They arrive for work at the sprawling 250,000-square-foot JEGS High Performance warehouse in Delaware, Ohio. As they enter the building, they’re confronted with a steel staircase that spirals upward. Sitting on the stair treads are many of the family’s racing trophies — some of which they earned themselves.
Cody Coughlin, 21, and cousin Troy Coughlin Jr., 26, occasionally bump into each other in the hallways of the headquarters for the automotive-parts mail-order giant and diverse drag-racing teams. Cody works in the purchasing department. Troy Jr. spent seven years in customer service and telephone sales before taking on the company’s web marketing.
Not only have they joined Troy Jr.’s drag-racing sister Meghan as third-generation leaders at the mega-business grandfather Jeg Coughlin sprouted more than 50 years ago, but their motorsports careers are climbing the same trajectory. Both are rising stars in contrasting forms of racing: Cody in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and Troy Jr. in the NHRA Mello Yello Series’ Top Fuel class.
Ironically, as wildly different as their racing pursuits are they’re actually connected. Both teams are Toyota-sponsored affiliates and both are linked to Duke Thorson. He’s the Sandusky, Ohio, businessman who has given Cody Coughlin a full-time ride at ThorSport Racing as teammate to two-time champion Matt Crafton. And Thorson is also the owner of SealMaster, the pavement products company that happens to be the primary sponsor for Troy Coughlin Jr.’s Kalitta Motorsports dragster.
“It’s an interesting point in our careers, because we’re both taking a fairly large leap up into a pretty mainstream professional avenue of our (chosen) motorsports. So I think there’s a level of excitement that’s similar in both of our outlooks on this year,” Cody Coughlin said.
Troy Coughlin Jr. (“T.J.” to the family) was less buttoned-down as he approached the start of the season. He was a wee bit disappointed the Kalitta team didn’t engage in its usual unruly, fists-flying, gut-punching mosh-pit celebration on the starting line when Doug Kalitta won the 2016 Top Fuel finale last November (because Kalitta beat teammate JR Todd). “I was ready to dive in,” Coughlin said.
He has already told Kalitta Motorsports vice president Jim Oberhofer that he’s willing to get a Funny Car license if the team needs him to. Moreover, before he made a single pass in the SealMaster Dragster, he said one career goal is to be the first to win in Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock. He already has won the prestigious U.S. Nationals in both the Super Comp and Super Gas classes. And when he raced alongside dad Troy Coughlin in the Pro Modified category in 2015, he was named rookie of the year and led the class in average reaction times.
Cousin Cody Coughlin has built an impressive résumé, too. In a six-victory 2016 season, he became the first late model stock car driver in Champion Racing Ass’n action to win titles in both the ARCA/CRA Super Series and JEGS/CRA All-Stars Tour in the same year.
He received his trophies in December from dad John Coughlin, a 14-time NHRA divisional champion and five-time national-event winner, who retired in 2010 after about 26 years behind the wheel. John Coughlin says his passions are magnified when he’s a spectator rather than a racer.
“When your son or daughter is doing something, the highs are much higher than when I was racing, but the lows are much lower,” John Coughlin said. “You want them to do so well, and when they do well, it’s outstanding and it’s better than when I did well. But when they don’t do well, when something happens, then it’s worse than when I didn’t do well, because I get so emotional.”
Troy Coughlin, who in the past five years has finished first or second in the NHRA Pro Mod standings, isn’t one for watching idly. He wants to know someday what his son is experiencing. “One of these days I’ll get to make a lap in one of those things (10,000-horsepower, 330-mph dragster). He says it’s exciting and it accelerates pretty hard.”
Troy Coughlin is amped to watch the Top Fuel cars run even more now that his son is competing: “I’ve always liked Top Fuel and Funny Car. I like all the classes, but it makes it that much more fun to go watch because you’ve got somebody to cheer for. They’re fast cars. They’re the kings of the sport.”
Both Cody and Troy Jr. claim they have benefited from the example of their uncle Jeg Coughlin Jr., the five-time NHRA Pro Stock champion who is pursuing another crown with Elite Motorsports.