Who would have thought that the No. 17 car in points after the season
opening race at Pomona, Calif., in February would end up in the No. 1 spot
at season's end? Did you? Well, Jeg Coughlin did. The 2000 Pro Stock
champion did not even qualify for the 2002 opener, but that didn't deter
anyone on Team Jeg's. They went back to their own engine shop, found some
more horsepower, and steadily worked their way back into championship
contention. Coughlin went on a hot streak that put him in winner's circle
eight times out of 10 final round appearances en route to the 2002 NHRA
POWERade Pro Stock championship, the second title of his career. In this
championship Q&A session, Coughlin talks about what the team did to
overcome the early DNQ, how they were able to keep their winning momentum
going and what it will take to repeat in 2003.
Q: How does the second championship compare to the first?
COUGHLIN: Certainly, for our entire team, the second one was great. The
transitions we have made and the effort we put toward the end of 2001
rolling over into 2002 by taking on our own engine program was a very tall
order. We certainly had high expectations to win the first POWERade
championship, without question. At the same time, we had a lot of work to
do. We rolled into Pomona and struggled enough to where we missed the
show. That was not the way we wanted to get the season started. But this
team is awesome. I think the hard work and the relationship we have built
in order to put together a champion caliber team is outstanding,
especially to do it in such a short time. Pops (Jeg Coughlin Sr.) has been
the ringleader and has done a great job. With the competition being as
tight as it is, a three-race winner or a four-race winner seemed pretty
unlikely. So did we expect to see an eight-race winner? Not at all. Ask 99
percent of the other teams out there and you would get the same answer. We
felt as though in late May we had not put anything together. We had two
runner-up finishes and Troy had won one race. We sat in the shop and we
said that we were making better runs, we were making more power, and at
that time, we felt like we could be a challenge to win some races. We left
the shop and went into Columbus, where we had a setback. After that, we
never looked back.
Q: With the level of competition being so high in the category, how did
you maintain that late run?
COUGHLIN: We have a good, efficient program. We qualified well, we were
making good, straight runs and that gave me more confidence as a driver
and it gave the guys on the team confidence that they were making the
right calls. When it boiled down to each run, they were forecasting the
conditions for each run very well. Conditions from Friday to Sunday
changed so dramatically that it was not uncommon for us to run two or
three drastically different setups. The experience that we gained over the
last three or four years helped put us out in front.
Q: How did the team turn around the program? What was the difference?
COUGHLIN: Real long story short, we took very small steps over the last
year-and-a-half. I think we were able to make more horsepower, worked real
close within our organization with Carl Foltz and Dave Braswell. I think
we had great partnerships with folks like them and the team did a great
job pitching in. We have become very efficient in putting engines together
and taking them apart. We haven't destroyed engines at the track so when
we get back to the shop from racing, we are able to really dissect them
and we are able to read between the lines and learn from each run. We've
enhanced the program by racing smart. After Pomona, where we ran two or
three different setups that weren't part of our typical program, we got
behind on our program and that was the bottom line. We need to stick to
our program and not panic and not deviate when things don't go our way. I
think one thing that we do very well is prepare for the next race, the
next car or the next engine. We have tried not to get too creative or too
crafty. We don't need to hit home runs every time out. We need to get good
data so we can make better, educated decisions. That was the key element,
being prepared and making good decisions.
Q: What are the chances of repeating in 2003?
COUGHLIN: It is going to be a tough year, no question. Our goals for
the off-season are to do what it takes to repeat as champions. We are
certainly going to have to make more horsepower and we need to step up our
program. We need to focus on engine development. We have new cars, we'll
probably have them shortly before the holidays, and we are looking to
start the cars with Troy and I. The car we won the championship with this
year is the only Chevy Cavalier I have ever driven. But there have been
some modifications to the body that are leading us to switch. We didn't
want to make the switch to the new body in 2002 because we already had
enough changes going on and we didn't need another variable. To win the
2003 championship, unlike this year, I really think you are going to have
to qualify at every event, no ifs, ands or butts about it. I also think
you are going to need to win at least six races. I think at this point, we
are going to see performances get better by a couple of hundredths and I
think the speed is going to sneak up a little too. With all of that, you
are also going to see the reaction times get even better.
Q: Are there any changes planned for Team Jeg's going into 2003? Will
your brother Mike Coughlin join the Pro Stock ranks full time?
COUGHLIN: We've talked about Mike driving for the last four months or
so and he has not stressed the interest in fielding a car in all 23
events. If he does come out and run, it might be a limited schedule. He
really has an interest in winning the super comp or super gas
championship. At this point, we've got the pieces and parts to run a third
team but we would need more people. Otherwise, I think (Team Jeg's chef)
Nicky Morse is going to put a new twist on his beef tenderloin. As far as
the rest of the team, we have been building our own engines now for
year-and-a-half, and we have had to make modifications in the shop to make
the work flow better. We are geared to get out and defend our title as
best as we can, represent the family and the Jeg's organization as well as
the NHRA and POWERade.
Q: What was the turning point in the season?
COUGHLIN: I think there were a couple of them. We tested after Pomona
and that gave us a heck of a lot of confidence and it helped build our
database. We started making more horsepower and then we saw improvements
on our fuel and timing related issues as well as a clutch issue that was
plaguing us. We just started racing hard and the best thing we could have
done was making a lot of advance preparations and making smart decisions.
That's what helped us win the championship.
Q: Who provided the most competition to you this season?
COUGHLIN: Obviously, the whole category did. If you are looking purely
at the points, Jim Yates and Greg Anderson were very tough. Greg is a
young guy, a good driver and they are making good horsepower, and we knew
he would be a multiple race winner and he was right there. Warren
(Johnson) and Kurt (Johnson) are always in the thick of things. Whatever
they found in Dallas shocked everyone and they have really driven our
off-season program. I don't know what they found during that long Saturday
evening, but they are making us work harder.
Q: You led Chevrolet to their first Manufacturer's Cup Award in 15
years. What are your thoughts on that?
COUGHLIN: It's pretty exciting really and it was the combined effort
from our team as well as everyone over at Chevy including Herb Fischel,
Don Taylor, and Fred Simmonds. The energy they have put toward Pro Stock
has been extremely exciting and our family is very happy to be part of the
Chevy family. To win the 2002 championship with a Chevy Cavalier is great
for us because it is just another difference between the 2000 title when
we won in an Oldsmobile. It's great to win with a new car.
Up Next: Funny Car champion John Force