Author: McKenna, Kevin
Date published: November 26, 2010
Following an incredible career in the NHRA Jr. Drag Racing League that included a national championship in 2000 and at least one amazing season that featured a mindnumbing 36 event victories, it wasn't hard to peg third-generation racer Ryan McClanahan as a future drag racing superstar. Now 21 and racing alongside his father, Brian, in Super Stock and Stock, McClanahan has quickly adapted to "big cars" by claiming the 2010 NHRA Lucas Oil Super Stock championship.
McClanahan, whose grandfather Jerry was the 1973 NHRA Stock champ and whose father claimed the Pacific Division Stock title in 2009, enjoyed an incredible season behind the wheel of his Private Ryan Cobalt, one that included four victories, two at national events and two at Division 7 races. Despite his success, however, McClanahan did not clinch the title until the second-to-last race of the season, the marathon Pacific Division NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series event at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. McClanahan entered the event locked in a heated battle with Division 1 ace Lincoln Morehead. Early in eliminations, Morehead took over the points lead but lost in round three. That opened the door for McClanahan, who drove to the final to officially secure the title.
"When I got to Las Vegas, I was feeling huge pressure," said McClanahan. "I had been to [the Lucas Oil divisional event in] Noble, Okla., and lost in the second round, so my confidence wasn't where it should have been. We also went back East to Reading in order to block, but that didn't work out, either.
"I wasn't really trying to pay attention to everything, but I knew that Lincoln had passed me, so my second-round race in Las Vegas was critical. Then we came back for the third round, and I was sitting in the car getting ready to run, and Lincoln was ahead of me. I couldn't see his car, but I could see all of my friends cheering, so I knew he lost. The next round was my whole season, and we managed to get it done. Needless to say, it was a huge relief. I really didn't even feel too bad about losing the final. We got the big prize, which was the world championship."
When the 2010 season began, McClanahan actually thought that he would be contending for the Stock title after posting a pair of final-round finishes at the season-opening Kragen O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals presented by Valvoline and the Division 7 event in Tucson, Ariz., but as the season progressed, his results in Super Stock began to gradually improve. McClanahan's breakthrough weekend was in midseason when he scored a win at the NHRA Northwest Nationals in Seattle and the Firebird Int'l Raceway Lucas Oil Series event, which had been postponed from February.
"After Sonoma [where the Firebird finals were held], I started to feel good about my points total," he said. "Tony Mandella doubled up that weekend, and we were in a real close battle, but I beat him in the Firebird final, and that was a 20- point swing. After that, my dad and I really started to think that we could maybe finish it off."
Late in the season, the Alta Loma, Calif., racer ventured East a couple of times, to the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Lucas Oil and the Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals, but didn't make much progress at either event.
"I didn't really have much of a low point this season because we had so much success, but that was not much fun," said McClanahan. "We had hoped to go back East and just finish the job, but instead, Lincoln got hot and won in Charlotte, and by the time we got back home for the last few races of the year, there were still a few drivers who could have caught us. I'm just glad it worked out the way it did."
In addition to his experience in the Jr. Drag Racing League and the guidance of his father, McClanahan's rapid development was spurred by a couple of other factors. He also competes in Stock, giving him extra seat time. Also, the SS/BM Cobalt that McClanahan runs in Super Stock is one of the quickest cars in the class with passes in the mid-eightsecond zone, meaning that he almost always pursues his opponent.
"I don't think I've ever been chased in this car; I'm always the one who does the chasing, and that works for me," he said. "The downside is that this car is a bit more sensitive to track conditions than a lot of other cars, but it's a good car, so we really don't have too many problems with that. As far as driving the Stocker, that helps me a lot, and both cars are set up the same, so I don't really have to adjust my driving style from car to car."
Despite his young age, McClanahan understands the importance of teamwork, and his team is very much a family effort, with his parents, Brian and Susan, and his sister, Alex, working together. He also benefited from the help of chassis builder Gary Hansen, Gary Johnson, engine builder Panella Motorsports, and the family business, McClanahan's Tire Recycling. McClanahan dedicated the championship to his late grandmother Linda McClanahan, who passed away last September.
"This whole season seems like a dream," said McClanahan. "Even when I clinched the championship in Las Vegas, it didn't seem real. We even had T-shirts made the following Monday, but it was hard to believe it actually happened. I guess it didn't sink in until I got to Pomona [for the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals], and they came by and took my jacket and ring size. That's when I thought, 'Wow, I really did this.'"