NHRA is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Pro Stock class in 2020, and this season includes memorable tributes to the pioneers who helped create the foundation for the factory hot rod class. Built by Ronnie Sox and Bill Jenkins and later passed on to the likes of Bob Glidden, Lee Shepherd, Warren Johnson, and others, the Pro Stock class has produced many of NHRA’s most successful drivers and many of its most memorable moments.
Historically, it’s never been easy to achieve success in Pro Stock. The cars that make up the class are some of the most technically precise machines in all of motorsports, and there is a high degree of difficulty from a driving perspective. The class has evolved dramatically over the last 50 years and has reached a point where most races are won or lost by just a few thousandths of a second, and even a small driving mistake is one too many.
Currently, there’s a new wave of talented a second-and third-generation newcomers entering Pro Stock who promise to carry the class well into its second half-century but, as they are quickly learning, this is not your father’s Pro Stock. Young guns Aaron Stanfield, brothers Cristian and Fernando Cuadra Jr., along with recent debutants, Kyle Koretsky, Troy Coughlin Jr., and Mason McGaha, have brought new life to Pro Stock. Here’s a closer look at each of them.
Troy Coughlin Jr.
Hometown: Delaware, Ohio
Pro Stock starts: 1
Third-generation racer Troy Coughlin Jr. entered the Pro Stock class with a career resumé that is befitting a driver twice his age. The son of multi-time Pro Mod champ Troy Coughlin Sr., he has already raced in Top Fuel, Pro Mod, Top Alcohol Dragster, and a host of Sportsman classes, and has been successful in nearly all of them. Growing up, Coughlin watched intently and learned much while his father and his uncle, six-time world champ Jeg Coughlin Jr., competed successfully in Pro Stock. In early 2020, Troy Jr. got a chance to substitute for his uncle Jeg during a test session in Florida and the results were so impressive that he was asked to join the Elite Motorsports team. Coughlin got a chance to race in Pro Stock at the World Doorslammer Nationals in Orlando and not only qualified with an impressive 6.51 elapsed time but defeated three-time world champ Erica Enders in his first side-by-side race.
“Last October, uncle Jeg asked me if I wanted to try his Pro Stock car,” said Coughlin. “I thought it would be a lot of fun and told him, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ I was totally flattered that he’d have that much faith in me. Before we got to Bradenton for testing, I watched a lot of videos on YouTube and our JEGS in-car cameras. I watched Jeg’s and Erica’s runs and paid close attention to how they drove and the sounds the car made on the gear changes and all of that. I also went over a lot of things with Jeg, as far as the procedure and how the cars work, and all the do’s and don’ts.”
Coughlin has been more than 300 mph in a Top Fuel dragster, and he managed to race two seasons in a five-second Pro Mod car without major incident, but he admits that the Pro Stock car is a completely different animal. While a Pro Stock car is substantially slower than some of the other cars he’s driven, it requires a good bit more finesse.
“There are some small similarities between the two [Pro Mod and Pro Stock], but really they are very different,” Coughlin said. “My dad told me it was going to be a different experience, and he was right, especially the first two gear changes. The Pro Stock car also leaves a lot harder than I gave it credit for. There is a lot of multi-tasking going on in there.”
Coughlin, the winner of back-to-back Eastern Region Top Alcohol Dragster championships in 2018-19, qualified in his NHRA debut at the recent E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals. It’s likely that he’ll run more races in Pro Stock this season, and he appears to be the heir apparent to Jeg Jr., who has announced this as his last full-time season in the class.
Hometown: Odessa, Texas
Pro Stock starts: 1
Talk about going from the frying pan into the fire. Just days after earning his NHRA competition license, Mason McGaha made his Pro Stock debut at the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals in Indianapolis and the 18-year-old recent high school graduate handled his latest assignment like a pro. Although he did not qualify for Sunday’s final eliminations, McGaha made several competitive runs and generally impressed his peers with his maturity and car control. While McGaha might lack the experience of some of his Pro Stock peers, he doesn’t have to go far for guidance because his grandfather, Lester, enjoyed a long career in Comp eliminator, and father, Chris, is an eight-time national event Pro Stock winner.
