SUNDAY FINAL - COUGHLIN BEATS THE ODDS AND COMPETITION
Troy Coughlin didn’t let overwhelming odds deter his determination.
As a result, the Pro Modified driver made his trip for Delaware, Ohio, doubled down and in the end scored the jackpot with his first career NHRA Pro Modified world championship.
Coughlin entered the NHRA Big O Tires Nationals at The Strip in Las Vegas as a longshot, ranked third in the points. He reeled in Rickie Smith, surpassing him based on qualifying points and then defeated Mike Castellana in the second round. Needing to win the event to clinch, Coughlin beat Leah Pruett in the semis and No. 1 qualifier Donnie Walsh in the final round.
The margin of victory in the championship battle was three points.
“Steve Petty and all the guys back at Jegs have done such a fabulous job in making my job much simpler,” said Coughlin. “What a great hot rod and what a great day.”
His victory was made even more special based on the decision to run a new C-6 Corvette for the first time.
“We weren’t going to bring the new car out until next year and then we tested it last week,” said Coughlin, of his new R2B2-built, twin-turbo entry. “I thought to myself, ‘Wow, this thing drives pretty nice. It drives like a bracket car.
“A bracket car is smooth and straight. This thing will spin the tires at half-track going straight at 220 miles per hour, and I said, ‘I’ve never had a car like that before.'
“I just made an executive decision and decided to run this car.”
Coughlin, no stranger to racing, competed in various NHRA sportsman categories before a stint in Pro Stock and later moving into Pro Modified. The deep level of experience paid off nicely.
“We approached the day as we were going to go out and run as fast as we can and not overpower the track,” Coughlin explained. “We wanted to take the day, one race at a time and go up there and just make laps. I knew I needed to get off of the starting line on time and light up the win lights.”
When you’re in the Coughlin bloodline, you are born into a championship tradition. Younger brother Jeggie Coughlin has five series titles and with this victory Troy adds a second crown since winning the NMCA Pro Street title in 2009.
“When Jeggie won his first championship, he had a ring and added a stone to it,” said Coughlin. “Each year he won a championship, he added a stone to it. When I won my championship on the street car series, I added a stone to it. I get to add one and now we have seven stones. It’s so awesome to be a piece of that history with the group of guys we have here.”
SATURDAY NOTEBOOK - SUNDAY SHOWDOWNS WILL DECIDE 2012 TITLE
NOT HIS FIRST RODEO - This weekend’s three-way world championship battle isn’t seven-time champion Rickie Smith’s first rodeo.
Smith, who races a nitrous-injected, EFI Pro Modified Camaro in NHRA competition, entered this weekend’s NHRA Big O Tires Nationals needing to outlast both Mike Castellana and Troy Coughlin to win the title. Coughlin and Castellana meet in the second round.
Saturday’s first round victory only exemplified the weekend he’s had at The Strip at Las Vegas. Smith scored a massive holeshot on the starting line against tardy Donald Martin but as he crossed the finish line, exploded the engine in a ball of flames and launched the hood scoop into the air.
Smith recorded a 6.048 run at 232.87 as his IDG-sponsored Camaro limped off the end of the strip.
“The stress of this wouldn’t be so bad if we had a consistent car,” admitted Smith. “We’ve tested everywhere but we are struggling. Some of the problems have been electrical and others have been other things. Just seems like the last three races, and on Friday, we were plum out in left field. Up until this race, it has been stuff outside of our control.”
Smith tested last week in Las Vegas in conditions vastly different from what he faced on Friday. Last week, he ran in an adjusted altitude of nearly 4,000 feet above sea level but this weekend, the conditions improved to the point, the high-altitude track has measured at 2,800 feet. The major atmospheric turn has thrown the cagey veteran a curve ball.
“This motor, when it gets in cool air, with the fuel injection, for some reason, it just gets stupid good on the starting line,” explained Smith. “It’s blowing through low gear so fast that it is crazy. I’ve been taking out gear ratio and timing from it. I’ve been detuning this thing so hard to get through low gear this has me stressed out more than battling for the championship.”
