Rowdy McClenon is still reeling from a whirlwind summer of racing which placed him firmly in the spotlight of the sprint car arena. The 16 year old Anderson High School student has been racing for more than half his life. This past summer Rowdy stepped up to the super powerful Spec Sprint Division. Considered one of the most technically difficult types of dirt cars to drive, Spec Sprints are a light-weight (about 1650 lbs.) 500 plus horsepower, wingless dirt cars that will hit speeds of 100 mph on a fast track. Rowdy’s car sports a chassis made by the famed DRC Chassis Company located in Gasoline Alley Indiana, at the heart of the industry. And Mike Braund of Automotive Associates in Anderson built the powerhouse of a motor.
After years of winning state and national championships as he ran the gamut of Quarter Midgets and Outlaw Sprint Karts divisions, Rowdy’s initial foray into Spec Sprints has earned him the title of “Rookie of the Year” for the entire weekly series that runs all summer at the Silver Dollar Speedway in Chico.
But that was just the tip of the iceberg. He and his pit crew of one (Rowdy’s father Steve) ran an exhausting 34 straight races in just six months! Hitting nearly every dirt track in California that run the wingless sprint cars, their venues included tracks in Petaluma, Antioch, Placerville, Marysville and Chico. Among this season’s highlights were several races against Jimmy Sills where Rowdy was able to best his former mentor. They often raced at least two tracks each weekend. Asked which track is his favorite the well-spoken young man replied, “Which ever track we are at.” Grinning he continued, “They are all great, all different and each has their particular challenges.” Although he has a slight bias towards the larger, faster tracks, small tracks have a great deal to offer and venues like the Silver Dollar are known for treating drivers well and packing the grandstands making for an excellent show.
But the racing doesn’t end with the heat of summer, Rowdy has already started a new season with the Red Bluff Outlaws Sprint Kart Winter Series where he will compete for his third season against the best Sprint Kart drivers in the world. But the most exciting event on the horizon is his upcoming trip to Oklahoma and the Chili Bowl race schedule for January.
The Chili Bowl is the largest and most prestigious Midget race of the year. And for the first time Rowdy will be testing his mettle against legends of the sport more than likely to include Tony Stewart, Kasey Kane, Tracy Hines and literally hundreds of other top drivers.
Rowdy’s opportunity to pilot a Midget comes from years of hard work and sacrifice for himself and family. Being a successful driver and team takes constant work and concentrated dedication. Car owner and crew chief, father Steve McClenon, owns “Hot Rods to Hell” in Anderson which builds some of the world’s most high tech components and aftermarket parts for high-end custom cars. From their shop they work relentlessly to keep their Sprint Car and Outlaw Karts, and now the Midget in top working condition.
And, Rowdy is no “Arrive and Drive” racer. He has built and maintained his cars since he was old enough to use a wrench. An extremely accomplished welder and metal fabricator, his skill is evident in the quality and performance of all his cars. But, being an “Army of Two” has its great disadvantages.
“It’s like taking a knife to a gunfight most of the time.” Quips Steve. “We run on a shoestring budget. We don’t have the financial backing and sponsorship support that most teams do. Hopefully we can find some additional funds from a company or individual looking to support and partner with a driver that has as much potential as Rowdy.”
“I can’t wait to get into a Midget and get some seat time.” Said the enthusiastic driver. I love the Spec Sprints, but it has always been one of my dreams to run at the Chili Bowl. I’ve watched it on television since as far back as I can remember. I’d be racing against the legends in the sport: What kid could ask for more?”