“Having fun in the warm California sun on the mind of second-place runner Jeg Coughlin Jr.” This is what the Team Jegs press release for the final meet of the 2019 NHRA season set for the 55th annual Auto Club Nationals in Pomona read. 92 points adrift of Elite Motorsports teammate Erica Enders heading pell-mell into hot and dry dusty Southern California, Coughlin was quietly confident on Saturday qualifying day, using his skill and racing acumen to put himself in position to hit critical mass during the final four Pro Stock rounds that will be run come Sunday afternoon at Pomona.
Having nailed down six of his 61 career Pro Stock wins at this old school NHRA circuit, Coughlin did his cause well later Saturday afternoon by stopping the clocks at 6.539s, and in doing so, slotting in as the top qualifier for today’s National.
Jeg, thanks for taking the time to do this between qualifying runs. I’m fully aware that you have your hands full this weekend. Team Jegs said you’ve come here to California with no pressure. In other words, go out there tomorrow and try to win all four rounds and have a good time doing it. Do I have it right?
Right. Yeah, no doubt. We’re in the final race of our playoff: The Countdown to the Championship and my teammate Erica Enders has a handsome lead going into the final event. She’s been running extremely strong and she’s not typically one to make any errors behind the wheel, so you don’t really look for an early exit in eliminations out of her, or out of the team for that matter. Yes, what you just mentioned, that was my mindset coming out here – let’s go out and do what we do and let’s try and make quality runs from start to finish from Friday through Sunday. If we have an opportunity to move into the championship hunt, then that’s great. If not, well, work hard and try and finish second in points behind her.
Your opening qualifying pass came up on the board in the traps signaling that your elapsed time was at 6.568 and 210mph. Both you and the car looked very strong. Do you like this dragstrip?
I don’t know how many years we’ve been racing here, but I know this has been going on for 60 years and it is one of the fastest parking lots in the world. We’re here in the corner of the L.A. County Fairgrounds and with the city of Los Angeles just up the road and so close to that airports, we get fans from around the country and from around the world that come in here. This has always been one of my favorite tracks from 1992 to now. I’ve had great success here and have won a lot of rounds and won a lot of races and sealed up championships. I’ve also lost championships here. But being here is very special.
How do you and Erika get along as teammates? It’s always intriguing to see and hear how teammates get as long in all forms of motorsport.
We get along really well. She came into the Pro Stock world probably13 or 14 years ago. We were actually friends just through sportsman racing. We never really ran across one another in competition. I just followed her career through Junior Dragster and right on through her first National win at Houston to hopping in a Pro Stock car. That was fun to follow her path and her career through the professional world. She and I have good dialog. I was a pretty a pretty experienced veteran by the time she got to Pro Stock. I was already at it 10 years. I’d field a question or a hundred as she came into the scene and she’s done very well.
There were not very many wins for you this year. Still, you’re slotted in at a solid second going into tomorrow’s final eliminations for the championship. Looking back, what’s your take on your 2019 NHRA season?
Yeah, we started the season pretty start with a win in Phoenix and then we just kind of lingered along whether it was one thing or another. The season was really dragging along and it was like, “Come on, man, we’ve got to get something turned here.”
Really, late summer we kind of started hitting our stride again. Once the Countdown came after the U.S. Nationals in Indy, the team was really hitting the ground running and all hands were on deck. We’re running for a World Championship and we’ve been very strong. We haven’t had the best Countdown experience. I had two rounds where I got beat leaving early and red lighting by a thousand of a second at one race and I think two thousands of a second at the other race. That doesn’t happen that often. That was a big setback. We’ve had some untimely setbacks during this championship run, so we’d sure love to hit rewind and redo a couple of runs.
You lost to Erika in the final round at Las Vegas a fortnight ago. I noticed that you were hard on yourself in the media in saying that your reaction times really hurt you there.
Yeah, I just didn’t make a great run. I know right when I let the clutch out. I was like, “Oh man…” And about that time the car was accelerating really well and I was saying to myself, “Man, this thing is on a mission. I hope she made a mistake next to me.” As I was shifting through the gears, I was thinking, “I hope she made an error.” And she hadn’t. She made a really good, quality run and we got our asses kicked. It was that simple.
Does it break your heart to lose? I know that may be a stupid question, but I see so many racers in other forms of competition and the way they all deal with losing can be radically different.
I think it’s been part of my redefining here these last couple of months, you know? I’ve raced a long time and I’ve been very fortunate with race wins and with championships and sometimes you just get kind of complacent and just kind of go through the motions. That’s a transition I’ve felt like I’ve really gone through this year. I was really just kind of going through the motions. Admittedly, I can still win rounds and I can still win races, but in this day and age, it’s tough. You have to be on your best behavior at all times and we’re winning and losing races by 10 thousandths of a second. I’ve kind of rejuvenated myself and refocused. It’s maybe a little too late here for the championship run. Stay tuned.
How long are you going to keep racing for? Too early to tell?
I don’t know. I’ve had a couple sabbatical years — 2006, 2011 and 2015 — where I didn’t run professionally and did a lot of sportsman racing and high dollar bracket racing. I really enjoyed that. I’ve stuck around this a little longer than I anticipated. I don’t know… I definitely have another year left in me as we look to 2020. We’ll celebrate the 60th anniversary of our company, Jegs, and the 50th anniversary of the class of Pro Stock. It’s going to be an exciting year in 2020 and you never know… The towel might get tossed.
I’ve asked around about you and your exploits in Pro Stock racing and more than a few people talked about how legendary your reaction times were and are. One racer told me that you could actually see the filament beginning to change in the Christmas Tree lights. That’s a big deal in drag racing!
Yeah, definitely in the day. The sport has now focused on LED lights. But yeah, back in the day, you could actually see the filament heating up in the bulbs and I was usually one of the quicker leavers in the sport, for that matter. And that was a big portion of why I did well.
I got fooled a little bit in coming out here today. I didn’t really realize how far and comprehensively the Pro Stock classification has moved into modern auto racing technology. The electronics alone made my head spin.
Yeah, it’s pretty state of the art and Pro Stock has always been a research and development game since the 1960s, when you’d spec your car coming right out of the factory with no radio and what-not to get it ready to go from Stock to Pro Stock. It’s always been a research and development game. The team that worked the hardest and the smartest made incremental gains from run to run or race to race or year to year. There has been factory support from the Big 3 for the last 40 years has been fantastic from Ford and Chrysler and in our case, General Motors with the Chevrolet brand. That’s what it’s about.
So, how do you feel about race day tomorrow?
I feel great. The confidence right now is through the roof. The car has been really, really smooth and I feel great behind the wheel. We’ll just do what we do and go down that racetrack.