“Overall, I think [licensing] went very well,” Mason said. “Our goal was to just keep progressing and I think we did that. I started working on this about nine months ago but didn’t make my first full run until three days [before his official debut]. I was out of the car for a while, but we did find some time to go to our local track and work on a few things, just to work on burnouts and shifting. I am really just looking forward to racing with my dad and grandpa.”
McGaha, who concluded his license requirements with a respectable 6.81-second run, admitted that mastering the burnout was by far the most difficult part of the learning process. In a Pro Stock car, a burnout that is too aggressive can result in engine damage, particularly to the valve springs, while not enough rpm can destroy the clutch.
“I felt good when I ran 6.81 and then we came [to Indy] and made a half-track run on Friday and that felt pretty good,” said McGaha, who ultimately missed the field in his Indy debut. “Compared to where I was nine months ago, everything is happening much slower. The burnout is definitely the hardest thing to master. There is so much to master but, then again, my dad has made some runs where he messed up the burnout and the car still went down the track. Still, that’s something that I’m really trying to work on.”
Hometown: Richboro, Pa.
Pro Stock starts: 1
At the ripe old age of 31, Kyle Koretsky is the oldest of Pro Stock’s newcomers, but he doesn’t lack for experience or enthusiasm. Koretsky’s father, Kenny, raced in Pro Stock for more than two decades and earned a reputation as one of the class’ most colorful characters. During his career, Kenny not only drove to a pair of final rounds, but he also helped launch the career of the late Scott Geoffrion, so he knows a thing or two about developing young talent.
Kyle enters the Pro Stock category with plenty of previous drag racing experience. He’s competed in Super Comp and at high-stakes bracket racing events behind the wheel of his Nitro Fish dragster, and he’s also appeared in a national event final in Comp eliminator with a runner-up finish at the 2014 Charlotte event. Koretsky also got a chance to race at the World Doorslammer Nationals in March and his 6.49-second best was one of the most talked-about runs of the weekend.
“I grew up watching my dad race, and from the time I was a little kid, all I wanted to do was follow his lead and race in Pro Stock,” said Koretsky. “Sometimes, I have a hard time believing that it’s actually happening. I definitely had a few nerves, but I’ve been around these cars my whole life, so I had a good idea of what to expect. Pro Stock cars are not easy to drive, but I’m determined to learn. I’m surrounded by a team that is full of champions like Greg Anderson, Jason Line, and Bo Butner, so I have a lot of places to turn to for advice.”
Koretsky made his long-awaited official debut at the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals in Indianapolis along with fellow newcomers McGaha and Coughlin and qualified solidly with his KB-powered Nitro Fish Camaro. Koretsky threw a scare into fellow young gun Aaron Stanfield in their round-one meeting but ultimately came up short. He did, however, leave Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis with top speed of the event for Pro Stock at more than 208 mph, and he gained a lot of valuable seat time.
Fernando Cuadra Jr.
Hometown: Leon, Mexico
Pro Stock starts: 16
Success doesn’t come easily in Pro Stock, but apparently no one told that to Fernando Cuadra Jr., because in his NHRA debut at the 2019 Richmond race, he not only qualified but also scored a decisive round-one win over Deric Kramer. Cuadra’s first reaction to the atmosphere surrounding an NHRA national event was a familiar one.
“I’ve never driven in front of this many people before,” said the second-generation driver, who makes his home base in Leon, Mexico, where he works in the family’s very successful apparel and footwear business, Corral Boots.
Prior to his debut in Richmond, Cuadra had made a total of eight passes in a Pro Stock car, having previously raced a seven-second Top Sportsman-style door car in Mexico. That experience was certainly valuable when it came time to make the move to Pro Stock, but he admits there are some not-so-subtle differences.
“In the Top Sportsman car, you’ve got two hands on the wheel and you’re basically hanging on for dear life,” Cuadra said. “In the Pro Stock car, it’s one hand on the wheel, one on the shifter, and you’ve got to watch the shift lights the whole time.”
