By Bobby Bennett, Jr.,
Photos by Roger Richards
The days of walking by roped up pit areas may soon change, or at least that’s the hopes of the Jeg’s Mail Order racing team. Through the efforts of hard-working team PR spokesman Scott “Woody” Woodruff, the Coughlin family has created a pit area experience that many feel is second to none.
The Coughlins have made it possible for race fans to get as close to the action in the pits as possible. What can one expect from a team that has an official chef traveling from event to event preparing gourmet meals in the pits for the crew?
They don’t officially have a name for it, and those at the Jeg’s Mail Order Operation are contemplating a “Name the Fan Interaction Display.” For now, Woodruff is content to call it the fan center. But, to race fans it’s so much more.
The concept actually began to take shape last year. The Coughlins and Woodruff took a long look at their pit area from a fan’s standpoint. One of their trademarks has been in making a square in the center so fans could get a closer look at the daily operations of a Pro Stock team. In that area, the Coughlins also found a good place to base their handout cards and promotional materials for spectator distribution.
“Everybody always seemed to migrate to the middle and I understand why,” explained Woodruff. “They can see both cars and it’s basically the best seat in the house. I thought that maybe we could entertain the fans while they were there and it just started to grow from there.”
Woodruff discussed the idea with several entities including the crewmembers responsible for the set-up of the pit area as to what ideas would work the best for all parties involved. His idea was then taken to Tony Merrick at MAC Tools and they contributed a couple of boxes to the foundation.
In all actuality, it’s the Jeg’s Cancer Foundation is what prompted a lot of this grand display of pit area. According to Woodruff, it provided them with the perfect opportunity to spread the message of their fight against Cancer through research.
That’s where the video came in.
“The next thing I knew, we had several LCD screens brought in because we had plenty of video. They are set up in four corners and powered by Playstation II boxes. We learned after the first two events that we needed more sound and we invested in some amps.”
This has enabled the Coughlins to take advantage of various ESPN features as well as the infamous POWERade commercial, in-car footage and a message about the Jeg’s Foundation.
The debut of this positive display came at the 2004 season-opener in Pomona , Ca. Because of the Pro Stock pit location, a viable observation of its success could not be gauged. The same could be said for Phoenix . However, Gainesville , as Woodruff puts it, was “very stout.”
“I guess it all boils down to weather and where you are parked,” Woodruff said. “The response in Gainesville was strong and it gave us a lot of confidence. We still did well in Vegas despite the rain. Houston will be interesting.”
The Coughlins are building a second display for the future which will feature only one screen. Outside of being a back-up for the current unit, its primary focus will be on hospitals, schools and other special activities. Featured in this display will be the 2002 Championship car.
With the trips to the hospitals, Woodruff feels that the fan interaction displays have helped the Coughlins to take their Jeg’s Foundation promotion to the next level.
“Before the season started, I talked to each member of the Coughlin family to get a better understanding of where we wanted to take the promotions for the Jeg’s Foundation,” explained Woodruff. “We basically edited every bit of input into a powerful six minute presentation. We get more response out of that.”
Woodruff points out the NHRA and its staff has been very supportive of the efforts in this area.
“They realize as a group that a team needs to increase their value and exposure as well as promote the sport in a positive manner,” explained Woodruff. “This is looked at as a value adding piece to the fans as they walk through the pits.”
The one thing missing is a video game, but that is reportedly in the works.
“We have the controllers and a box,” added Woodruff. “It’s on our to-do list.”
Of course, there’s the business hook too. According to Woodruff, there’s a place for catalog sign-up.
Thus far into the season, Woodruff sees nothing but a huge positive from the implementation of this display.
“We like to interact with the fans and ask them what they like,” explained Woodruff. “We take notes and listen to what they have to say. This program is the end result of their input. It’s a continual refining process.
“I think it may inspire other teams to do a similar thing. (John) Force has something like that once. I think we have a big stage. I think it just all helps the total drag racing experience. It shows the fans that we are all for having a good time at the races.”
By Bobby Bennett, Jr.,