The National Hot Rod Association treats all 23 races on the POWERade Drag Racing Series the same. Each event is held under the same format and championship points are handed out each race day under the same exacting guidelines. So why do some races feel so different?

With 45 national event victories in both the sportsman and professional ranks, three-time series champion Jeg Coughlin has plenty of ideas on why the upcoming 36th annual Mac Tools NHRA Gatornationals has special meaning to drag racers.

“This is one of our major events,” Coughlin said. “They might all count the same in the points but it’s impossible to ignore the significance of a race with this much history. All you have to do is look at the list of previous winners and the hair on the back of your neck stands up. It’s a special race and one of my absolute favorites on the schedule.”

Coughlin added his name to the litany of straight-line giants that have won the Gatornationals in 2001, placing him among drag racing immortals like “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, Shirley Muldowney, Ed “the Ace” McCulloch, Don “the Snake” Prudhomme, Kenny Bernstein, John Force, Warren Johnson, Lee Shepherd, and Dave Schultz, just to name a few.

“Every big name in the sport has won the Gators,” Coughlin said. “I know I felt pretty darn special when we won in 2001. It’s just an awesome race with a ton of fans. It’s the first time we come to the East Coast and people are just fired up. I enjoy catching up with all my East Coast racing buddies. I have nothing but good thoughts associated with this race.”

That sentiment isn’t likely to change this time through. Coughlin and his new Don Schumacher Racing teammate Richie Stevens enter the Gatornationals as a pair of favorites coming off an exceptional weekend in Phoenix. Racing an identically-prepared Team Mopar Dodge Stratus R/T, Stevens earned top qualifier honors at Firebird International Raceway, while Coughlin powered his Jeg’s Mail Order hot rod past Stevens and into the final four before losing to eventual race winner Allen Johnson by .01 seconds.

“We definitely feel like we’re on a roll,” Coughlin said. “The entire team has been working so hard and even though we’re still a very young group, we appear to be starting a nice performance run. We’ll probably test again before the race starts and see if we can’t get these Dodge’s even quicker than they were in Phoenix.

“We’re ready to give all those crazy railbirds something great to cheer about. If the weather cooperates they’ll see Pro Stock cars running 207 mph. It’ll be exciting.”

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