GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Jeg Coughlin Jr. has posted a pair of victories at Gainesville Raceway, the site of the 48th AMALIE Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals.
Winning at the historic track never gets old for the five-time Pro Stock world champion, one reason why he is excited for this weekend.
The other was a strong semifinal showing at the most recent NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event in his JEGS.com/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro. After struggling for most of 2016, it was just the sign Coughlin was looking for at the start of this season. Breaking through with a win at such a well-revered race like the Gatornationals would give yet one more boost that Coughlin and his team are back on the right track.
“As a kid from Ohio, the Gatornationals was always one of the mega events you’d read about in National Dragster and wish you were there,” said Coughlin, who has 58 career Pro Stock victories. “It’s the first race on the eastern seaboard and always an overflow crowd down there soaking up the sun. You look at the list of past winners and it’s a goosebump-type deal. It’s definitely a race you have to win because you need this one on your resume. To me it’s ranked alongside Pomona, Englishtown and Indy. It’s one of our majors.”
The NHRA’s traditional East Coast opener is the third of 24 races in 2017 and a chance for Coughlin to keep his early-season momentum going.
After finishing an uncharacteristic 10th in points a year ago, Coughlin and Elite Motorsports teammate Erica Enders, the back-to-back world champ in 2014 and 2015, went back to Camaros for 2017 and the early results have been encouraging. Enders advanced to the semifinals in Pomona, while Coughlin’s finish in Phoenix bumped him to third in points.
“The team tested a lot in the off season and we all know these Chevrolets very well so it was just a matter of running under real race conditions and fine-tuning from there,” Coughlin said. “We fully expect all three cars (Coughlin, Enders and Vincent Nobile) in the Elite Motorsports camp to contend for the championship this year. We still have some things we can clean up to make the car better. That’s the challenge of this class: no matter how well you do on a given weekend it seems there always is something you could have done better.”
In this instance, it’s still a matter of chasing down Summit Racing Equipment teammates Jason Line and Greg Anderson. The duo has split wins at the first two races this year, a year after they combined for 16 wins and Line claimed the championship. But Coughlin likes the direction his team is headed and he hopes for even more progress – and his first win since 2014 – at Gainesville.
“Just success in general is a boost, no matter what you did or didn’t do in the past,” Coughlin said. “In our sport you’re only remembered for the last race, for the most part, so you’re constantly feeling the need to prove yourself. I know the guys are very focused on showing everyone they still have the same desire and passion they displayed in 2014 and 2015 when Erica won her two championships. That’s another thing that has us very excited this year – no one left the team so we have the same group in place that won all those races.”