Cory McClenathan admits he can still hold his own with the younger drivers on the Lucas Oil Off-Road Series, but on this particular morning, he felt every ache and pain a 56-year old should. Usually, he wouldn’t roll out of bed so gingerly but this time he’s still in the recovery process of a crash encountered while mixing it up with a younger opponent.
“I was touching bumpers with him, and he rotated a lot earlier than I would have, and it was either go into his door or rotate with him,” McClenathan explained.
McClenathan then grabbed his rear tire, and his truck began violently barrel-rolling. His vehicle ended up on its side, and when the safety crew uprighted the car – the cockpit caught fire. McClenathan was then extricated to safety.
McClenathan and crew worked around the clock to repair the truck, where he returned to race the next day. He ended up winning the event despite his moment of mayhem.
He visited the hospital after the event, and when the adrenaline wore off, where doctors diagnosed him with a concussion, a bruised jaw, and an eye socket. There were some nasal area broken blood vessels, and a measure of whiplash.
Just another day in the life of the man who used to drag race full-time, and on more than one occasion destroyed a car in qualifying and returned to race eliminations.
“I’m paying for it today dearly,” McClenathan added. “I’m trying to take it easy, but you know me I can barely take a day off.”
McClenathan plans to run the final three events of the season starting in Dallas, and then ride off into the sunset with intentions of retiring. When McClenathan was racing full-time on the NHRA, he had a clear plan of racing up until he was 50 years old and retiring on his own terms.
Then, McClenathan was replaced at Don Schumacher Racing by Spencer Massey, and the plan fell by the wayside.
“I will always say it wasn’t Don’s plan to get rid of me,” McClenathan said. “It was the executives from FRAM, who were behind it. Once Spencer had the money to race, Don just had to be the bad guy. Don and I are still good friends.
“I walked away with my head held high, and believed down the road there would be a ride available. Then as we all know, the landscape of fuel racing changed.”
McClenathan isn’t upset; it’s just the nature of the sport he’s been involved with for nearly four decades.
“I didn’t think it was initially the right time to walk away when I did at first,” McClenathan said. “I really thought things would get better, money would improve, and overall times would get better.
“I really thought today there would be corporate dollars coming back, and drag racing would go back to what it was 12 years ago. I waited it out. If there’s any mistake I made was taking partial, part-time races. It’s not the same as when you are racing for gold.
“It’s time for me to step back and take care of my Mom. Do some family stuff with my daughter. It’s time I’m there for them. I missed a lot of time with them being on the road all these years.
“I’ve had a very blessed career. It’s time to step back and take a look at what the next chapter of my life will be.”
Just having his life is something McClenathan feels fortunate to have still, as during his career he watched the violence of Top Fuel crashes ramp up in intensity.
“There were times early in my career when I had that Superman mentality, and then I got in a few of those big crashes I started to feel like a cat with nine lives,” McClenathan admitted. “I’m lucky, and all of the safety stuff has worked good, so I never really questioned the safety part of it.
“I had always managed to walk away from those incidents. But, now the cars are pretty quick.”
In the prime of his driving career, McClenathan was in the opposite lane when Blaine Johnson lost his life.
“That was a rough day,” McClenathan said.
In addition to losing his friend Johnson, also lost Scott Kalitta years later.
“I thought to myself, how many of my friends do I have to lose to bad situations?”
McClenathan came to realize a lot of those safety improvements came back to save his life in some dire situations including his accidents in his off-strip racing.
“Wear more than you need to,” McClenathan said of the most important lesson.”
McClenathan admits opening his heart in the way he has lately is tough, and while he contends he’s no quitter, the time is right to walk away. It’s not what he wants, but it’s the only choice he has now.
For now, McClenathan will say he’s retired from drag racing … well, kinda-sorta.
“Now if the right deal comes along, a golden opportunity and it was the right deal with the right people, I would certainly entertain the idea of coming back,” McClenathan admitted.
Spoken like a racer, one he definitely is and always will be.
— Competition Plus (@competitionplus) January 4, 2019