The Coughlin brothers: John, Troy, Mike and Jeg
John races Super Stock, Troy races Pro Stock, Mike races Super Comp and Super Gas and Jeg, the youngest of the Coughlin brothers, has earned two NHRA POWERade Pro Stock championships. That’s just what they will race this weekend at their home event – the 40th annual Pontiac Excitement NHRA Nationals at National Trail Raceway in Columbus, Ohio. The brothers Coughlin, to say the least, are racing junkies. But to be honest, that’s third on their list of priorities. First, comes family. Second, comes the Jeg’s Mail Order business that all four run together. Then, racing fits into the schedule. They work together, they race together and if that wasn’t enough, they eat lunch together every workday. Getting all four brothers to sit down and chat about each other is a tricky task. It may seem like they were all in the same room together, but really, they just share some similar opinions. In this Q&A session, John, Troy, Mike and Jeg talk about what their parents did to make them get along so well, why they spend so much time at the race track and what they like about each other.
Q: What makes it possible for all four of you to get along so well?
JOHN: I have to give credit to mom and dad because I don’t know how they did it, but they were able to withstand having four brothers so close in age and really promoted and strove to have the family get along. If you didn’t get along for some reason, the objective was to sit down, talk about it and work through the issue. The secret to success is communicating, talk about it and move on. Family is very important to all of us, so we make sure to always communicate.
TROY: I think it is all due to a good upbringing from mom and dad. The four of us have a good relationship in business and racing that’s successful from a communication standpoint. Communication is high on our priority list and that is the major key to keeping us in the right direction. If there is a problem, we sit down in the office or conference room, we discuss the problem and get it solved before we leave the office and make sure we don’t have that same problem in the future. That comes from mom and dad raising us that way from the beginning. We have a cool set of parents.
MIKE: We had a lot of guidance from our parents on how to compose ourselves and how to act and work together as a team. My mom and dad were adamant about that and I know that helped out a lot. We all share a lot of common interests, we all like to race which is a big help. It’s rare and amazing that all four of us like to do the same thing. But it does work, although it’s not common. Family is what it’s all about, especially in our case because we work together and race together. Even when we are at home, we go to lunch together everyday. If we didn’t have that we wouldn’t be as successful as we are. Working together is a lot better than working against each other. It’s a way of life for us.
JEG: I think there has been several contributing factors. We grew up in an automotive and fun environment. No other kid on the block had a father that was in to speed, racing and an automotive business. That was always fun. We always looked up to him for that because that was good fun. His hobby eventually turned into a big business. We all grew up and were fortunate enough to be able to participate in his racing. We also had family dinners almost every night, like the ones you always saw on TV. That always kept us together. Pop worked with us a lot at all ages to prepare us for a life in business and racing. John got into it first, then Troy. Our family meetings on the business level prepared us for more than anything I learned in school. We didn’t want to do anything other than work in the family business and in racing. When he allowed us to come in and start working at different departments, that was really interesting on many levels. It gave us respect for work, respect for the name over the door and the people who worked there. We had 20-30 employees then and now we have 320. We always had a close family, consistent parents who loved us dearly and supported us. We got support and respect, but we also had a lot of discipline, especially when dealing with the business. When we started racing, it was the same thing. Mom and dad made us work for it, so we respected what we had.
Q: The four of you eventually bought out your dad and now own and run the business. What was it like working at the family business at an early age?
JOHN: The people we worked with also did a good job of making sure we were respectful of the business. If I was ever late for work, my boss was on my case big time. I am not sure if he really enjoyed it, but he taught me work ethics. Work ethic is very important and I think family is very important. I don’t know if it all goes together, but the bottom line on keeping us together, is having mutual feelings about communication, life values and work ethic.
Q: How did the brothers come to take over the ownership of the business?
MIKE: We all worked there as teenagers and young adults. We all started right out of high school and we all showed an interest in it, which is rare for a big family. In the early to mid ’80s my dad decided to see if we wanted to buy the company and we worked on a deal to buy the company back in 1988. We took it from there. We are the owners and dad is the president and we are vice presidents. Nothing changed but the paperwork.
Q: How do you each split up the responsibilities of the business?
