Jeg Coughlin Jr. sits in the points lead in his quest for a fifth NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Pro Stock championship and his first since 2008. He has four wins, four runner-up finishes, and two No. 1 qualifying positions this year. He recently took part in an NHRA national teleconference to talk about the championship battle that will take place at the Auto Club NHRA Finals, Nov. 7-10, in Pomona.
Coughlin holds a 71-point lead over second-place Jason Line and 80 over third-place Mike Edwards.
Q: Jeg, this has been your first championship hunt after sitting out the 2011 season. How is it to be back in the midst of a championship scrap going into the last race?
Coughlin: Well, it feels fantastic. First off, congratulations to Matt Smith and to John Force for clinching their respective titles. That's pretty sweet. Both of them obviously multi-time champions. I think entering the final race going into Pomona, the Pro Stock Countdown to the Championship is still on. We've got a bit of a lead going into the finale but certainly nothing we're resting on. We're looking forward to getting to Pomona, one of the birthplaces of NHRA drag racing, just minutes from Glendora [Calif.], putting on a great show, and ideally bringing home our fifth Pro Stock championship.
Q. Jeg, I know you've shared some of this stuff with family. Could you talk a little bit about sharing your ability to focus, prioritize tasks, that has given you multiple championships?
Coughlin: Certainly in my case I've had a great run in the last 25-plus years of drag racing of some sort. Since 1998, being more or less full time in the Pro Stock world, I've really enjoyed the challenges of driving a Pro Stock car. It does take some discipline, focus, a whole heck of a lot of horsepower, too. I think having a younger generation coming up in our family, a lot of them are interested in drag racing itself, my brother John's son Cody is in circle track racing, and my son Jeggy is into golf. A lot of similarities of what it takes to be a champion, what it takes to separate yourself and put yourself to be in a winning position. Obviously, that's the ultimate goal of any sport you're in. I think it just takes mainly, if I had to pick one word, I would say it takes an extreme amount of discipline.
Q. Your racing family just got 100 NHRA national wins. Can you share what that means to be part of the JEGS racing team, part of the family business, all the history?
Coughlin: It's extremely exciting to win our 100th NHRA Wally at the national level. We've had great success on the Lucas Oil Series as well. When brother Troy lit the win light up in the final round this past weekend in Las Vegas in the Pro Mod category, that tripped our 100th event win. To be honest with you, I was lost in the moment. I had just gotten put aside in the Pro Stock world by V. Gaines in the semifinals, honestly was just cheering Troy on to the victory. As Alan Reinhart and the PA announcers were talking about that being our 100th victory, it was a very kind reminder of a lot of memories that started flashing through my mind. I might say I was on the rocker panel of my Pro Stock car going up in front of the car. A lot of memories were flashing through my mind at that time, starting with our first win at the Budweiser Springnationals in Columbus in 1990. It means a lot to our family, to all our associates that have worked with us at the race team, and here at JEGS. We have been one big family and enjoyed that together.
Q: Jeg, you talked about your family. If you look at our champions so far this season, with Matt Smith, his dad; John Force, we're seeing a lot of families in the NHRA. We have for a while. What is it about the NHRA that is so synonymous about racing families?
Coughlin: I think NHRA and drag racing in general gives an affordable way to enjoy a motorsport, whether you're racing locally at your local home track in Ohio, Missouri, wherever you may be, to rising all the way up to the likes of challenging for a Top Fuel world championship like Shawn Langdon is getting ready to do, another family affair. I think the sport has lent itself to build on generations and generations. I think you can do it in anything from your street car up to Top Fuel dragsters at many different levels. You can compete for a local track championship, you can compete for a regional championship, within the bracket racing world, you can compete within the Lucas Oil Series and the Mello Yello Series we're speaking of on this call. There's a lot of avenues and opportunities to be involved in with our sport at your level. I think that's why the sport has been so successful in building its family. As we all know, most of the audience today, every ticket gets you right into the pit area. It's just so friendly really from the word 'go' to not only bring your family to get involved, and obviously, as I just said, physically involved in the sport. I think that has why it's been so successful in the family arena.
Q. Jeg, in every type of sport, winning just a single championship is an extremely enormous event. To win more is equally incredible. If you win this year, does it compare to any of your previous championships? Is there a single part about it that's extremely different from your other championships?
