

While the McDonald's dragster driver's first win at Indy will always be the one he keeps close to his heart, it would mean a lot to him if he could claim the title this year and go on to earn an elusive Winston championship. He says the event holds major significance for every NHRA competitor.

"Even before we won in '96, Indy meant a lot -- not just to me, but to a lot of drivers out here," McClenathan said. "If you can't win a Winston championship, you've got to at least win at Indy. That's just the way it is. It's our biggest event. For me, that weekend when Blaine (Johnson) passed away and we went on to win, it was very emotional. It was also the race I consider to be the biggest win of my career by far. Then to go back last year trying to win five races in a row, that was special too. It was tough losing to Head in that final because we were trying to make history."

Speaking of history, McClenathan realizes that he's involved in one of the tightest Winston championship battles in Top Fuel history. With five victories, he's managed to hold the lead for most of the season. He realizes at this pace, everything could be decided in the final round of the final race.

"The way it looks right now, it may come down to the last race," McClenathan said. "I hate to think about that. It's so close. Joe and Jimmy (Prock, Amato's crew chief) have found a way to get their car down the racetrack consistently on race day and go some rounds and that concerns me because we can do it too. But if we keep matching rounds, it'll go down to Pomona and that'll be tough."