MIKE: John oversees the whole company, and he and Jeg oversee the company on a larger scale. Jeg works with the distribution center; John works with advertising and the buying and purchasing group. They see more of the day to day stuff. John has been pretty busy with the race teams and working on the business with smaller projects. He’s pretty adamant about organization. He’s always on time, always prompt, always wants to keep us organized. When we started racing, he was the main organizer for a long time. Troy does a lot of work on the race team also, works with guys and the pro teams and he also does a lot of real estate work for our company and helps my dad with that stuff. Troy is dedicated, he probably is the most dedicated to keeping the teams working, he works closely with the guys. He pretty much started our Pro Stock racing program in 1994. Jeg is the most focused of us all. He is as hard core as it gets. Nobody is better than him when it comes to focus. On or off the race track. He can focus and he has a lot of common sense.
TROY: Mike oversees Jegster, which is the company’s chassis division. We make components and pieces and he oversees that. He also oversees the race teams.
Q: What do you like about your brothers?
TROY: I like the fact that if you have a problem, in racing, the business or any real estate dealings we have, no matter what, if there is a problem, all of us drop what we are doing and try to solve it. Whatever it is, we work to solve any problem from start to finish together. That’s one of the best things about this group.
JEG: In our case the work environment gives us the opportunity to have a small sounding board. We use that to our advantage quite a bit. It’s easy to bounce off ideas with the other guys about what’s going on and through that discussion something else comes out. That works out real well at our management level. We all have our own personalities and effective traits and help us participate in the business and that’s good. When I talk about something with John he looks at it differently than I would or Mike or Troy and so on. I like that we are brothers who are able to work together and race together. We spend a lot of time thinking about how to prepare for the third generation taking over. Our goal is to continue to grow it as a family business. We want it to be an aggressive company that still has a lot of fun. We want people to enjoy this.
JOHN: They all have different qualities, that’s what makes it so fun working with them. We all have a way of contributing to the business, to racing and to the family. I might be better at one thing, Mike another, Jeg and Troy something else. We compliment each other.
Q: What is the most difficult thing about working so closely with your brothers?
TROY: I don’t know if there is a difficult thing, but you feel bad if you take a day or two off because we all work in the business and work hard at it. There really isn’t anything else, to be honest. I feel bad if I take a day off, but you can talk to (wife) Julie, it doesn’t happen often with any of us.
JEG: I don’t think there are a lot of negatives. We do get along well, we get along well enough work together and travel and race together and I see that as a key ingredient to making it all work. We all respect each other for what we do.
Q: John, why do you race Super Stock?
JOHN: I enjoy handicap style racing, I enjoy racing Super Comp and Super Gas too, but I enjoy Super Stock the most. I like to either spot someone or being spotted and racing to the finish line. I like the full tree. It’s challenging, it’s fun and there is nothing better than bracket racing or super stock racing with a handicap tree. If you are spotting someone and there is a second, that’s cool when one light comes down faster.
Q: Mike, what do you like about your categories?
MIKE: The fact that there isn’t a lot of maintenance at the races. If the cars are maintained at the shop and if everything goes well at the races, these categories are a lot more laid back compared to the pro side. Our pits are a lot more quiet and there is a lot of fun. It’s different kinds of racing, but obviously still drag racing. You have to race against the clock and the other guy at the starting line and finish line. You have double duty but it’s a lot of fun. The way I explained the difference between this and when I used to run trucks is that from the starting line to half-track, the trucks were more fun because you were shifting, driving and steering. From half-track on these are more fun because you have to race the guy to the finish line.
Q: Why did you get involved with your dad’s business in the first place?
JOHN: When I was very little my dad used to take me to work with him. I have great pictures of me with him at his business. I’ve always been around racing, always been around the business and this is all I wanted to do. I always enjoyed the business and it’s been a lot of fun. We are real fortunate because we get to work at a business that compliments our hobby and we have a hobby that compliments our business.
TROY: It’s a fun place to work and a lot of our jobs in running the company is making customers and people we work with happy. When they are happy, it’s easier for them to do their job. From a customer aspect, making them happy, getting them what they want and backing that up is very important to us. That’s the neatest thing about what we do. There are a lot of people that don’t need the stuff we sell to survive. It’s a niche, a hobby that attracts all walks of life in the people we deal with as customers or employees.