Coughlin: Well, when you're engaged in the NHRA drag racing world, as we are, you have several levels of goals. One is to prepare yourself to compete at the highest level, to compete and challenge for round wins, to compete and challenge for race wins, and ultimately put yourself in a position to win the season title or, in this case, the Mello Yello championship. That is what drives the teams. That is what drives me. We have been very fortunate to win a lot of rounds, win a lot of races, and put ourselves in the position to win a lot of championships. We've brought several of those home. They are all extremely challenging in their own right, in their own way. This season has been unique in a way, partnering and teaming up with Roy and Allen Johnson at J&J Racing, we had just one heck of a season between the three of us, Vincent Nobile, myself, and Allen have won a lot of races, have won a lot of rounds. At this point we're in a position to bring home a championship. That would be extremely special, not only for our family but the Johnson family and also for everyone at Mopar and Dodge. It's been a big season. We'd love nothing more than to cap it off at Pomona with a victory, and obviously, if we could do that, it would take care of the championship as well.
Q. You've obviously been in the situation before, won world championships. How do you handle the pressure of Pomona in terms of there being so many drivers that still have a chance to win this Pro Stock championship based on the number of points that can be won at Pomona? Do you just worry about what you have to do or do you worry about points?
Coughlin: I think you definitely take a peek at the points. It's hard not to, with the media, with the technology we have today. We keep pretty close tabs on where we need to be, where others are at, let me just put it that way. ‘How do you handle the pressures of it?’ That's what we love. That's what makes us thrive to dig down and compete at the highest level. We've been in conversation already this week on our preparation methods for the upcoming race in Pomona as far as having the car prepared, everything within the hauler. I know I've been working on a few things in the mindset, getting ready for the race itself. Pomona, it's an electrical and magical place. We're fortunate in the NHRA Mello Yello Series where we've got Pomona as the bookend of the season. First of the year we have new drivers, new teams, new colors, just excitement. On the flip end of that, at the finale, we have season championships coming to the end, not only in the Mello Yello Series but the Lucas Oil Series as well. There's so much excitement, it is hard not to pull off of that excitement and energy, in my case, to be able to get out there and want to perform better than I ever have. I've had some great, great runs at Pomona, and I'm hoping for this year to be no different.
Q: You talked about Pomona. You raced to a runner-up finish to start the season. How much data can you bring from then to this race or are these cars, after all these races, rounds, are they kind of almost different machines going into the finals?
Coughlin: They're a little bit different, I would say. Between Jim Yates and Mark Ingersoll, the entire JEGS team, the Mopar Dodge team of Allen Johnson, we've fine-tuned on the cars all year. They're just a tick different. We can look at the data from one year ago in the fall. We can look at the data from the first of the year when we were in the final against your teammate Vincent Nobile. We can use those as baselines to get us started. We've been to Pomona twice a year for our entire career. We know the characteristics of the track. Obviously, NHRA and the Safety Safari do a great job of preparing the drag strip that only gets run on a couple times a year. It's somewhat of a predictable racetrack. We're looking forward to that and feel like our game plan is highly on the offense and ready to play.
Q. About your family, racing. Do you believe in speed genes that work in sports?
Coughlin: Sometimes we're a product of our surroundings, right? In our case, my family and I have grown up around the high-performance world at JEGS, seeing the Edelbrock parts, the Mr. Gasket parts, the Moroso parts coming and going since we were in diapers, and also being at the local tracks around the Midwest watching our father and the JEGS team race. I think there are some things that are certainly in the blood, there's no question. I think there are respects that you pick up, in our case being around the industry, the racetrack our entire lives, that have helped us appreciate what it takes to compete in this sport and do well.
Q. If you will, what are the challenges of Pomona vs. any of the other racetracks? Can you think of any better place to win a championship and finish the season than Pomona?
Coughlin: I really can't think of a better place to finish the season. But, again, as I just mentioned, growing up in the sport, typically the finale has always been in Pomona. In my lifetime it has been. That has just been kind of chapter and verse. I think as far as the racecourse itself, the facilities, being just miles from one of the meccas of the world, L.A., it brings in a whole new group of fans from all over the world that come in and watch this race. I mentioned earlier the energies that feed off of that. I think that makes the teams want to perform that much better. As far as the racecourse itself, it is very similar. We race on a quarter-mile concrete asphalt surface. We've got the best in the business preparing it week in and week out with NHRA and the Safety Safari. Things are very consistent week to week to week. That allows the teams to be able to continue to elevate their game. I think in my lifetime in Pro Stock, I think one of my first quarter-mile runs was in the seven-second range, like 7.07 or something. It would not surprise me if we clip into the 6.40s at Pomona in a week's time. A lot of technological advances that we've been able to take advantage of in that lifespan.