One day after clinching the North Central Regional Top Alcohol Dragster championship, Troy Coughlin Jr. and the JEGS.com McPhillips Racing team are roaring into the 64th annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals on a two-race winning streak that certainly makes them a "Big Go" favorite.
Coughlin Jr. and crew followed up an impressive victory two weekends ago at the "Northeast Shootout" Division 1 race at Cecil County Dragway in Maryland with another big win Sunday at the "The Battle at the Beech" Division 3 race Beech Bend Raceway Park in Kentucky. Combined with an earlier trophy grab at another D3 race in Norwalk, Ohio, Coughlin cannot be caught in the North Central Region standings.
"It's already been a remarkable season, for sure," Coughlin Jr. said. "I think back to one year ago at this point and I was really in a weird place. The Top Fuel thing with Kalitta Motorsports wasn't going well and my confidence was way down. Even though I'd been racing and doing pretty well for a good while, I was questioning my abilities at every turn. A lot of self-doubt had crept into my head.
"I knew from past experience the best way to get past things in this sport is to keep racing. I knew I needed to make laps in a good car, surround myself with good people and get back to basics. Fortunately, we found this wonderful team with McPhillips Racing and they let me into their family. Everything has come together so well."
It's been a perfect fit between Coughlin Jr. and McPhillips Racing, a family-based operation that exhibits the same family values as the vaunted Coughlin clan.
"They're not only great people but they're true drag racers through and through," Coughlin Jr. said. "They work really hard on giving me a perfect car every round. We don't focus on running low ET of every round or posting big speeds, we focus on racing the lane and getting the most out of what the conditions will allow.
"Beech Bend is a perfect example of why this team wins. It was super-hot all weekend and the track was difficult to navigate but they found a way to get us down every time. That's where Rich and Rich Jr. shine the most. Rich reminds me so much of my grandpa (Jeg Coughlin Sr.) because he just thinks a certain way. Plus, and this is really big, this team makes it fun to drag race."
The success the group has enjoyed -- their three wins are complimented by a runner-up finish at the national event in Norwalk and a victory at a $20K bracket race in Jackson, S.C. near the start of the season -- has Coughlin Jr. thinking about a big weekend in Indy and a possible return to Top Fuel in 2019.
"Back in 1991, pops (father Troy Coughlin Sr.) won Bowling Green (in Super Comp) and then went to Indy and won the U.S. Nationals (in Super Gas) the next weekend so we have the road map," said Coughlin Jr., who previously won the U.S. Nationals himself in 2010 (Super Comp) and 2014 (Super Gas). "We certainly have a heckuva opportunity in front of us. The stars are lined up.
"It would be really great to win Indy in this car because we need national event wins if we want to add the national championship to the regional one. Nationally, there are so many great drivers, so it won't be easy at all, but I think we can run with any of them so maybe we can get another win. I get chills just talking about it. Indy is just so different, the whole feeling of the race, it just sits in your heart differently."
As for a potential return to Top Fuel, Coughlin Jr. says this year's successes with McPhillips Racing has changed his mental landscape.
"One year's time and I have a totally different feeling in my heart," Coughlin Jr. said. "I've definitely found things this year I wish I had known before I ever got in a Top Fuel dragster but nothing is as important as the value I will always place on the people around me.
"Rich, Rich Jr., Duke Roney, Andy Good, Charlie Wrotten and Justin Beaver work so hard and have incredible focus and self-control, they have convinced me of the value of having the right people. Any chance I get to return to Top Fuel will be something I'll look very hard at and the team will be a big part of any decisions that are made."