POMONA, Calif., July 3, 2001 - The 24-event NHRA championship tour is past the halfway point in 2001 and headed straight for a Pro Stock points shootout reminiscent of the OK Corral. Defending champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. is right in the thick...
POMONA, Calif., July 3, 2001 - The 24-event NHRA championship tour is past the halfway point in 2001 and headed straight for a Pro Stock points shootout reminiscent of the OK Corral. Defending champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. is right in the thick of the battle. Currently fourth in the standings with two victories this season, the Jeg's Mail Order Chevy Cavalier driver is poised to make a move on the leaders heading into this weekend's race at Pomona Raceway.
Coughlin got off to a slow start this year but finessed his way through some minor growing pains after switching over from the Cutlass to the new Chevy Cavalier body. At Las Vegas the defending champion hit stride winning his first race of the season, and then followed that up two weeks later with a second consecutive victory at the Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla. As the season turns the corner and heads into its second half, Coughlin realizes that there's no time like the present to stake his claim on a second consecutive Winston title.
The Pep Boys NHRA 50th Anniversary Nationals presented by American Racing Custom Wheels on July 5 - 7 is the 13th race on the 24-event schedule. Qualifying highlights will be telecast on ESPN2 on Saturday, July 6, starting at 7:30 p.m. Eastern. Final eliminations can be seen on ESPN2 on Sunday, July 7, beginning at 10 p.m. Eastern.
How are things going this year for you and the team? "Not too bad. We would certainly like to see ourselves in a little bit different position at this point, but we're struggling a little bit. We've run a lot of setups on our new Cavalier and it seems to be pretty happy, but we're still working out the bugs. We're going to do some testing before Pomona. Our goal is to accomplish the first 100-feet of the racetrack as best we can. In drag racing, and Pro Stock specifically, we're building our success off our ability to gain momentum, that's what drag racing is all about. We're just not doing that very efficiently right now. We're struggling with keeping the car under control and going straight, but we feel like we've got great data and great people that will help get this ironed out. We're going to focus our attention a little closer to detail and try to work out some of those bugs out at National Trail, which is one of the hot-weather racetracks. We'll do whatever it takes to be competitive. We're looking for positive results, that's for sure. I think we're going to see some new light and hopefully put the competition in a little bit of trouble."
Are you satisfied with the Cavalier and the setup heading into the hot summer months? "We're happy with the Cavalier and the whole development program. We've changed from a Don Ness chassis to a Jerry Bickel chassis. Our program has had some issues this year. When we hit the setup 100-percent right, we're running with the best cars out there, and when we don't we're just a couple of hundredths off. We're earning what we're getting. We've lost 10 of the 12 races and of those 10, six or seven of them were lost by a hundredth of a second. They've been tough losses because they've been so close. The team has been working real hard on getting prepared for our test session and we're using advice from Jerry (Bickel). We're not out of the championship hunt yet. A lot of the teams out there at this point are starting to settle for something else other than the championship, but we're still focused. We're only nine rounds back from Warren (Johnson) and that's nothing this year. We won last year by 15 or 16 rounds, but Warren has done a good job on building on everyone else's weaknesses and with his wealth of knowledge in Pro Stock, it has paid off this year - along with his hard work. We just haven't been able to make it happen yet. That's the distinct difference."
Do you like being in the roll of the pursuer? "I've been fortunate to win championships in the past. I've been leading, I've been behind, and I've been leading but lost it. So mentally we try to clear our minds as much as possible the fact that we're behind. You just have to stay calm and stay focused. Warren has done a great job staying consistent. We got two wins in the first quarter of the season, and from then on the competition has been so spread out - the championship has been up for grabs the whole year. Last year was probably not the most ideal situation, or previous years for that matter. Pro Stock has pretty much been a run-away deal from what I've seen in my experience. We're looking to make this year exciting. There would be nothing more exciting than to roll into Pomona at the end of the year and run the final round for the championship. We would be more than up for the challenge. It could happen. Look at all of the top teams out there running, like Krisher who could come on at any time. He's got a great program but is just struggling behind the wheel. Edwards is doing well, you've got KJ (Kurt Johnson) who's been a hit and miss, Warren has been hot, Yates has been consistent from the drop of the hammer in January, and Pawuk's team is doing extremely well. I'm missing a few others but that's the beauty of it. It doesn't mean anything if you're qualified 14th, 15th, or even 16th this year. Every opponent out there is tough. The non-GM brands are improving their program as well."