JEG: I watched my brothers all go into it. John went in right out of high school. Troy and Mike worked there through high school. When I was in eighth grade or so, I started working there during the summers doing odd jobs one or two days a week. None of my other friends were working, but I really wanted to and I enjoyed being there. I enjoyed the people and it seemed like a great family of people. We’ve had a very consistent group and we have been able to grow through a lot of times together. I went to Ashland University to study management and marketing right out of high school. I raced through college. I was racing with my brothers just about every weekend in college. Going into my senior year I manipulated my schedule so I could go racing more often. Every summer I worked at the business in just about every area except the service center. When pop decided he was going to retire and not go into work everyday, I was fortunate for a year or so to be able to work with him and groups of people that he trusted. I absorbed his people skills, his communication skills and anything else I could. His wit and logic are second to none. Those courses weren’t offered at school, so when they were offered at home, I tried to take advantage of that.
Q: Where do you see the business in five years?
JOHN: Hopefully continuing to grow. Our business through the Internet has grown and we are constantly working on the catalog.
JEG: Pop is still such a great sounding board. He knows the business better than anyone. Some of the aspects of the business have changed, but he still knows it. He browses the Web site, has thoughts and questions and contributes there. It’s great to have someone like that to help you build such an empire. The family business is not a new concept to this world. But I would like nothing better than to hand it down to a third generation. We’ve spent a lot of time figuring out how the third generation can work into the business.
Q: What is your fondest memory of National Trail Raceway?
JEG: I’ve got quite a few that involve 100-degree weather, soaking our T-shirts down in the four or five gallon igloo water cooler and putting it right back on it. We have a lot of racing memories there because we all grew up there. I remember watching dad race and do well there. Then John started racing and he did well. I started racing street cars, when I was about 16 years old and my fondest memory was the first time I went down the track in John’s Z-28 street eliminator on a Wednesday program. Six rounds later I got a trophy and some cash for my efforts.
JOHN: Winning on Father’s Day with my brother Mike in Super Stock last year was special. It was great not only because we won, but also because all our families and employees and my 96-year old Grandma, Ga-Ga, were there. That is a very fond memory. Winning in 1999 and hearing my dad yell that I won over the radio in Pro Stock Truck was also a great memory. I just really like the track because it’s close to the house and we’ve done well and we get to have all of our family and friends there. It’s fun because you love to win at home and everyone gets excited.
Q: Why do you enjoy and participate in racing?
MIKE: Really it’s what we always have done. We all went racing with dad when we were younger. Our big business is racing. I like to drive. Anything I could get my hands on that had wheels, I was driving it whether it was a wagon, a tractor or a bicycle, and I just like to drive things. Two or four wheels – it didn’t matter. We had mini bikes when we were kids. I love anything with an engine. We always used to have races, grew up on a street that had a hill and we raced our bikes everyday. We had our share of trips to the emergency room. We were pretty lucky as kids that we didn’t get hurt that often, because as much as we did, it could have been a lot worse. I think we were just lucky a lot of the time. Now that I am a parent, now I realize what my parents did go through and to me, it’s amazing. I’m not sure exactly how they did it and how they were successful at it. Amazing what kids can do. My son Jack is only three years old and it’s just amazing. He is the best. A lot of work, but fun.
Q: What is your favorite category?
JEG: I have a lot, but I really enjoy the professional world probably because I am racing it right now. I enjoy the appeal it has to the consumer with the working doors. With the exception of modern day fuel injection, it is something that 100 percent of the audience can relate to. Top Fuel and Funny Car are fun to watch because they might flip over, blow up and the excitement level is good. The fumes are pretty amazing too. B
t growing up as a kid, I would watch local guys in Super Gas with a clutch and a four speed shifting gears and racing it to the line. I thought I would like to race a car with a stick. Never really thought it to be Pro Stock. My career developed through Comp Eliminator in 1997 and that’s when I took my first step toward the pro level. It was a challenge and I enjoy things changing up to make me think and be creative.
Q: What do you think about the Jeg’s Foundation and the commitment to bring awareness and funding to cancer research?
MIKE: I’m glad we started that foundation a little over a year ago. We like to try to make a difference. Even if it is a little difference, it all helps. I was excited because it’s important, every little bit helps and the more people who are aware of it is good and any time you can make a difference its worth it. If we can make one person happy or one person more aware of cancer and the need for more research, it’s working.
The Coughlin brothers: John, Troy, Mike and Jeg