Smith, whose past titles came in IHRA Pro Stock and their sportsman Super Modified division, has maintained a simple philosophy over the years.
“You just have to go out there and race hard … let the chips fall where they may,” said Smith. “When things go on that I cannot control is when I tend to get stressed out.
“To have a chance to win, you just have to make yourself go up there and race. It’s hard to do sometimes but it’s what you have to do. You cannot give it away. You can’t go up there trying to do the impossible. Most of the times this is when problems happen.”
In the past, I have always liked to be in control of my Sunday destiny.
“I’ve always known where the car is,” said Smith. “I always knew if I needed to I could get after it a little harder. These last two races, it’s almost as if I don’t know where I am at with the car. I am totally lost and I don’t know why.”
And, while this aspect for Smith is a different kind of rodeo than he’s accustomed to, he still feels he can overcome it.
Don Walsh was able to retain fifth consecutive No. 1 qualifying position of the season during the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by ProCare Rx event during the 12th annual Big O Tires NHRA Nationals. Walsh was able to best Clint Satterfield in the first round of eliminations held on Saturday and will face Ray Commisso when racing resumes on Sunday.
Series points leader Mike Castellana made it through to the second round of eliminations when he defeated Jay Payne on Saturday. Castellana will be seeking his first career NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by Pro Care Rx championship on Sunday when he faces third in points racer, Troy Coughlin.
Rickie Smith, who is second in points, will face Leah Pruett in the other quarter-final matchup. Danny Rowe will face Pete Farber in the remaining quarter-final race.
Eliminations continue on Sunday at 2:30 p.m.
SATURDAY'S ACTION - First round-by-round results from the 12th annual Big O Tires NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the 10th of 10 events in the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by ProCare Rx:
ROUND ONE -- Raymond Commisso, Chevy Camaro, 5.974, 246.08 def. Todd Tutterow, Plymouth Duster, 6.076, 243.68; Pete Farber, Dodge Daytona, 5.974, 242.23 def. Steve Matusek, Ford Mustang, 13.713, 85.96; Troy Coughlin, Chevy Corvette, 5.827, 253.75 def. Mike Janis, Mustang, 6.879, 153.81; Rickie Smith, Camaro, 6.048, 232.87 def. Donald Martin, Camaro, 5.915, 244.56; Don Walsh, Mustang, 5.883,
248.39 def. Clint Satterfield, Camaro, 6.008, 243.24; Mike Castellana, Camaro, 6.275, 235.19 def.
Jay Payne, Camaro, 11.783, 109.57; Leah Pruett, Mustang, 5.967, 250.09 def. Dennis Radford, Camaro, 6.107, 197.31; Danny Rowe, Camaro, 5.960, 219.08 def. Kenny Lang, Camaro, 6.117, 241.32;
POTENT IN PINK? - Leah Pruett, driving her pink enhanced turbo Mustang, could play a role in Sunday's battle for the Pro Modified title. She races Rickie Smith.
FRIDAY NOTEBOOK - WALSH CONTINUES IMPRESSIVE QUALIFYING DOMINANCE
STILL THE ONE - Don Walsh raced to the No. 1 position after two rounds of qualifying in the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by ProCare Rx portion of the 12th annual Big O Tires NHRA Nationals.
Walsh led the field with a top performance of 5.841 seconds at 253.85 mph in his Ford Mustang. If his time stands, this would be his fourth consecutive No.1 qualifying position of the season. He has a total of three No.1’s on the season.
Points leader Mike Castellana landed fifth with a time of 5.945 at 239.91 mph while Rickie Smith who is second in the points standings qualified tenth with a time of 6.013 at 239.70. Third place in points, Troy Coughlin raced to the eighth position with a time of 5.989 at 242.06.
Round three of qualifying will continue at 10.30 a.m. at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway followed by round one of eliminations beginning at 4 p.m.
