Veteran driver Troy Coughlin faced long odds of winning his first NHRA championship at the start of this weekend’s 12th annual Big O Tires NHRA Nationals, and he made the ultimate gamble by switching to a brand-new race car before the event began. Now, he’s part of drag racing immortality.
After winning the last race in St. Louis, Coughlin found himself 42 points behind Pro Mod class leader Mike Castellana in third place. Although the race car he had been driving got him to that point, Coughlin decided to switch to a 2013 Corvette in an last-ditch effort to gain two-plus rounds of racing with only four left on the table. Needing everything to fall into place, Coughlin expertly rode his new mount to a second consecutive victory that ultimately earned him the NHRA Pro Mod Series presented by ProCare Rx title by the slenderest of margins.
“They told me we won the championship by three points,” Coughlin said. “That’s just a ‘wow’ thought. How hard did we work for each of those points? How many ups and downs were there? It’s just crazy to have it end up so close, especially when we’re here on the good side of the equation. I’m pumped.
“We came into this race with a brand-new car. We tested here with it a week ago and it was running well so we decided to enter it in the race. Of course, everyone else said we were crazy, but Steve Petty (crew chief) and all the guys worked so hard to give me a perfect car and, bottom line, it’s so much easier to drive than anything I’ve had in the past. It worked perfectly all weekend and we needed every bit of it to get this title.”
After qualifying third on the grid, Coughlin erased first-round foe Mike Janis Saturday evening with a stellar 5.827 at 253.75 mph. That set-up a second-round date Sunday morning with Castellana that put destiny in Coughlin’s hands. All he had to do was beat the best driver in the class and then hold it all together for two more rounds and the championship would be his.
“We approached the day thinking, ‘Let’s just run the best that we can without over-powering the track and giving it away,’” Coughlin said. “We just focused on cutting good lights, making laps and turning on win lights.”
With pressure at its highest, Coughlin coolly responded with a huge, half-a-second victory over Castellana, then made light work of a red-lighting Danny Rowe and an out-of-shape Don Walsh to don the crown.
“My brother Jeg started this deal where each of (the four Coughlin brothers) have rings with a stone in it for each national championship we’ve won,” Coughlin said. “I added one in 2009 when I won the NMCA Pro Street title and now this one, combined with the five Jeg has won, will put us up to seven stones. It’s just incredible to think about it. To be a piece of the history of JEGS Racing, considering the guys I’m racing with, is pretty awesome.”
Coughlin will celebrate his new title Monday night in Las Vegas at the year-ending NHRA Pro Mod Series presented by ProCare Rx awards ceremony.
(Photos courtesy JEGS/Dave Kommel; Click to enlarge)