Yellow means Jegs at NHRA Full Throttle events, so finding Jeg Coughlin Jr. at the Arizona Nationals was easy. It’s good news for the drag racing series that the four-time Pro Stock champion is back after a one-year hiatus, in the Jegs.com Mopar Dodge Avenger.
Coughlin -- and his family -- are important figures in the straight-line sport for several reasons. Jeg is one of -- I’d say THE -- best driver in the class, without the advantage of the outright fastest car. His opinions are well considered and well stated. And I’ve always appreciated that the powerhouse that is the Jegs.com mail order business has put money back into drag racing -- including getting contingency award cash into the hands of sportsman racers.
Coughlin and I sat down in his motorhome at Firebird International Raceway for 10 questions. His answers, in some cases, have been edited slightly for length and clarity.
Q: When and how did the Dodge Mopar program come together?
A: “I’ve been friends with a lot of the folks at Chrysler and Mopar for a number of years. Right around the holidays, 2010-11 timeframe, I was invited to come drive their new V-10 Super Stock car. The timing didn’t allow me to do that but what kind of kicked off from that conversation was interest in aligning themselves with Jegs and myself for a Pro Stock effort. So, away we went.”
Q: When you sat out 2011, did you know you’d be back in 2012 with this program?
A: “I knew probably in mid-January that I was likely going to make a return. When I announced stepping away at the end of 2010 at Pomona, I had some pretty flattering offers to come drive for fuel teams -- Funny Cars and Top Fuel alike. As flattering as that was -- and nitro definitely is in my blood -- I gracefully declined those efforts. I wanted to sift-out what my plans were for the future. I think as the off-season started, going into December, I again was approached to consider joining a couple different Pro Stock teams, some on a limited basis, some on a full-time basis. There was one, in particular, who wanted to start a program from the ground-up, one of the prominent NASCAR teams in the Charlotte area. I think that’s what really got my interest refocused on making a possible return. As those conversations materialized, through the Christmas timeframe and New Year’s, it was apparent that if Jegs was going to bring money to the table and be a major contributor to the program, it seemed like we should do this ourselves and keep more of the program in-house. Yes, the NASCAR group, they’ve got more in just their NASCAR engine budget alone than what we have in running a Pro Stock team for a year. They are brilliant engineers and brilliant assemblers but, as good as that deal sounded like, if we were going to make a return we needed to do it ourselves.”
Q: Care to reveal who those nitro or NASCAR teams were?
A: “I think it’s best to keep that confidential.”
Q: Are you at a point in your life where you need something new and exciting for motivational purposes?
A: “It certainly never hurts. I think ‘motivational’ was a key word in that sentence. When I started working with Dale Aldo and Trisha Hecker at Mopar, knowing their passion and drive to excel in Pro Stock racing, I felt very early on in conversations we had -- obviously we were entertaining a couple of different engine platforms to run there -- and later in the summer elected to go the Mopar route.”
Q: What does it say about NHRA, and the Pro Stock class, that Dodge and Mopar wanted to step-up and do a program like this?
A: “It’s exciting. Pro Stock is a highly technical class, without question, not that the rest of them aren’t. But with the engine development that goes on to try to yield another horsepower or two -- we can’t get enough horsepower -- a lot of the fuel teams obviously horsepower is king there, too. Applying it to the quarter-mile strip is what it takes. They want to return Dodge, and the Mopar brand, to the top of Pro Stock. They’ve been close -- Vincent Nobile had a real standout season last year as did Allen Johnson and his father, Roy. We were very optimistic that the engine platform would be suitable.”
Q: Does it ever bother you when Pro Stock comes out and fans leave the grandstands to go to the nitro pit area?
A: “Not really. The neat thing about the Full Throttle series is there’s something for everybody. Not everyone’s here to see Pro Stock. Not everyone’s here to see Top Fuel or Funny Cars or the Lucas Oil series classes. There’s a lot going on within the events. Quite frankly, a lot of times after the sessions, the fans are wore out if there’s been some oil downs or delays, the sun beating down on them, or the wind. We get to see a lot of the fans in the pits and that’s another unique feature of the Full Throttle series.”
Q: Have you ever seriously considered a full effort in nitro racing?
A: “Not really. I love it. My brothers and I worked on our father’s Top Fuel car, ’77, ’78, ’79, ’80. I was 10 years old but to be able to knock the pistons out and the connecting rod caps and help clean them up, it’s definitely in my blood. I have respect for the Top Fuel and Funny Car drivers. There’s no question they’re much more vulnerable . . . they can be very explosive. That part of it I’m just not into, frankly. The speed, sure, I love it. I know if I got in one I would probably have a hard time getting out. Pro Stock I’ve really, really enjoyed. After my dad transitioned out of Top Fuel, my brothers started bracket racing and Lucas Oil series racing. I didn’t understand it at first. But I looked at it from the mathematics side, what it took to win, and prepare to win, and I really enjoyed that. As I grew up in the sport, I really took a liking to Pro Stock and watching how the Bob Gliddens, the Lee Shepherds, the Frank Iaconios, the Warren Johnsons of the world were making horsepower and how they were applying it. It was a good show and I enjoyed watching the show. When I got the opportunity in the mid-‘90s to join my brother, Troy, in a Pro Stock car I called it home.”
Q: What’s the state of NHRA?
A: “We see it as healthy. Jegs is a very performance-driven aftermarket company. We see the motorsports world, in general, as still pretty strong. The street performance market, which feeds off the motorsports world and the hot-rodders that go to the car shows, still have their passions that they like to work on week-in-and-week out, even in the tougher times. Yes, it has put on a squeeze. I’m not going to sit here and say business has been flourishing the last couple of years. We tend to try to focus on the positives and get our tails to work and do a better job and be more efficient to make our bottom lines be what they were before all this mess. The state of NHRA right now, they fought some bad weather last year, but we’ve got something for everybody out here so it’s a matter of getting the fans back engaged.”
Q: What’s the most important issue you’d like to see NHRA address?
A: “I’ve never looked into their microscope. You can read about it all you want on chatrooms. I think they do a really nice job with the business, with the sport of drag racing. Obviously, to have the likes of the Coca-Cola Co. with the Full Throttle energy drink to be behind this sport, a lot of things are going right. The NHRA has done what a lot of companies have done over the last few years. That’s look from within: ‘How can we do a better job? How can we do it leaner? How can we give better service to our customers?’ That takes a little while to funnel-out over a 23-race series at different tracks with different personalities.”
Q: How does it make you feel when you’re called one of, if not the best, driver in Pro Stock?
A: “It’s flattering, without question. I’m one of those racers that I’m never happy unless I’m winning, for the most part. To be put up as one of the best in Pro Stock, that’s pretty cool. If you look at the pattern of our successes, we’ve never had the fastest car. Not by choice. We’ve watched domination through 2003, ’04, ’05, ’06 with the (Greg) Anderson-(Jason) Line crowd, where they were outrunning everybody by three or four hundreds. It would be interesting to enjoy that kind of performance advantage, as I’ve never had it in my career.”
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