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An Interview with Susan Roush McClenaghan: Champion Drag Racer (Part 1)

I had the pleasure of interviewing Susan Roush McClenaghan recently. Susan is a champion drag racer, whose Mustang is powered by propane autogas. Check out our conversation below.

Susan Roush McClenaghan

Susan Roush McClenaghan

Q: When did you get started with racing?

When I was very young Dad was just starting his Motorsports career. He began in drag racing in the mid 1960′s-70′s before his road race endeavors (1980′s-90′s) then NASCAR (1988-present). You could say I grew up at the drag races. I always had a love of classic cars and hot rods, but did not do anything competitive with cars until 1998 when I became a navigator in the cross country old car rally “The Great Race.” I was involved in that event for the next 10 years. In 2005, I made my first pass down the drag strip and would begin competing in the NMRA, NMCA and NHRA in 2006.

Q: How did you know you wanted to race professionally?

The racing is a natural extension of my day job (curator for the ROUSH Museum). I’ve managed the museum since 1988 and continue to work to preserve our company’s history and my father’s legacy in Motorsports. As far as drag racing goes, after a little time on the track I truly felt I could be good at it. I love cars and enjoy the opportunity the time at the races can offer to meet and get to know all kinds of people.

Q: What was your most memorable race & why?

There have been many wonderful moments that stand out in often very personal ways. NMCA’s final event for 2011 at Indianapolis was one of those incredible moments. We were second in points right up to the final race. The only way we were going to win the championship was to win the race. It was a very large field of cars which meant you had to go a lot of rounds to get to the final pair. We did just that and took the trophy. What is truly cool about this story is that my father entered a car in the 1971 NHRA nationals at Indianapolis and won his class. Forty years apart almost to the day.

Q: How is driving a propane-powered vehicle different from gasoline? What are the benefits from your point of view?

As far as the engine is concern it doesn’t know the difference. We’ve proven that during testing by running our engine on race gasoline then switching the fuel system to propane with no other changes to the engine. The results? The same performance was achieved with both fuels. This was really big and I wanted to make a statement with our racing. I wanted to prove we could win against very strong competition with a domestically produced alternative fuel. And we have! In the two full race seasons we’ve run on propane my teammate, Donnie Bowles, and I combined have captured two national championships, ten class wins and counting.

Back to our most recent weekend…

NMRA at Maryland International Raceway. Donnie and I fought our way through the ranks to end up squaring off in the finals. Though we’ve had to race each other before in earlier rounds this was the first time we’ve met in the finals. Two propane drag cars duking it out for the class win…the announcers had a ball.

More on Propane AutoGas and Susan’s Vehicle

Her car uses an all-aluminum 5.4L, V-8 Ford engine that was originally designed for the Ford GT supercar. This engine is naturally-aspirated with a 12.5:1 compression ratio. Several other changes were required to run on ordinary liquid propane, including CNC ported cylinder heads, high performance camshaft and valve train, and a wet sump lubrication system, all of which helps these liquid propane-power engines to generate in excess of 750 horsepower.

Propane is very safe to use as a motor fuel and has a significantly lower flammability than gasoline. It is also good in cool or hot weather making it ideal for motorsports applications. Propane is the third most popular motor fuel (behind gasoline and diesel), and there are already more than 12 million propane-fueled vehicles on roads across the world. As a green fuel, on average propane fleet vehicles reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 19% and create 20% fewer nitrogen oxides, up to 60% less carbon monoxide, and fewer particulate emissions, as compared to gasoline.

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