Youthful McClellan takes up drag racing sport

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 29, 2007

John McClellan is a 17-year-old kid. And like a lot of kids his age, he likes cars and he likes to go fast.

But driving fast on the Ironton city streets is not only illegal, it’s dangerous. That’s why John McClellan drag races.

Yes, this young driver less than two years from getting his operator’s license likes to mimick the movie character Ricky Bobby who said, “I want to go fast.”

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“I’ve always wanted to do it (drag race). Tom Dalton and Shannon Heaberlin talked to me about doing it. Tom and Shannon and I built the car,” said McClellan.

“It’s the fun of it. There’s an extra adrenalin rush when you get to race for money. But you get more tense.”

The car is a 1992 Chevrolet Camaro, making it a 25th anniversary edition.

McClellan named his car Jack-Mac, a combination of his grandfather, Jack Wade, owner of Ironton Motor Parts, and himself.

Wade bought the car but McClellan said, “I can’t remember how much he paid for it.”

All the winnings usually go back into paying the expenses for parts or entry fee to the next race. But McClellan doesn’t mind. In fact, he thinks it is part of the fun.

“We pay for everything ourselves. We pay for fuel, check the tires, and we constantly change the oil,” said McClellan. “Building the car was half the fun. I got to work with my grandpa.”

Although drag racing is merely fun and something to occupy his weekends now, he is open to what could happen in the future.

“As of now, I want to race for fun. As I get older, I might look into it as a career if the opportunity presents itself,” said McClellan.

A career as a drag race doesn’t bother parents Frank and Susan McClellan who follow their son to every race. However, they momentarily had second thoughts at a recent race.

“I only got scared the other day when he about flipped the car,” said Susan McClellan.

“The track where he was racing had a new surface and it rained, so it was slippery. I was kind of worried after that.”

But John assured his parents they had nothing to worry about.

“I’m most focused when I come off the starting line,” said McClellan. “It’s such a rush. I always look over and see where my opponent is.

“When the race is over you hope you didn’t break out or red light.”

Drivers must give a time they expect the car to run prior to the race. If they run faster than that time, it is a break out.

If the driver comes off the starting line before the green light comes on, it’s called a red light.

So far, McClellan has remained within the limits. He said temperatures and humidity alter the speed he will run, usually about 6.9 seconds over the one-eighth mile strip.

“I’ve never really ran slower than that,” said McClellan.

Most of McClellan’s racing is at a new drag strip in South Webster, but he also likes to run other tracks in Owensville, Ky., Point Pleasant, W.Va., and at Kanawha Valley in the Charleston, W.Va., area.

McClellan prefers the track at South Webster, and the older drivers like the youngster. One driver slapped him with a nickname.

“I like racing at South Webster because everyone there is like a family. They help each other out,” said McClellan.

“They call me John “Force” McClellan after John Force (the Jet Funny Car driver). The guy that gave me the name said it just popped in his head. He thought it fit me.”

While the race track is like a family to McClellan, he is always supported by his family attending the races.

During one race, he gave something back to him family.

Heaberlin and McClellan both qualified for the finals. The two decided no matter who won, they would pool the prize money and split it equally.

Heaberlin won and the pair split $500. But instead of spending the money, they donated it to the “Relay for Life” because his cousin Megan Filkins is recovering from a bout with cancer for the second time.

“Most young kids would spend the money. He gave it to Megan. Frank and I were proud of that,” said Susan McClellan.

Maybe he’s not such a young driver after all.