READING, Pa. (Aug. 26) — Troy Coughlin had a little surprise for his fellow racers in the Pro Street class as this weekend’s fifth annual Ross Pistons NMCA Hot Rod and Muscle Car Nationals kicked off at historic Maple Grove Raceway.

With just three of seven races left in the 2006 Edelbrock Drag Racing Series, Coughlin knew he needed to do something special to truly challenge for the Denso Pro Street title so he and the Jeg’s Mail Order crew decided to change gears, literally, and modify Coughlin’s sleek Cavalier from an automatic to a standard. The result was stunning.

“I’m afraid we don’t have any friends any more,” Coughlin said at the close of qualifying. “The first time we went down the track and everyone heard me go through the gears they knew what we had done. Everyone was like, ‘okay, we don’t like you any more. You’re getting too serious on us.’ “

In one race, Coughlin went from a solid mid-pack car to one of the elite, qualifying No. 2 overall with a career-best 6.47-second quarter-mile pass at 216 mph. He and top qualifier Vinny Budano, who posted a 6.43, are peerless at this point, with the category’s third quickest car in the mid 6.6-second range.

“I’d have to say the shifter experiment is going well,” Coughlin said. “We opened with a 6.51 at 215 mph, and we were blown away. We messed with the chassis set-up a little bit and came back and ran a 6.49 at 215 mph. Then we just adjusted the clutch and ran the 6.47 at 216 mph. It was an awesome day all the way around.

“If the weather is the same tomorrow, which I hope it will be, this car should only get quicker. Vinny’s the guy we’re all chasing and he’s good people. It would be cool to get down to the final and race him for the trophy.”

Coughlin entered the event third in the championship chase, trailing Budano by 285 points and second-place Randall Haynes by just 30 points.

Eliminations are scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. Sunday.

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