Cuadra and his family raced with the help of the KB team last season, but in 2020 they made the bold decision to forge their own path to success. To that end, the family is currently racing three Ford Mustangs that are powered by DRCE4 engines built by Pro Stock veteran Nick Ferri. Cuadra Jr. qualified at the first two races of the 2020 season and picked up another round win in Pomona where he once again got the best of Kramer. At the recent E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals in Indianapolis, all three Cuadra entries missed the cut for the tough field, but they were able to chalk up the experience as another big step towards their goal of independent success.
Hometown: McAllen, Texas
Pro Stock starts: 13
A few weeks after his older brother, Fernando Jr., made his Pro Stock debut, Cristian followed suit when he made his class debut at the Dodge Mile-High Nationals in Denver. Cristian competed in one event in Top Sportsman before he was fast-tracked to Pro Stock.
“I found out three weeks before Denver that I was going to be racing in Pro Stock,” said Cristian, who shares his father’s entrepreneurial spirit. He’s an aspiring shoe designer who has his own clothing brand, Pravatto, that specializes in leather footwear. “I got my license in Mooresville, [N.C.] but I honestly didn’t expect it to happen this quickly. I thought that I might be racing in Pro Stock in 2020 at the earliest.
“Definitely, learning to shift a Pro Stock car has been the hardest thing to learn,” he said. “In the Top Sportsman car, you have a transbrake and you just leave off of a button. [In Pro Stock], you have to get the clutch out and then shift every gear and in Denver, the first few shifts came so quickly. You have to be prepared. It’s a hard adjustment but I’m getting used to it.”
Cristian has struggled to qualify as his family works hard to build its multi-car program. He’s qualified just four times in 13 attempts but picked up the first of what promises to be many round wins when he beat Aaron Stanfield at the NHRA Arizona Nationals in Phoenix.
Family patriarch Fernando Sr. is justifiably proud of his kids and is currently grooming a third son, David, for a potential debut in Pro Stock. During last year’s Denver race, Fernando Sr. allowed himself to ponder the possibility of racing alongside or watching his sons in an NHRA Pro Stock final round.
“Oh my, I can’t even tell you how proud I’d be,” he said. “Isn’t that what every parent wants? I’ll tell you this, though; we’d race straight up. There’s nothing free here. We’d go to the starting line and whoever is best would win. That would mean everything to me.”
Hometown: Bossier City, La.
Pro Stock starts: 14
Aaron Stanfield was just 19 when he made his Pro Stock debut at the 2014 U.S. Nationals, but that didn’t stop him from launching his career with a round win over five-time world champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. When it comes to experience, Stanfield got a pretty good head start. Stanfield’s grandfather, Howard, won the Stock title at the 1987 Summernationals in Englishtown, eight years before he was born. Years later, Stanfield’s father, Greg, claimed four Super Stock world championships and later raced in Comp, Pro Stock Truck, and Pro Stock, earning a total of 13 national event wins along the way.
Oddly, Stanfield’s initial Pro Stock experiment was short-lived. He raced in just a handful of events before turning his attention to Sportsman racing, where he’s proved to be just as versatile as his father with multiple wins in Super Stock and Top Dragster, including a memorable father-son final at the 2017 Chicago race. For all his success as a Sportsman racer, Aaron longed to continue his career in Pro Stock, and he got that opportunity again in 2019 with the Elite team. Stanfield won at least one round in the final five races of the season and that success led to a full-time ride in 2020 with the Janac Brothers team.
“There is no question that this [Pro Stock car] is the hardest car out of anything I’ve ever raced,” said Stanfield, who also races in the Factory Stock class, and works alongside his father in the family’s successful engine building business in Louisiana. “You have to do everything perfectly from the burnout to staging to shifting; it all has to be the same every time. It’s hard, but I love the challenge. My goal is just to get a little better and learn something every time I go down the track.”
To that end, Stanfield still relies on his father’s wisdom to help accelerate his learning curve.
“The best advice he’s ever given me is to slow down,” said Aaron. “That might sound odd, but what he means is slow down and enjoy the moment when things are going your way. Or, slow down and take things one step at a time when you’re faced with a challenge. I try to listen to him and take that approach and it’s worked well for me so far.”