IN THE HUNT - Having won two of the last three events he's entered, Troy Jr. arrives at Maple Grove anxious to earn another Wally in the "backyard" of his Phoenixville, Pa.-based McPhillips Racing Top Alcohol Dragster team. The group is laser-focused on the national championship having already wrapped up the North Central Region crown.
"We're in sixth place nationally and everyone ahead of us deserves to be where they are," Troy Jr. said. "Our game plan isn't any different than it's been and that's to go out there and take it one pass at a time, do the best we can and see what happens. We can't control the outcome of others, just what we do. 
"This is a big weekend for everyone at McPhillips Racing because they live and work 30 miles down the road. They've had a lot of success at this track over the years and I have a lot of confidence in Rich (McPhillips), Rich Jr., and the rest of the team. I've never won here but I remember my dad winning his first Pro Stock race here in 2001. I was just a little kid but I was so proud of him. I never wanted to let go of that trophy." 

Not much time passed after Troy Coughlin Jr. decided to step away from Top Fuel racing before he knew he'd be back.

A little more than a year ago, on Aug. 26, 2017, the news went out that Coughlin Jr. was stepping away from his ride in Kalitta Motorsports' Top Fuel dragster. The third-generation racer of the famed Coughlin family said he needed more experience in the long cars, but he also knew he'd be back – someday.

"I knew about an hour after the release went out that I'd be back," Coughlin said. "I don't know what year, but (I knew) I'd crawl my way back into it."

Coughlin said he found himself focusing on mistakes rather than trying to get better, and for a guy who is driven to succeed, that's not a formula for success. Coughlin, the son of Pro Mod champion Troy Coughlin Sr., had plenty of success in the Sportsman ranks, but that success didn't come as easy in Top Fuel. Of course, he didn't expect it to come easy, for he knows how hard drag racing can be. Growing up in a drag racing family brings first-hand experience with how difficult the sport can be.

But in some way, Coughlin was his own worst critic in the Kalitta dragster.

"I don’t know if I gave myself, mentally, a fair shot at actually going out and racing at the professional level," Coughlin said. "I don't think I embraced it in the manner in which I should have. I was really focused on errors I was making and things that were going on in the car, a lot of things I wish I would have done better. Now, we're learning to fix those things."

This season, he teamed with Rich McPhillips in Top Alcohol Dragster, and it's already paid dividends. Coughlin Jr. has already clinched the North Central Region title in the class, and he's gunning for the national championship in Top Alcohol Dragster.

And while the laser-focused Coughlin isn't looking at a Top Fuel ride, he knows that possibility is out there. Someday.

"I'm definitely happy with what we're doing at Rich McPhillips Racing," Coughlin said. "We're winning races; we're winning rounds, we're making great runs, we've got great equipment with even better help of a wonderful team. Very happy with that.

"Do I have intentions of running Top Fuel again? Absolutely, 112 percent, sure."
When will that be? That's anyone's guess, but Coughlin doesn't seem to be in a hurry. 
"Just because I can get a Top Alcohol Dragster down the quarter-mile doesn't mean I can take a Top Fuel car straight down no problem," Coughlin said. "It definitely doesn't mean it's not going to be an easy challenge or even more of a learning curve. It just means that I'm gaining experience in a car that's somewhat similar to a Top Fuel dragster. 

"I couldn't put an exact figure to that, but I would like to say, mentally, I will come in and be able to pick it up and learn things a lot faster with the right guidance."

Yes, Coughlin should be better prepared for Top Fuel, whenever that time comes. Maybe in 2019, but more likely in 2020.

"Gaining experience with the long car is a great thing," Coughlin said. "It would be great to jump back in (Top Fuel) in '19, but at this juncture, I just don't think it's feasible. I think by '20 is a great goal. If it comes around, if something happens later this year or this winter to where I could jump in, I'd most definitely would."