Coughlin Ends Hiatus, Climbs Back Into Pro Stock

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, February 12 2012

Jeg Coughlin is back in a Pro Stock car and back in the eliminations at the Winternationals today. (Photo courtesy of Team Jegs)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

His self-imposed exile over, four-time world champion Jeg Coughlin is eager to re-introduce himself to the current players in NHRA’s Pro Stock wars.

“I got to sit on the sidelines and watch the action for the season,” said Coughlin, who chose not to compete in the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series during 2011. “I enjoyed tuning-in on Saturdays and Sundays, following it on the Internet.

“Coming back in, the game has definitely tightened-up a little bit more through the ’11 season. In our case, we assembled a team really from top-to-bottom. I’m really looking forward, from a behind-the-wheel standpoint, getting back out and rubbing heads with some of these guys and gals again.”

Coughlin qualified 14th on the 16-car ladder Saturday for today’s season-opening 52nd annual O’Reilly NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Calif. – a venue where Jeggie has scored six career victories, including two Winternationals titles. Coughlin, who covered the quarter-mile in 6.637-seconds and 209.20 mph in his Jegs.com/Mopar Dodge Avenger, has a first-round meeting with No. 3 qualifier Ronnie Humphrey, who put up numbers of 6.548-seconds/211.96 mph in his Pontiac GXP.

ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise a 3-hour, 30-minute eliminations show at 7:30 p.m. (ET) today.

“We’re feeling fantastic,” said Coughlin, a native of Ohio. “Our off season has been slightly more than just the Pomona/couple months’ span. We started J&R Racing Engines back in the April time frame, down in Mooresville, N.C. Roy Simmons and Nick Ferri – both well-known names in the Pro Stock world – head-up the engine development side. Later we partnered with the Chrysler Corporation, Dodge and Mopar branding in particular, and started assembling a team.

“When we went to our first test session a few weeks back, we went with a new transporter, a new car, a new engine, new parts. Everything was brand-new. It was probably the first time in my career that’s ever taken place.”

Coughlin, who won his world championships in 2000, 2002, 2007 and 2008, is well-aware that Pro Stock titles historically have run in cycles. KB Racing teammates Jason Line (2011) and Greg Anderson (2010) recently have dominated the class in their Summit Racing Equipment Pontiac GXPs, emulating the Factory Hot Rod successes of Lee Shepherd, Bob Glidden and Warren Johnson during their heydays.

“Well, we certainly look to start off about where we left off, which was a top couple teams,” said Coughlin, winner of 52 national events. “Pro Stock seems to go in phases where some teams dominate. We certainly had our run since 2000 where we’ve won a couple of championships. KB has won a handful with Jason and Greg, and Mike Edwards as well. There’s a lot of extremely good teams out there right now, between the ones we mentioned, the Johnson family, the list goes on and on.

“I think our goal with putting this team together is everyone on this team has been a world champion at one point in time in their career. There’s a lot of experience, a lot of respect for one another that we’ve been able to assemble. We’re looking to hit the ground pretty darn hard and compete for round wins and race wins right up front. Yes, we’re certainly looking to build our program. I know Nick and Roy, with this new Hemi power plant, it’s all new to them. I think we’re going to come out pretty strong and certainly improve from there.”

Along those lines, Coughlin acknowledged the subtle learning curve in switching from GM to Chrysler power. “Feel is different,” Coughlin said. ”When Roy or Nick are working on the dyno, we can see the torque is in a little different spot and the horsepower is in a little different spot. From their standpoint, they’ve been able to manipulate some things with their tune-up to garner more horsepower. But as far as saying I feel it from the pants, it seems like this Dodge wants to rev a little higher than the GM’s did. But we’re just really getting our feet wet with it.”

While vacating his Pro Stock seat, Coughlin was hardly a couch potato in 2011. “I still raced some, made close to 500 runs last year, mainly in what they call high-stakes Bracket racing,” Coughlin said. ”Had a great season, probably one of my top-five seasons in my career. So the competitiveness and the drive, I was challenged pretty much week-in and week-out. From that standpoint, I feel I’m as ready as ever.

“I did take a season off in 2006, which was probably one of my best seasons ever in my life behind the wheel of race cars, came out swinging in ’07 and ’08, winning championships. Maybe we’ll carry some of that momentum off of the idle season.”

Prior to testing at Palm Beach, Fla., Coughlin said he had not sat in a Pro Stock car in over a year-and-a-a-half, since Pomona 2010. “There were a few questions in my mind before I did the first burnout and launch,” Coughlin said. “We were looking to make a half-track run. We were successful with that. Started gathering that data to start tuning the Hemi engine in. It’s certainly been a learning curve.”

In keeping with the current economy, Coughlin plans to chase a fifth title with a lean team. “There’s seven of us in total that will be more or less hands-on with the Jeg’s car,” Coughlin said. “So we’ve spent some time preparing for Pomona in December and January both at a conference room table, just trying to talk through what the potential issues could be, what the potential distractions could be.

“At the end of the day what’s our focus, and it is to perform at a hundred percent. In any of these professional classes, we’re racing for thousandths-of-a-second. Any little distraction from any one of those seven people on our team can allow us to not perform to that level.

“The bottom line is we’re there to perform well for Jeg and the Chrysler Corporation. We’re also there to give the fans on hand a great show and the viewers that are watching a great show. We would all agree that the Countdown in 2011 was extremely exciting. Built an unbelievable amount of excitement to crown the champions. Here we are in 2012 and everybody is tied for first again, and we’ve got to earn our berth into the Countdown format. It’s going to be a regular season, if you will.

“We’re ready to go mentally and physically. It’s going to be awesome.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, February 12 2012
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