Clearly there is a difference between tuners working on Funny Cars and tuners working on Top Fuel dragsters. Take a Funny Car tuner and put him in the Top Fuel environment and the difference becomes more noticeable.The driver of the Fram Top Fuel dragster, Cory McClenathan, has lived the difference this year. So has Antron Brown, driver of the Matco Tools Top Fuel dragster. Both are working with tuners who last year worked on Funny Car teams.
McClenathan, paired with Todd Okuhara and Phil Shuler, has quickly learned he is working for a very aggressive pair of tuners. The difference say McClenathan is, “just in the way they think.”
“They are more apt to throw the trailer at it. As far as a Friday tune up, I think they want to go A to B and be safe and they seem to really want to get after it on Friday night. I’ll tell you Phil Shuler and Todd Okuhara are ready to throw it at it on Friday nights.”
As a seasoned veteran, McClenathan drew on experience as he adjusted to his new tuners. For Antron Brown, a sophomore driver, it was crucial he learned quickly that a clenching fist hand signal meant, “I had better tighten my butt cheeks on this one.”
Brown was paired with Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald this season when Mike Ashley Racing purchased the assets of the team formerly owned by Tim Buckley.
Corradi and Oswald tuned Mike Ashley in 2007 and together they pushed Ashley into the Funny Car speed record. Last season the pair tuned Melanie Troxel to one Funny Car win.
This season Brown, Corradi and Oswald have qualified No. 1 six times. The trio have started from the bottom of the ladder only once this season, in tenth. Even then, Brown won the event.
“We’re only aggressive when the car really says we can be,” Corradi said. “Trust me we want to go down the track as quick as possible just like everybody else. The aggressiveness is there only because the car allows it and it’s not as temperamental as the Funny Car.”
The general consensus is the tuning window for the Funny Car is narrower than that of the dragster.
“The clutch in the dragster provides a bigger window of opportunity so you can be a little off on the tune up and still make it,” said McClenathan. “I’ll tell you these guys are making big power and great decisions in the clutch department.”
Happy with his current co-tuners, McClenathan wonders if his former tuner, Jimmy Prock, returned to the class who might come out on top.
“Jimmy can make a dragster run really good,” McClenathan said. “He does very well in a Funny Car and I’m not knocking him but I’ve always felt like he is best served as a Top Fuel crew chief. I think he could be more lethal than Alan Johnson and a lot of people over here if he was tuning a dragster. Not knocking him because he’s the stuff – the stuff champions are made of. There’s a reason why they call him the Prock Rocket.”
Brown can't speak to Prock's abilities but, he can tell you the competition among the dragster teams is a lot closer today then it has been in the past.
“If you look at past years you had like four teams who were in the top spots,” said Brown. Now if you look at the whole class you have eight to ten cars in our class. Look at the winners … we’ve had six or seven different winners in our class this year. On any given day anyone can win and it’s made our class way tighter. We are winning and losing drag races at 315 miles an hour by four thousands of a second. We’re like the Pro Stock of the fuel cars.”
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