The two drivers rolling into the water box as the sun began to set at Auto Club Raceway on the Pomona Country Fairplex are pretty impressive. Between them, they had won eight World Championships and 122 events, and bragging right for their sponsors, Buckeye State state parts sellers Summit and Jegs, were also on the line in this race, the final round of Pro Stock at the season-opening NHRA event, the 52nd Annual O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals presented by Super Start Batteries.
Jeg Coughlin Jr. had put together a fresh effort from scratch during the past eight months (new car, new team, new engine building operation), making the decision to go with Dodge when the company agreed to step up with sponsorship as well as research and development help. He admitted during a television interview that his engine guys were still sorting out the combination and had only put two race-ready powerplants together to date, and in qualifying the car had been less than stellar. Indeed, though only 18 entries were on hand, Jeg's team was chasing electrical gremlins; he had run an 18-second time in the first session and clocked a 6.673 at 209 Friday to bump into a provisional spot. Saturday had just one pro session due to bad weather, and Jeg ran a 6.637 in that round which left him in 14th spot when the field was set, giving him an opening round date with Ronnie Humphry when eliminations got underway.
Overcast skies and cool weather created good racing conditions, and Humphry was on his game with a solid 6.569. Jeg turned a not-so-quick 6.581 and the win light in the other lane, winning on a holeshot, .021 to .059, with what would be his best time of the day. In round two, his opponent was the Mountain View Tire Dodge wheeled by another second-gen driver, Vince Nobile. Notoriously fast on the starting line, Nobile hit a near-telepathic .005, but Jeg was in quick pursuit at .015. At the finish line, Jeg's effort was just enough to eke out victory, 6.590 to Nobile's 6.609, a margin of .009, or three feet. Then came a semifinal race against 2009 World Champion Mike Edwards: Edwards had to rate the favorite on paper and was in the 'better' left lane, but trimmed the tree too hard at -0.004 and forfeited the round to send Jeg Coughlin to the final with a .026 reaction and a 6.615.
The driver in the other lane was Greg Anderson, whose Summit team has been formidable for much of the current era, and who had earlier beaten the Dodge of Allen Johnson in the second frame. Anderson and Coughlin have raced each other many times in the past, and both recognized this would be a big momentum starter to the season. At the green, Jeg was out first at .017, but Anderson was right there at .027 and the tenth of a second in the bank was not enough to hold the GM off, 6.586 to a winning 6.549.
Anderson admitted in the finish line interview that he was glad to see Coughlin back, and that he was very happy to have won over a Dodge, especially that particular one in yellow. Coughlin, for his part, took the runner-up status as any champion does (with resolve and honesty), but starts up his new effort with a solid group of round wins in the season's opening event.
"This is just a taste of what's coming for this team," stated Coughlin in a post-event press release. "(Engine builders) Roy Simmons and Nick Ferri are going to continue to work hard on the tune-up and the horsepower. I'm about as fired up as I get at a race I didn't win."
The other Dodges on hand in the 500" doorcar division including Allen Johnson (fourth at 6.548 211.39), Nobile (sixth -6.569 210.77), and V. Gaines (15th at 6.688 208.78).
Funny car action was also hot, and the Dodges advanced to the semifinals there as well. World Champ Matt Hagen fell to teammate Ron Capps in round one. Capps is benefiting from the out-of-retirement tuning efforts of Tim and Kim Richards, and he hit a fat 4.09 to begin the day. In Hagan's defense, only one funny car world champion in the last 10 years has won their opening round race at Pomona in their defending season - John Force. Capps would beat rookie Todd Lesenko in round two, but fell to Force team driver Mike Neff in the semifinals. Jack Beckman also went rounds, but was disqualified in round two when he crossed the centerline and cut in front of veteran driver Gary Densham, who was also cloaked in Dodge Charger skin; Densham barely hit him at the 250+ mph speed. The damage was repaired, but Densham red-lit badly against Force, who would then go on to win the event when Neff was late off the line in the final.
A final tip of the hat to Don Schumacher Racing, whose Top Fuel driver Spencer Massey clocked a monster 328.762 mph speed to reset the national speed record as well as win the event in an all-DSR final against Antron Brown.
Sportsman racing had not been concluded when this report was filed.