CRUNCHING NUMBERS - Friday's results after the first two of three rounds of qualifying for the 12th annual Big O Tires NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, 10th of 10 events in the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by ProCare Rx. Qualifying will continue Saturday for Saturday's eliminations.
1. Don Walsh, Ford Mustang, 5.841, 253.85; 2. Danny Rowe, Chevy Camaro, 5.878, 245.27; 3. Donald Martin, Camaro, 5.917, 244.12; 4. Leah Pruett, Mustang, 5.924, 250.23; 5. Mike Castellana, Camaro, 5.945, 239.91; 6. Todd Tutterow, Plymouth Duster, 5.967, 243.11; 7. Pete Farber, Dodge Daytona, 5.971, 243.46; 8. Troy Coughlin, Chevy Corvette, 5.989, 249.44; 9. Jay Payne, Camaro, 5.995, 241.58; 10. Rickie Smith, Camaro, 6.013, 239.70; 11. Steve Matusek, Mustang, 6.019, 237.59; 12. Mike Janis, Mustang, 6.020, 239.91; 13. Raymond Commisso, Camaro, 6.023, 244.21; 14. Dennis Radford, Camaro, 6.040, 237.63; 15. Kenny Lang, Camaro, 6.140, 242.23; 16. Mike Knowles, Camaro, 6.278, 239.74.
Not Qualified: 17. Clint Satterfield, 6.408, 237.25; 18. Chip King, 7.339, 146.45; 19. Chris Juliano, 9.433, 118.94; 20. Harold Martin, 9.661, 100.81.
DOWN TO THE WIRE - After nine events crisscrossing the country in nine states, the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by ProCare Rx season championship will come down to just four rounds of eliminations at the Big O Tires NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Oct. 25-28. Topping the points standings are series leader Mike Castellana, second-place Rickie Smith and surging Troy Coughlin, each looking for his first season crown.
Castellana took the lead with his late-model Camaro after the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Auto-Plus in Indianapolis and built on that margin at the following two races. He and his Al-Anabi Racing team have recorded one win, two runner-up finishes and three No. 1 qualifying positions this season. The car ran well at the start of the season, but that doesn’t mean this campaign hasn’t been without adversity.
“It started out very consistent for us, and as the summer went along, it has been a real hot season, the tracks have been hot, and we’ve struggled a little bit when the tracks got hot,” Castellana said. “Now this time of the year, the weather and the track conditions have become more favorable with what we have been consistent with, so we feel pretty confident.”
Smith is in second with two wins, including his first NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by ProCare Rx victory, at the season-opener in Gainesville, and his first No. 1 qualifying position, which he secured in Bristol, Tenn. This accomplished racer, who is also an NHRA Pro Stock winner and has earned exhibition NHRA Pro Mod victories, will rely heavily on experience at the final event of the year.
“I have been through this before, years ago, when it was down to one or two races,” Smith said. “It is always a good deal when it comes down to the end and you still have a chance at the championship.”
Launching himself into title contention on the strength of his first win in the series at the most recent event in St. Louis, Coughlin sits third, just 42 points out of the lead. After two runner-up finishes this season, breaking through for his first Wally trophy in the series was a special day for him.
“It’s always great to win," said Coughlin, driver of the turbocharged JEGS.com '68 Chevy Camaro. "It’s the reward for the dedication, commitment and focus your team makes every week on and off the track. Everything is coming down to the wire, and that’s exciting for the fans. It’s a good time to be performing well on the track because it’s something very tangible your competitors see with their own eyes. If you are running well, some teams will push a little harder against you and make mistakes.”
For all the racers going into the final event of the season, the championship battle can make for a stressful weekend. The slightest miscue could dash dreams. But the competition also can be rewarding and provides an exciting weekend for the racers and the fans.
“When you are battling it out and going back and forth and it is tight racing changing points leads, who’s catching up and who’s leading it, it makes it really fun,” said Castellana. “You just take it round by round and concentrate each round.”
