Tim May (tmay@dispatch.com)
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH


Most race drivers believe a second-place finish earns them the label of No. 1 loser.

At least that’s the way it feels on race day. A few days later, though, second place can be viewed as a sure sign of progress.

So it was for Jeg Coughlin Jr. this week. In the final of the NHRA pro stock drag races last Sunday in Joliet, Ill., he finished second to Jason Line by a mere 4 inches. It came at the end of a quarter-mile duel in which Coughlin’s car finished in 6.800 seconds compared with Line’s 6.783.

“I’ve won a lot of races that were about that close and I’ve lost some of them, too,” said Coughlin, a two-time pro stock season champion. “But what that told us is our luck is turning, because I believe you make your own luck. I believe we’re in high gear right towards doing that.”

Coughlin is in his first season with the expansive Schumacher Racing team. One reason he was hired was because of his championship resume. Working with former pro stock kingpin and crew chief Bob Glidden, most folks expected bigger things from the pairing.

“I know we were expected to come out swinging, and we did,” said Coughlin, who is eighth in the points standings. “Then we kind of leveled off and went through the inevitable teething pains of a new team.”

Heading into Englishtown, N.J., this week, Coughlin is optimistic. One reason is the input of his father, Jeg Sr., who used to be his crew chief.

Jeg Sr. accompanied his son to a test session last week, then offered some insight — with the blessing of Glidden — as qualifying began in Joliet.

“What he did was give us an extra set of eyes and hands,” Jeg Jr. said. “He was very instrumental in finding a couple of the small things we could improve on, especially in gaining some consistency with our runs. In this sport, it’s the small things that add up to the big gains.”

On Sunday, it showed. Jeg Jr. outran Rickie Smith, then knocked off Kurt Johnson and defending pro stock champ Greg Anderson before losing the final to Line. Jeg Jr.’s last win came in Joliet in 2003, and Sunday marked the first time he has advanced to a final round since the Gainesville, Fla., race last spring.

Jeg Sr. didn’t get to witness his son’s success on Sunday. His mother, Genevieve Coughlin, 98, of Upper Arlington, passed away late last week. Her funeral was Monday.

Jeg Jr. said his grandmother was the matriarch of the family. More than that, she was his inspiration when it came to racing.

“When she’d pull out of the driveway in that ’73 Coupe de Ville of hers — white with the red leather interior — me and my three brothers, we’d yell, ‘Floor it, GaGa!’ ” he said. “And she would, laughing every time. Absolutely, she had the lead foot in the family.”

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