Little known fact; Troy Coughlin Jr. was just hours away from making his official NHRA Pro Stock debut when the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals were postponed. Coughlin was not originally on the Gainesville pre-entry list, but he was on track to be replacement for Vincent Nobile, who was scheduled to race with the Elite team, but had to drop out at the last minute. Instead, Coughlin raced his JEGS.com Super Comp dragster and recorded a very respectable semifinal finish. His official Pro Stock debut will have to wait for another day, but rest assured, his future is very much tied to the factory hot rod class.
That’s a bit of a seismic shift from last year, when Coughlin won his second-straight Regional championship in the Top Alcohol Dragster class and appeared headed, at some point for a second stint in Top Fuel. As many remember, Coughlin raced in Top Fuel during the 2017 season. Before that, he joined his father, Troy Sr., in the E3 Spark Plugs Pro Mod series, and he’s also been a successful sportsman racer, winning events in Top Dragster, Super Comp, and Super Gas.
Coughlin has spent the last two decades watching his uncle Jeg Jr., win 64 races and five world championships in Pro Stock, he admits that he only recently took a more active interest in the Pro Stock class.
“This goes back to Sunday night after the Dallas race last October. Uncle Jeg and I were going to the airport in our rental car and he 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.’ Then things got a little more serious in December around the PRI show. We knew the Elite team was going to test during the off-season and Jeg said I could drive his car. I was totally flattered that he’d have that much faith in me. He’s been my childhood hero and has taught me so much.
“Before we got to Bradenton, I watched a lot of videos on YouTube and our JEGS in-car cameras,” Coughlin said. “I watched Jeg 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.
When Coughlin finally got his chance to drive a Pro Stock car for the first time in Bradenton, Fla., he proved to be a quick study, impressing the Elite team not only with his competitive reaction times, but also his car control. He needed just a couple of runs to successfully crossgrade his NHRA competition license, and by the end of the multi-day test, he’d made multiple runs in the 6.5-second range and looked like anything but a rookie driver.
“When you watched T.J. drive, even on his first few runs, you wouldn’t have known it wasn’t Jeg in the car,” said Elite team boss Richard Freeman. “Any time the car wanted to make a move, which happens sometimes in a Pro Stock car, he was quick to correct it. You could just tell by the way he drove that he’d been paying attention all those years.”
That’s high praise from someone who is not just one of the sport’s most successful team owners, but also a licensed Pro Stock driver who understands the challenges of racing a 1,400-horsepower car that has a limited amount of downforce.
Coughlin has been over 300-mph in a Top Fuel dragster, and he managed to race two seasons in a five-second Pro Mod car without incident, but he admits that the Pro Stock car is a completely different animal. He’s quick to acknowledge that while the Pro Stock car is substantially slower than 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 got some additional experience when he raced in the World Doorslammer Nationals event in Orlando. At that race, he not only ran in the 6.4s, but defeated three-time world champ Enders on a holeshot in the opening round. Coughlin also got to stage against his uncle Jeg in round two, something that hadn’t previously happened in any class.
“Erica just missed the Tree worse than I did,” said Coughlin. “Neither one of us were stellar. Then, I got a chance to race against my uncle, which was a thrill. We’ve never run before in eliminations, even in bracket racing. Every time I watch him, I realize what he does is simply amazing. I know I’ve got some big shoes to fill.
Coughlin will at some point compete in an official Pro Stock event, but given the current level of uncertainty, he’s not sure
just when that will happen. In the meantime, he plans to continue racing his Super Comp dragster whenever possible along with his younger sister, Paige, and niece, Makenna Brown. Coughlin is also planning on hitting some of the sport’s biggest bracket racing events this summer alongside uncle Jeg. On the homefront, Coughlin has his wife, Brenna, are busy preparing to move into a new home in Delaware, Ohio, close to the JEGS Mail Order headquarters.
“Whenever the Elite guys want to test I’ll be an option and if I can get a few races this year, that will be great,” said Coughlin. “We just need to see what equipment is available and when funding I can secure. I’m hoping this leads to a full-time deal next year in uncle Jeg’s car. The nitro dream, both Top Fuel and Top Alcohol Dragster was exciting, and I’m extremely grateful to have a chance to race with great people like the McPhillips family, I think my future is Pro Stock. From the first pass I made in testing, I fell in love with it all over again.”