Added Coughlin, “You have to look at it as being fun. Because at the end of the day, this is the position you want to be in as a team, to have a shot at winning a championship. It is very easy to get wrapped up into looking at the past and find errors that were made that could have turned on more win lights throughout the season. The past is the past, and as a team, you need to look forward because that’s what you have control over.”
BUCKET LIST - Michelle Bukaty can’t afford the luxury of procrastination. She simply had to attend this weekend's NHRA Big O Tires Nationals at The Strip at LVMS.
Michelle, a wife and mother of two who lives in Hamburg, N.Y., was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s disease.”
ALS is a disease of the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement. In 90% of the cases, the cause is unknown. The nerve cells (neurons) waste away or die, and can no longer send messages to muscles. This eventually leads to muscle weakening and an inability to move the arms, legs and body. The condition slowly gets worse. When the muscles in the chest area stop working, it becomes difficult – and later impossible – to breathe on one's own. At this time there is no cure.
Michelle’s “bucket list” – the things you’d like to experience in your lifetime – is very short: Las Vegas. She will attend Saturday's qualifying.
“Las Vegas is on my bucket list because I want to attend the race and see the city,” said Michelle. “I received the official diagnosis of ALS on April 10. I was experiencing the symptoms – and not knowing what was going on with my body – for six years. I’d been going to doctors for years and finally went to the Cleveland Clinic."
The NHRA event is especially important because Michelle grew up in a drag racing family. Her father, Chuck Gioeli, competed locally and in NHRA’s Division 1 – in Super Stock and other divisions.
“My dad drag raced from the time I was born, in 1971. I’d travel with him to the races and sit in my playpen. His friend, Mike Mercurio, was the race director at Lancaster Dragway (an eighth-mile NHRA Division 1 strip near Buffalo, N.Y.). He needed a starter and asked my dad to work for him. I would tag along and watch the drags. Mike, who also was my godfather, offered me a job. I started working in the E.T. shack back when elapsed-time slips were handwritten. After five years of doing that, I was offered the job of running the timing computer. I did that for seven years. We averaged about 250 cars per night. After that I ran the staging lanes and really enjoyed it. Then the illness started to kick in and I still worked another four years. Around March 2010,I fell a number of times. I knew my health was deteriorating and I made the difficult decision to stop working at the track.”
Michelle has two goals to accomplish while attending the NHRA Big O Tires Nationals: get together with Funny Car legend John Force and (hopefully) see friend Mike Janis win the Pro Mod final.
“John Force was in an exhibition race at Lancaster on the day his wife called to tell him she was going into labor to give birth to Courtney. I had my picture taken with him and I’d like to meet him again to get it signed.”
John Force’s public relations representatives already have agreed to arrange a meeting with him for her during her visit.
Janis, 56, is a longtime drag racer and owns an engine-building business in Elma, N.Y. He competes on the NHRA Pro Mod circuit and is 12th in the point standings. The 2012 Pro Mod season concludes in Las Vegas. Like Gioeli and his daughter, his roots too are at the Buffalo-area strip.
“When Mike moved up to the Pro Mod class, we didn’t see him much anymore. But with him being a local guy, I followed his career,” Michelle explained. “He’s racing at Las Vegas in the national event. Here’s this guy that I used to hand his E.T.tickets to when I was 13 and now he’ll be there while I’m there.”
“I raced against her father in the 1970s,” Janis recalled. “I got to know her on a first-name basis when she was handing out E.T. tickets. She always went out of her way to say ‘hello.’ Just a special person, you know. This race is really important to her and I want her to remember it. The icing on the cake would be for me to win it and have her in the winner’s circle.”
“She ruled the staging lanes at Lancaster with an iron fist,” joked longtime Buffalo-area Don Raiser. “She did every job there, from running the computer in the tower to putting cars in the burnout box. She always was the first one to volunteer for a fundraiser for anyone in need. She also gave her time every week to the Variety Club cruise night to help the sick and handicapped children of Western New York.” “This will be my first and last trip to Vegas,” Michelle admitted. “When I get home from Las Vegas my bucket list will be complete.”
