Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – COMMERCE, GA – After watching three different Elite Motorsports teammates win the past three events in Pro Stock, longtime class standout Jeg Coughlin Jr. is ready to be the next to join the list of 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series winners and grab his first victory since 2014.
The five-time Pro Stock world champion will get his chance at this weekend’s 38th annual NHRA Southern Nationals Powered by Mello Yello at Atlanta Dragway, where Coughlin is a three-time winner. Erica Enders, Matt Hartford, and Vincent Nobile have put together victories in recent weeks, keeping Coughlin, who is currently 11th in Pro Stock points, hopeful and motivated that he can be the next to break through in his JEGS.com/Elite Performance Chevrolet Camaro.
“The Elite team has certainly found its stride and it’s been great to see my teammates win the last three races,” Coughlin said. “We definitely want to get involved in the fun and with the way our car has been running lately, we have a high level of excitement in this pit. Honestly, it’s exciting to arrive at a race knowing you can win. It’s a matter of making the least amount of mistakes and executing on race day. Bottom line, you have to be near-perfect to win a race in this class.”
Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car), Bo Butner (Pro Stock), and LE Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including finals coverage starting at 6:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday. It is the seventh of 24 events in 2018 and after not visiting the winner’s circle in the past 72 races dating back to 2014, Coughlin, who has 58 career wins, is ready to break the longest winless stretch of his incredible career.
The good news is he appears to be close to breaking through, advancing to the semifinals in Houston before losing to eventual winner Hartford, and the second quad at the four-wide event in Charlotte last weekend. Coughlin knows there is still work that needs to be done, but he continues to have the utmost confidence in a team that has always persevered in adverse times.
“We’ve known, through the performances of other teams that use Elite motors, that we’ve had the horsepower, it was just a matter of getting the most out of the race cars,” Coughlin said. “The incredible effort put in by the guys has really impressed me. There is simply no give-up in this group. Obviously they’ve won championships before with Erica and the same crew has remained in place since then. They just don’t quit and there’s no finger-pointing. We all just stay humble and keep after it. Credit (team owner) Richard Freeman for his leadership.”
Coughlin will look to keep up the impressive parity in Pro Stock by becoming the seventh different winner in the first seven races of the year. To do it, he’ll have to get by his Elite teammates, as well as points leader Bo Butner, who won in Pomona, Phoenix winner Chris McGaha, and Gainesville winner Tanner Gray. Looking for his first Atlanta win since 2014, Coughlin likes his chances this weekend as the friendly competitiveness between teammates has made a big difference.
“We’ve all stepped up,” said Coughlin, whose last world championship came in 2013. “Vincent won Vegas, Matt Hartford beat Erica in Houston, then Erica beat Vincent and two others at the four-wide this past weekend. Obviously, our Elite crew chiefs – Rick and Rickie Jones, Mark Ingersoll, and Brian ‘Lump’ Self – have figured some things out and the crew guys on each car are executing very well. It feels so good to have competitive cars.”
Steve Torrence has three wins in 2018 and is the Top Fuel points leader. He’ll try to keep the likes of Tony Schumacher, looking for his first career Atlanta win, Antron Brown and Clay Millican at bay.
Ron Capps is looking for his first 2018 win in Funny Car, and will face off against stars like points leader Jack Beckman, Phoenix winner Courtney Force and defending world champ Robert Hight.
LE Tonglet had six Pro Stock Motorcycle wins in 2017, but is chasing points leader Andrew Hines, Gainesville winner Eddie Krawiec and Charlotte champ Jerry Savoie in the two-wheeled class.
The event also features thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, showcasing the future stars of the sport.
Those in attendance will have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with a few of the most renowned names in drag racing during the NHRA Legends Tour. This will feature meet-and-greets, autograph sessions, and a variety of other activities. Legends scheduled to attend the NHRA Southern Nationals include Don Garlits, Warren Johnson and Rhonda Hartman.
As always, fans can interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This opportunity gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 3:30 and 6:45 p.m. on Friday, May 4 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, May 5, at 11:15 a.m. and 2:45 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, May 6.