By Briar Starr, NHRA Staff Writer
There is one family in NHRA who is notoriously known for their great success in NHRA Drag Racing and that family is the Coughlin family. The Coughlin family has raced in NHRA for many years with Mike Coughlin Sr and Mike Jr, and John Coughlin, along with Troy Coughlin Sr and Coughlin Jr (who currently competes in the Pro Stock) and Jeg Jr.
Jeg Jr has raced in Pro Stock along with the Sportsman Category as well. In this edition of “first-seasons” where we take a look back at a driver’s rookie season in motorsports, Kickin’ The Tires catches up with Jeg Coughlin Jr.
He is still actively involved in the sport despite not currently racing in Pro Stock. Coughlin Jr began racing in Pro Stock and is the youngest of the Coughlin brothers. He began racing part-time in 1997 where he made his debut at the second Dallas before going full-time in 1998.
Speaking of which, Coughlin Jr was just 27 years old when he made his Pro Stock at Dallas, he discusses what went into making his debut that year.
“I didn’t really have any plans as a young kid (to race), I was a bracket racer at heart driving Super Gas and Super Comp,” Coughlin Jr said. I drove them in the mid-90s. I started racing Super Stock in 1994 and then later in Competition Eliminator in 1997, just kind of getting a different taste of what the NHRA class offers and understood them really well from a driving standpoint and from a performance standpoint.
“My brother Troy (Coughlin Jr) honestly was the go-fast guy in the family. He was always wanting to go fast no matter what class there was. He built some really fast cars in Super Gas and Super Comp and ran big speeds. As a kid, our father’s last racecar was a Top Fuel dragster and so we grew up with nitro in our blood. If you were to ask me at age 12 if I wanted to drive a Top Fuel or Pro Stock, I would’ve said Pro Stock just because I enjoyed the four speeds at the time and how those cars did some cool things.
“I was running Comp Eliminator in 1997 and NHRA announced at the time they were going to debut a new class, Pro Stock Truck. I thought that would be really cool because it was similar to the Comp Eliminator car I was running at the time, which was a small block and a five-speed transmission in it. As a family, we just got to talking about (my year) and it would be more cost-efficient to run two of the same cars in Pro Stock instead of Pro Stock Truck and Pro Stock.
“Later that year, I started working with the Dark Machinery crew on the powerplant side for the Pro Stock cars. We were going testing one day and put a car together, and they had me get my license and I can tell you the first launch I did had me hooked. It was everything I ever dreamed of and more. I remember that day vividly in Columbus, Ohio getting my license, and a couple of days later our team went to Norwalk, Ohio and we got both cars going and ran very well.”
Later on, after getting his first license in NHRA to run Pro Stock, Jeg Coughlin Jr’s dream came true when he made his debut at the second Dallas race in 1997.
“There was an NHRA official at the time and he told me ‘listen here bro, these Pro Stock cars, they got more power and they’re lighter which means they can get you in trouble quicker,'” he said. “I said ‘yes sir, I agree and I’ll be tiptoeing.’ Since I never made a run in Pro Stock, they normally have someone make a solo run first. So, I did my burnout and backed up and I launched off the starting.
“The car began moving toward the wall and I kept changing gears, and I was able to bring the car back into the groove and we qualified well there in Dallas. Got our first-round win on a holeshot against Scott Geoffrion (former NHRA Pro Stock driver) and next week we went to Houston for our second of the third event of the year. We had some good luck, but we ended up bringing home the Wally in Houston and it was more than I could ever imagine in a short period of time.”
With the early success on a part-time schedule, Coughlin Jr learned quickly that helped give the team momentum for his first full-time season in 1998 where he would finish second in points.
“We put a full court press on our preparation for the 1998 season to make a full run at it (the championship),” the former NHRA winner said. We had a very good year winning a handful of races (four) and challenging several more. Unfortunately, we came up short in the championship (second in points). In the first two years of ’98 and ’99, I won the Winston Rookie of the Year award which was cool.
“In 2000, we ended up winning the Pro Stock championship which was the most dominant season I ever had in my career (10 wins), and had the championship locked up in late September at Memphis. It was just one hell of a season to have it come that quickly. I can’t give enough credit to my father Jeg Coughlin Sr, he was instrumental in my career.”
When Coughlin Jr was preparing to make his debut at Dallas in 1997, he recalls whether he was anxious or nervous.
“I didn’t have a lot of experience from the time I got my license to the time I let the clutch out at Dallas on Friday,” he said. It was only like a week or so, there was no time to get nervous. Here I was racing against these guys who I looked up to as a kid and considered them my hero. I won against the late Scott Geoffrion and lost to Jim Yates in the other round.”
Despite losing out to Yates the week prior, Coughlin Jr recalls what winning his first national event victory was like which came against Mark Osborne.
“(Houston) was just one of those magical weekends,” the 65-time Pro Stock winner said. We qualified well, we had a week under our belt running at Dallas in the top half of the field. When Sunday came around, we had an overcast day in Houston. In the final, he had a little jump on the starting line but eventually, we ended up outrunning him for the win.
I can tell you the excitement when the win light came on went through my entire body. I can still remember my whole entire run like it was yesterday.”
Being in the Coughlin name brings up a lot of memories for Jeg Jr, especially since his family grew up in the sport.
“My earliest memory in the sport was that my dad (Jeg Sr) had a Pro Stock in the early 70s,” Jeg Jr said. I was really young like three or four years old but remember it vividly. I remember getting in the car and trying to pull on the levers. It wasn’t until later in my life in the early ’80s that my brother John started racing in NHRA and IHRA. I really grew to liking them and watching them, and I just enjoyed that environment.”
Additionally, Coughlin Jr also remembers if there were any high expectations for himself.
“As I set up for the Sportsman classes for a year, my goal was to be prepared and that would give me an opportunity to win and potentially the championship,” he said. I was able to do that early on in 1992 in Super Gas and some very strong championship runs in the years after in that category.
One year in Pomona, I was leading both Super Stock and Comp Eliminator in the points and ended up getting beat for both of them, so that was really gutwrenching for sure.”
Even so, this would come to fruition multiple times where the family would race each other in the finals multiple times and Coughlin Jr says it’s one of his fondest memories.
“One of the coolest memories for me that stands out is having an all-family final in Pro Stock,” Jeg Jr said. “That happened on a number of occasions, especially in my early years with Troy Coughlin and I. In the year 2000, we had a Pro Stock Truck team that my brothers John and Mike were racing in, and sharing the winner circle was really badass. On that same day, we were able to win the first Pro Stock championship.”
As Jeg Coughlin Jr continued to reflect back on his illustrious career, he thinks about if he could’ve done anything differently.
“Probably not, if I am being honest with you,” the former Pro Stock driver said about doing anything differently. “I would probably tell myself to take a deep breath and just to enjoy it. We were always the type of team that we would win on Sunday and then when we flew home Sunday night, that race was already behind us because we were back to focusing on the work with our company and what needed to happen to be successful.”
Throughout Jeg’s career, the Pro Stock driver has earned 65 wins in 457 starts along with 50 runner-up finishes with 34 career No. 1 qualifiers. Additionally, Jeg won a career-high of 10 races in 2000, the first year he won his first championship. He won the championship five times in his career with those taking place in 2000, 2007, 2008, and the last coming in 2013.
Lastly, Jeg Jr also qualified for the Countdown to the Championship every year in his career with the exception of 2011 when he did not compete. In his playoffs days, he ran 66 races and scored five wins with nine No. 1 qualifiers.