NEW CAR GETS THE NOD - Although JEGS.com racer Troy Coughlin won the last event on the NHRA Pro Mod Series presented by ProCare Rx and drew to within two rounds of the championship lead, he has elected to make the wildly unusual decision to switch to a new racecar for this weekend's season-ending 12th annual Big O Tires NHRA Nationals.
"The response has been the same across the board," Coughlin said. "Everyone thinks we're crazy.
"My response is pretty simple; I've driven both cars and the Corvette is better, period. All you have to do is look at the in-car camera of the old car, the '68 Camaro, and it's easy to see it was an accident looking for a place to happen. I learned how to drive it throughout the course of the season, but it was always a handful. This 2013 Z06 Corvette, on the other hand, is the smoothest racecar I've ever driven. To me, the choice was easy."
No matter which hot rod he's piloting, Coughlin has a golden opportunity to drastically affect the finish of this year's thrilling title chase. Currently, Mike Castellana is in the catbird seat with a 41-point edge over second-place Rickie Smith and a 42-point advantage over Coughlin. Lurking in fourth and fifth place are Don Walsh (-57 from lead) and Danny Rowe (-60).
A handful of bonus points are available in qualifying, but bigger gains can be made in eliminations where each round is worth 20 points.
"We have a great chance to win the race and an outside chance to win the title," Coughlin said. "That makes this a really fun weekend no matter how you look at it. Plus, we're in Vegas, so you're already having fun before you ever get in the car.
"It would be great to trim Mike's lead by a few points before eliminations and then get him early and try to take him out. Then it'll pretty much be a shootout between me and Rickie, with both of us keeping an eye on Walsh and Rowe. There are so many possibilities right now and that's exciting."
TICKLED PINK - Pro Mod drag racing star Leah Pruett hopes to finish her 2012 season just as she did one year ago -- with a victory in the NHRA Pro Mod Series presented by ProCare Rx at the Big O Tires NHRA Nationals in Las Vegas.
"We want to have our best race of the year this weekend," Pruett said. "We've got the racecar, we've got the crew, I feel great about my driving, we just need to put it all together and we'll have a great shot at defending our title.
"We're all ready to launch into the next chapter of our lives, whether it's staying here in Pro Mod and going after the 2013 championship or moving onto nitro racing, we all want to go into the off-season with a big win under our belts."
So far, Pruett's best event of the season came two races ago in Charlotte where she rose from the bottom half of the Pro Mod field to beat her car owner Roger Burgess, top qualifier Don Walsh, Kevin McCurdy and Mike Knowles to successfully defend her zMax Dragway trophy.
"They say it's harder to defend a race title than win it for the first time," Pruett said. "I think they're all pretty tough to win and it's always a great feeling when you pull it off. We did defend Charlotte so hopefully that mojo carries over to Vegas. They're both Bruton Smith tracks so maybe that will help."
Pruett's powerful racecar, nicknamed Mustang Sally, will sport two massive pink racing stripes, a pair of ribbons and pink accents throughout the design to support Breast Cancer Awareness. It's a cause very close to Pruett's heart.
"Two of my aunts have dealt with breast cancer; one survived and the other didn't, so this is something that has really hit our family hard," Pruett said. "My fiancé's (Gary Pritchett) Godmother is (drag racing legend) Bunny Burkett and she's a survivor as well. Plus, our team owner Roger Burgess recently lost a close friend, Mike Nelson, to stomach cancer at the age of 32. That's why we'll have the breast cancer ribbon and the stomach cancer ribbon on the car.
"The design is really pretty. I think that car looked great before but I might like this design even better. It's really eye-catching and obviously it means so much to us to help raise awareness for cancer research."
Prior to the race, Pruett will spend time with fans from 5-7 p.m. at the NHRA Las Vegas Fanfest at the Fremont Street Experience in downtown Las Vegas.
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