Perhaps one of the most exciting drivers to be returning to Auto Club Raceway at Pomona is four-time Pro Stock World Champion Jeg Coughlin. After sitting out all of the 2011 season, Jeg has returned to the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series with a new car and an entirely new engine shop. Coughlin will enter the 2012 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing season behind the wheel of the JEGS.com Mopar Dodge Avenger. Jeg enters the Winternationals with a record of six wins at the historic track, two of those being Winternational titles.
Q: Jeg, you have a brand-new car with a brand-new team. How are you feeling going into next week's event?
Jeg Coughlin: We're feeling fantastic. Much like the teams you talked to, Tony and Cruz today, a lot of exciting stuff happening in the off-season for us. Our off-season has been slightly more than just the Pomona, couple months' span. We started J & R Racing Engines back in April time frame, down in Mooresville, North Carolina. Roy Simmons and Nick Ferri, both well-known names in the Pro Stock world, head up the engine development side. Later we partnered with the Chrysler Corporation, Dodge and Mopar branding in particular, started assembling a team.
When we went to our first test session a few weeks back, we went with a new transporter, a new car, a new engine, new parts. Everything was brand-new. It was probably the first time in my career that's ever taken place.
Everything went really well in testing. We accomplished quite a bit in just two days at Palm Beach. We're ready to do some more testing this weekend in Las Vegas before we head to Pomona for a great start to the 2012 season.
Q: Jeg, with all the domination that the KB Racing team has had over the past two years, starting off with a brand-new program, how competitive do you feel you can be this year, or is this more of a building year?
Jeg Coughlin: Well, we certainly look to start off about where we left off, which was a top couple teams.
Pro Stock seems to go in phases where some teams dominate. We certainly had our run since 2000 where we've won a couple of championships. KB has one a handful with Jason and Greg and Mike Edwards as well.
There's a lot of extremely good teams out there right now, between the ones we mentioned, the Johnson family, the list goes on and on. I think our goal with putting this team together is everyone on this team has been a world champion at one point in time in their career. There's a lot of experience, a lot of respect for one another that we've been able to assemble.
We're looking to hit the ground pretty darn hard and compete for round wins and race wins right up front. We have yet to kind of race in a crowd, so to speak, and I think we'll get a taste of that this weekend at our pre-season warmup at Las Vegas. The true test will be in Pomona in just two weeks. But, yes, we're certainly looking to build our program. By the looks of our numbers that we ran in Palm Beach, it looks like we're going to be pretty close coming right out of the chute, which is pretty exciting. I know Nick and Roy with this new Hemi powerplant is all new to them. I think we're going to come out pretty strong and certainly improve from there.
Q: Jeg, you've been driving GM powerplant Pro Stock cars all along. Now you're in a Chrysler. Is there a different way that the engine feels or accelerates at different places in the track with the hemi?
Jeg Coughlin: I wouldn't say too much from the seat of the pants. Feel is different. Good question. When Roy or Nick are working on the dyno, we can see the torque is in a little different spot and the horsepower is in a little different spot. From their standpoint, they've been able to manipulate some things with their tune-up to garner more horsepower.
But as far as saying I feel it from the pants, it seems like this Dodge wants to rev a little higher than the GM's did. But we're just really getting our feet wet with it. Probably be able to tell with a little more runs under my belt. I've really just made seven runs to date.
I hadn't sat in a Pro Stock car in over a year and a half since Pomona 2010. There were a few questions in my mind before I did the first burnout and launch. We were looking to make a half-track run. We were successful with that. Started gathering that data to start tuning the hemi engine in.
It's certainly been a learning curve, but I think we'll feel a little bit more of that power and I'll have more information for you within the next week or two.
Q: With the JEGS sponsored car, and the Summit Cars of Anderson and Line, how real is that rivalry for the part stores?
Jeg Coughlin: I suppose it's what you make of it. We're pretty friendly competitors when it comes to the racetrack and the business world. I think sometimes you get poked at to try to get a rivalry going.
At the end of the day, it's a pretty small world. We're dealing with a lot of the same vendors, we're dealing with a lot of the same fans and customers out there. Our goal is to get out and entertain the fans that are physically at the Full Throttle events and also enjoying it on ESPN.
I wouldn't say there's too much rivalry personally. But I have heard that maybe they get little bonuses for beating the JEGS cars, but that's just hearsay.
Q: I'll admit I was prodding you.
Jeg Coughlin: We can handle it (laughter).
Q: I'm wondering, because you're in charge of the whole team, is it a distraction coming to the first race of the season having to worry about how the team is put together, how things are working, all the little stuff that becomes routine once you get into the season? Is the distraction coming from the team or are there no distractions, you just get in the car and drive?
Jeg Coughlin: From a team owner's standpoint, there's certainly plenty of vulnerabilities and distractions in that case. I think the team that communicates the best on a regular basis sometimes will feel like we're overcommunicating. When you get into the heat of battle, you're at the races, being pulled from two or three different directions, that's when the team needs to be at its strongest.
Quite frankly, we have a much smaller team than on the Top Fuel and Funny Car side. I think there's seven of us in total that will be more or less hands on with the Jeg's car at Pomona. So we've spent some time preparing for Pomona in December and January both at a conference room table, just trying to talk through what the potential issues could be, what the potential distractions could be. At the end of the day what's our focus, and it is to perform at a hundred percent.
In any of these professional classes, in the bikes as mentioned earlier, too, we're racing for thousandths of a second. Any little distraction from any one of those seven people on our team can allow us to not perform to that level.
The bottom line is we're there to perform well for Jeg and the Chrysler Corporation. We're also there to give the fans on hand a great show and the viewers that are watching a great show. We would all agree that the Countdown on 2011 was extremely exciting. Built an unbelievable amount of excitement to crown the champions. Here we are in 2012 and everybody is tied for first again, and we've got to earn our berth into the Countdown format. It's going to be a regular season, if you will.
Pomona can't come quick enough for us. We're ready to go mentally and physically. Just can't wait to see a lot of the new teams out there, the new colors, all the excitement within the NHRA. It's going to be awesome.
Q: Jeg, being away like you were and coming back, what is your feeling coming back into Pro Stock?
Jeg Coughlin: I got to sit on the sidelines and watch the action for the season. I enjoyed tuning in on Saturday and Sundays, following it on the Internet.
Definitely coming back in, the game has definitely tightened up a little bit more through the '11 season. In our case we assembled a team really from top to bottom. I'm really looking forward, from a behind the wheel standpoint, getting back out and rubbing heads with some of these guys and gals again.
Being out of the seat for a year, I was out of the seat in Pro Stock, I still raced some, made close to 500 runs last year, mainly in what they call high-stakes bracket racing. Had a great season, probably one of my top five seasons in my career. So the competitiveness and the drive, I was challenged pretty much week in and week out last year. From that standpoint, I feel I'm as ready as ever.
I did take a season off in 2006, which was probably one of my best seasons ever in my life behind the wheel of racecars, came out swinging in '07 and '08, winning championships. Maybe we'll carry some of that momentum off of the idle season. If our performance is where we expect it to be, as you just heard, the driver needs to get in and make his contribution and make things happen.
Again, I'm really looking forward to the start of the season, excited we don't have to wait long between Pomona and Phoenix to get one under our belt. We're ready to go.