There are several reasons why reigning Pro Stock world champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. has Route 66 Raceway, the site of the 17th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries, June 26-29, near the top of his favorite tracks.
For one, he has had tremendous success at the state-of-the-art motorsports facility; his fifth win at the event a year ago is the most for any NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series driver. There’s also the fact that the event plays host to the JEGS Allstars, an NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series competition sponsored by Coughlin’s longtime partner. Lastly, being close to home adds a certain amount of pride to the equation, and when it is all combined, Coughlin gets a special feeling every year when the event arrives.
“Something most Pros probably don't think about much but for me it's very real is the fact that Chicago is in our division,” Coughlin said. “I grew up racing [NHRA Division 3], and when I'm at the track, there are always a bunch of people, friends, and fellow Sportsman racers that stop by and wish us well. Again, there's this sense of pride you feel in representing your home area. It's hard to say why you do well at some tracks more so than others. For me, I think it's just a comfort thing, and that only grows every time you go back and have another great race.”
Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car), and Michael Ray (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were also last year’s winners of the event that will be televised nationally on ESPN2. It marks the 12th of 24 events during the 2014 NHRA season, and Coughlin and his JEGS.com/Mopar Dodge Dart enter a rigorous stretch performing at a high level.
Coughlin, a five-time world champion, has advanced to three finals and won races in Atlanta and Englishtown, surging past a slow start that now seems like a distant memory. He has jumped all the way to second in the points standings, trailing only Erica Enders-Stevens, who became the first woman to win a Pro Stock race with her Chicago win in 2012. In the process, Coughlin has also grown increasingly comfortable in his new Dart that he debuted in Gainesville.
“I think that's been the big thing now is just having a bit more time on our side, and the team has been very disciplined,” Coughlin said. “I would love to think we are catching a streak right now that could carry us to the end of the year, but that's very wishful thinking. Pro Stock right now is the most competitive that I've seen it since I joined the ranks in late 1997, and in most competitive meaning there's a good chance that just about any car that's qualifying for these shows can win the race on Sunday.”
But when it comes to Chicago and Route 66 Raceway, it’s hard to bet against Coughlin, who has 58 career victories. He has put together one remarkable performance after another at the track, perhaps a nod to the atmosphere surrounding the event.
"I vividly remember pulling in there for the first time and just being blown away by the stadium,” Coughlin said. “It really signaled the beginning of a new era of professional drag racing where we reached this new level of professionalism and esteem. It still seems brand new, and it's as nice as it was the day it opened. Route 66 definitely elevated our sport as a whole.”
Coughlin will be challenged by an impressive field headed by Enders-Stevens, who also reset both ends of the Pro Stock national record (6.464 seconds, 215.55 mph) in Englishtown. Other big threats include Coughlin’s teammate and 2012 world champion Allen Johnson, Epping winner Dave Connolly, Jason Line, Vincent Nobile, four-time world champ Greg Anderson, Shane Gray, and Chris McGaha.
Coughlin also plays close attention to the JEGS Allstars event, something that gets him even more motivated for the weekend.
“The whole atmosphere surrounding the JEGS Allstars is phenomenal,” Coughlin said. “I've been a Sportsman racer my entire adult life, and I remember the sense of accomplishment I personally felt when I made the Allstars team. There's a great sense of pride within the JEGS organization to host this event each year. I always make a point of watching as many rounds as possible. I have my regular job to execute, but the rest of the time, you can find me in the grandstands taking in some of the best racing you'll see.”
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds and enjoy cherished face time with and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food, and fun for the entire family.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying begins Friday, June 27, with sessions at 4:30 and 7:15 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, June 28, at 4:15 and 7:15 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. Sunday, June 29.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call Route 66 Raceway, 888-629-RACE (7223), or visit www.route66raceway.com.