When four-time NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series world champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. announced that he would return to Pro Stock in 2012 following a year devoted solely to intense bracket racing and Sportsman competition, his name automatically returned to the list of drivers to never let out of sight. After all, the last time Coughlin took a hiatus from Pro Stock, he returned with such vigor and drive that he won four events in eight final rounds to collect the biggest and brightest trophy at the end of the season.
This year, however, did not follow form, and while Coughlin started the season looking every bit like a fierce competitor aimed at certain glory, something happened — and it wasn’t the something that Coughlin or his league of black and yellow-adorned JEGS.com supporters expected.
Following a solid debut at the season-opening O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals presented by Super Start Batteries in Pomona that included a final-round finish to archrival and Summit Racing campaigner Greg Anderson, the driver of the JEGS.com/Mopar Dodge Avenger fell on hard times and into very unfamiliar territory.
The 52-time Professional national event victor began to struggle in both qualifying and on race day, and unfavorable outcomes began to register as more than flukes. A string of uncharacteristically early exits peppered with three shocking nonqualifying attempts gave birth to change, and with a new crew chief, veteran tuner Eddie Guarnaccia, who joined the brigade just after the Toyota NHRA SuperNationals in Englishtown, and a refreshed attitude, the JEGS.com team has slowly and steadily begun to rebuild.
“Making the [Countdown to the Championship] is very important to us,” said Coughlin, who qualified in the top half of the field for the first time this season in Denver and climbed back into the top 10 in the standings in Sonoma. “Building a new team, we had extremely high expectations — we still do. Our goal was to challenge for race wins right off the bat, and we got a flash of that in Pomona, but it tipped over from there. We had the same car, same people, same engines, same everything; we just lost our grip.
“But the talent we have assembled, on both the downtrack program and the engine program, it’s superior. They’re all really good folks, and we’re all very focused on getting this car to be more consistent.
“We have some inefficiency to focus on, but we’ve got good people, great race cars, and great engines — we’ve got the whole package, and what we want to do now is smooth this out a little bit. I honestly believe that we have a top eight car, and with that said, we should be able to turn on some win lights.”
Coughlin’s current points position was aided by fellow Pro Stock competitors Rodger Brogdon and Ronnie Humphrey, both of whom were seated in the Full Throttle Series top 10 before they opted to sit out the three-in-a-row Western Swing that includes events in Denver, Sonoma, and Seattle. Brogdon was ninth and Humphrey was seventh before the Swing started, and Coughlin had a virtual open door; he only had to walk through it. Humphrey is now tied for 10th with Coughlin, and Brogdon is paused at 14th.
“That certainly helped,” admitted Coughlin. “We weren’t the quickest, but we did a good job of qualifying in both Denver and Sonoma, and we made up some ground. What we do from here will determine a lot.”
Tuner Guarnaccia will be striving to continue the upward journey as he works alongside Roy Simmons, who was Coughlin’s crew chief for three of his four championships and is now part owner in the engine business JNR Racing. Simmons oversees the engine program and according to Coughlin is “a great sounding board for Eddie. Those two have really started to work well together, and that is evident in the consistency that we’re beginning to see.”
Another regular contributor to the program is Coughlin’s father, Jeg Sr., and the traveling team is rounded out by car chief Dave Yediny, Mike Staebler, Greg Steller, Scott “Woody” Woodruff, and Randy Bishop, who also maintains the cars that Coughlin competes with in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series. In addition to piloting the JEGS.com/Mopar Dodge Avenger, Coughlin, an acclaimed Sportsman racer with 67 NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series wins, also wheels a Dodge Challenger Drag Pak in Stock with the signature JEGS scheme.
The next two events will be critical to how the season plays out, not just for Coughlin, but also for every driver gunning for the opportunity to make a charge for the championship. The Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals in Brainerd will begin Aug. 16, followed by the esteemed Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Auto-Plus in Indianapolis. Both events will allow drivers to earn points toward a berth in the playoffs, and when the last win light is illuminated in Indy, the fields will be set.
“These two races have been fantastic for me in the past,” said Coughlin, a four-time Pro Stock titlist at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals and a three-time category winner in Indianapolis.
“I’ve been very fortunate, so we’re excited to have the opportunity to race there at those venues again, and we sure have some great talents on this team. We just have to weather this storm and get through it, and we will.”