Are you pleased with your performance as a driver? "I'm real comfortable inside the car because it drives extremely well. I've done my best getting it down the track and into the field. I'm fairly pleased with my performance personally as far as letting the clutch pedal out, hitting the shift points as well as other things. I look for that to continue as I get more comfortable in the car. There're still some adjustments I'm going to work on. For example when we're testing, I've got some clutch-pedal release ideas that I'm going to work on. I haven't been able to really work on my driving because to be quite honest the most important thing is getting qualified, so we work on the power. Overall though, things seem to be improving."
What do you think the key to your success has been over the years? "Having the right people at the right places and doing the right functions. In our Federal Mogul racing we were fortunate to have all of the top-rated equipment and maintaining our equipment has been the foremost goal of our program. We've worked extremely hard with Dick Maskin and his group in trying to enhance the power of our machine and they've done a great job. Preparation is the key. Not only mentally but physically. From a parts standpoint we try to use only fresh and new stuff. Our maintenance routines are probably more aggressive than other teams. We feel that what we spend in that area pays for itself two or three times over on the racetrack. My dad, Gary Pearman and Craig Hankinson are working with Jerry Bickel to make our program even better."
What's it like racing with your brothers? "It's 99.9 percent the greatest thing in the world and I wouldn't change a thing. The slight downside to it is if one, two or three of us are struggling or all of us for that matter, it makes it tough. We work hard trying to get all of our vehicles prepared to the best of their abilities and that gives all of us the same chance for success. It's great. We're all in the business together. We're partners, friends and family. When we travel out to a race on Friday morning we're heading there together. We spend a lot of time together and racing is our passion."
How do you prepare for a race? "Our routines on Friday and Saturday are more focused on the crew and if we're using our data properly. We work on trying to decide if we're hitting the gear changes as close as possible. We do a lot of the onboard video and audio, and I try and give them the best feedback from the seat of the car. I also try to spend time with the fans because on Sunday we don't have a lot of time to do that. On Sunday morning the only run we're focused on is that first round. We've had four passes on Friday and Saturday, and we've got the data from those for the first round. I typically take a half hour walk to get myself prepared mentally. I do some stretches and light resistance type work in the trailer. When it comes down to the actual round, I try to exercise a couple of game plans on how I would like the round to pan out. If you're mentally in control of the race you tend to have the upper hand, and I try to go into each race with the upper hand."
Talk about the upcoming western swing. "We feel we're prepared. Heading into Pomona we know that we've had great success there over the years. I love racing in front of the California crowd. There's just something about it that gets us going. We're hoping for a successful kick off to the western swing, and then we'll get ready for that three-week grind. You go from a mile high in Denver to the crisp, clean air of Seattle, then back to California in Sonoma. We had our best summer swing last year and we didn't win any of the races. We hope to come out with four wins this year - that's our goal. We feel we are capable of it. We would certainly like to get some wins under our belts before we get to Brainerd."
What are your long-term professional aspirations? "I enjoy driving. I want to continue doing it as long as I'm happy doing it. In all honesty, when you've got the kind of support that we have from our company, Jeg's, and GM, you only look to continue to build the image of the team and the program. We're committed to the sport as a company and from our heart. We're not going anywhere soon. If you were to have asked me in 1987 what I wanted to do, it would have been to drive a Pro Stock car, and I've reached that. I've been extremely fortunate to get 22 victories in Pro Stock and a Winston Championship. I'm looking to continue to compliment what I've accomplished. Your expectations continue to grow. With 11 wins counting the Dominator Duel last year, it's certainly not out of the question for it to happen again this year.