If anything, longtime fuel racer Cory McClenathan needed the upcoming Indianapolis events as a positive diversion from the run of misfortunes he’s experienced since last fall.
McClenathan will return to the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series for what could be the final two events of his storied career piloting a Top Fuel dragster sponsored by Nordic Boats and Revchem Composites.
The outing, while racing under the Don Schumacher Racing umbrella, will enable McClenathan to exit the sport with a conclusion fitting of his career.
“I truly see this as an opportunity, a chance of a lifetime to go back and do it for a few races and come back and say, “Okay, I was part of that history,” McClenathan said. “I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I got to race against all the bigs, Shirley Muldowney, Don Garlits, Kenny Bernstein, Don Prudhomme, the best of the best. Now I get to go back and race some of the newer kids in there and Austin Prock, Brittney Force and Leah Pruett, as well as all the rest of the guys that have still been doing it since I walked away from full-time in 2010.
“This is basically a great time for me to come back, show my face in the sport, work hard to do well for my sponsors, with Nordic and Revchem Composites. I want to make them proud and get their name out there and do what you’re supposed to do as a driver and a sponsor. Working together with the folks at DSR, they’ve been just awesome so far at taking care of all the stuff that I normally would do myself. So it’s made it easier on me.”
If only life had been as kind as the process to return to racing has been.
Last October, while racing in the Lucas Oil Off-Road Series was injured in a crash; ending up with a concussion, a bruised jaw, and an eye socket. There were some nasal area broken blood vessels, and a measure of whiplash.
Then doctors in a further examination spotted basal cell carcinoma in McClenathan’s back; a situation doctors were able to treat effectively through early detection.
No sooner had McClenathan recovered from the injuries when a strange illness leveled him. McClenathan cannot say definitively, but the symptoms he experienced back in late November mirrored those of COVID-19.
“I started feeling really bad and thought, “I don’t normally get flu shots, but now I’m wishing I had, because if this is what the flu is like nowadays, wow,” McClenathan said. “It took me to my knees, to the point of having to crawl up the stairs, and I was in bed all the way from there through Christmas and trying to go to the doctor. I actually, at one point, had to call 911, because I thought something was really wrong. They let me go and said, “Basically, you have a major upper respiratory issue.”
McClenathan, who suffers from chronic bronchitis, just figured it was par for the course. He quickly realized this was nothing like he had before.
“Everything they put me on, nothing really made me feel that much better,” McClenathan explained. “I really struggled with trying to even eat, and the way food had no taste and a lot of dizziness, a lot of nausea. The headaches were incredibly bad, and just right along with everything else, all of a sudden, here comes all the info on the COVID. I’m thinking, “Man, every single thing they’re talking about, I have.”
McClenathan plans to undergo an antibody test on Monday, July 6, to confirm whether the illness he suffered was actually one of the earliest strains of the coronavirus. He had a test earlier in the year which came back negative, but as McClenathan was told by his doctor, the test at the time had only a 55-percent accuracy factor.
“Regardless of what the test results were, my doctor still believes I had it,” McClenathan said.
McClenathan said if he gets a positive antibody test, he will begin steps to join in donating his plasma, which is used for the antibodies to treat Covid-19 victims.
“I’m excited now to do that,” McClenathan said. “The testing has come a long way. So if I can do that, I’ll be out there, donating plasma.”
With a positive test, McClenathan will join drag racing’s C19 club, a group of Covid-19 survivors who have banded together as a support group for other drag racing victims. He will become the sixth member officially, in a group which has already donated 24 bags of plasma.
McClenathan has made a full recovery but still suffers from some of its lingering effects such as shortness of breath, issues with working out stamina and other problems which only presented themselves after his illness.
“I’m just starting to feel like I can go out and do everything I do,” McClenathan said. “My workouts have been cut in half just because of this, and I normally never would have to check heart rate and everything else. Now I feel like I really need to stay on top of it. Not only that, now we’re going to go back to racing, and we’ll be back in Indiana, where we have two things that are going to play against us, the heat and the humidity.
“I know that everybody’s going to have to wear a face mask, and I know that there’s a lot of people not crazy about having to do that as fans. But, at the same time, they have to realize they’re not only saving themself, but they’re saving lives in general. So my thing is to use common sense, use your self-distancing, and I think, all in all, in the long run, we’re going to be back and doing things in a quicker way than we’re seeing right now.”
For McClenathan, he admits sarcastically the coronavirus is the gift that keeps on giving. However, of all the misfortunes which beset him early, it was the race he planned to promote in mid-October, which was indeed in his control.
McClenathan, a longtime Volkswagen racing aficionado, entered the race promoting arena early in 2020, long before the pandemic and planned to host a significant VW specialty event at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in mid-October. Last week, McClenathan made the tough decision to cancel the event.
“I’m really bummed about it,” McClenathan said. “It’s one of those deals where I started out in VWs, to begin with in my career and really have never lost the passion for the VW drag racing, show cars, all that kind of stuff. I still pick up Hot VWs [magazine] and look at it.
“I looked at the schedules of all the races and thought, “You know what? Why not put on a great race at a great place,” which was Vegas, “and give them a venue where they can not only bring their families and stay over through the night, get some test runs on Saturday, then race on Sunday but, at the same time, they could go to shows and go gambling and stay at a couple of different nice hotels or something close to the track, for the true racer that really doesn’t do that stuff?”
Nevada is presently in stage 2 of the reopening phase, and for McClenathan, even though the EMPI-sponsored event, slated for October 16 – 18, 2020, would have likely gone off without a hitch, knowing he had racers putting cars in containers to ship to the United States from as far as Australia wasn’t a risk he was willing to take.
“To have folks get their cars shipped all the way over here, and then something unforeseen happen wasn’t a chance I was willing to take,” McClenathan explained. “With all the uncertainty going on, I just wasn’t willing to gamble at someone else’s expense.”
McClenathan plans to bring the event back next season hopefully with a better health climate for VW enthusiasts.
“The excitement is still there,” McClenathan said. “We announced on the EMPI Insider, a live broadcast, and we had nothing come back, no negative stuff. It was all very good, and everybody understands. What’s going on in the world is a tough thing. This is not something that just goes away. It lingers, and it takes a long time to get better.”
McClenathan won’t go as far as to say next weekend’s race will cancel out the misfortunes but will go a long way to putting everything on a positive track.
“Those of us that have a lot of things happen negatively, we try to look at the positive anyways, and we all know the good Lord only gives us what we can handle,” McClenathan said. “So I’m good with that, and I’ve got myself in a much better place. The call from Don really sent me in a place to where, “Okay, I’ve retired, but, at the same time, this is going to be history. This is going to be something that’s a big positive after all the negatives we’ve seen.”
And for McClenathan a little bit of positive can go a long way.