Alex Laughlin is a NHRA Pro Stock star on the rise. The 27-year-old Texas native drives the Gas Monkey Energy Camaro entry in what many consider to be the most challenging class in the sport. He may be a newcomer to the Pro Stock category, but Laughlin’s story started when he was just a child. “My dad was into racing and motorsports long before I was even around and when I was old enough to get into racing, which I was about nine years old, we started racing go karts,” Alex said.
Not too often do we see an NHRA competitor with interdisciplinary skills in open-wheel racing, but for Alex ovals and road courses are just as familiar to him as a drag strip. “I’ve done a lot of different things. I transitioned from go karts to Legend cars racing asphalt [tracks] and ovals; then did some road racing with the Legend cars.” It didn’t take Alex too long to get introduced to the quarter mile. His transition to drag racing happened thanks to an employer. “I went to work for a guy when I was about fifteen just after I got out of school for the day, I’d go and work at his shop. He had a Pro Mod chassis shop and working with him and being around that type of environment really intrigued me to start drag racing. Not long after that we ended up buying a Super Comp car and I ran a dragster for several years in Super Comp and Top Dragster as well.”
Despite racing dragsters for many years, Alex had his sights set on racing door slammers. And while Pro Stock was the ultimate goal, he tells us that he initially was going to start with Pro Mod, “We were racing Top Dragster at the beginning of 2015 and decided that we wanted to run Pro Mod. At the time Pro Stock was always our dream but we just didn’t have the budget set up for it, so we were going to run Pro Mod. We had a ’69 Camaro body, nitrous car. We were thinking we were going to do some PDRA stuff and maybe some of the NHRA Pro Mod as well. I made one pass to start crossing over my NHRA license and it started raining on us, so we had to load the car up and go home for the day.” But fate (and Richard Rawlings) would have it, Alex’s dream of racing Pro Stock was about to come true. “That night we got the call from the guys at Gas Monkey that they wanted us to race Pro Stock and be at the Sonoma event which was three weeks from that day. So we had to scramble to find a car and motor program and get licensed to be able to show up and run the Sonoma event.”
Anyone that’s been exposed to the various forms of motorsports for a great period of time will tell you that building relationships is a necessity. Be it through chance or intent, having them will help your career in the long-run. Alex’s relationship with Gas Monkey all started at 360 Wraps. “Gas Monkey has done some work for the company called 360 Wraps; you may see on our racecar. I had been working with 360 Wraps since 2010 or 2011 just on some personal stuff. I had my boat wrapped and they’ve done stuff on my vehicles and whatnot. I become friends with the owner’s son-in-law and ended up becoming friends with the guy who owned 360 Wraps and his whole family. They had their tie with Gas Monkey and with me being involved in motorsports and cars I just kind of got to know the guys from Gas Monkey; one thing just led to another,” he stated.
With Alex having a repertoire of open-wheel racing and Gas Monkey’s ventures into IndyCar, Rallycross, IMSA, and Prototype Challenge, it begs the question if Alex has any plans to return to his open-wheel roots. According to Laughlin, “I would consider NHRA our home but we are considering stepping into some of the sports car racing and some off-road racing as well. We’ll definitely still be in the NHRA racing Pro Stock. But it’s likely we’ll dabble in other stuff from time to time.”
Currently completing his first full season in the Pro Stock class, Alex already has a number one qualifier to his name. A mere 9 points outside of the top 10 in points with two races left before the start of the Countdown, performance and a little bit of luck are absolutely crucial to the team’s success. “Honestly we didn’t really expect to be in the position we’re in and run as well as we have throughout the last several races this year. It took us a little longer to find that momentum and get running right. I wish we could have done it a few races sooner so that we wouldn’t be so far on the back end of the points right now,” Alex remarked. “With two races left anything can happen. We’re confident in the next two events. I’ve got a good car and a great group of guys. In my opinion I think we’ve got a better shot at making the countdown. But part of everything that goes into that is just luck. We also need the performance to be on our side.”
Many teams have been outspoken about the struggles of transitioning to the electronic fuel injection system in Pro Stock. The rule implemented at the start of the 2016 season was a drastic change from the naturally aspirated engines the class had been using since 1970. Alex reiterated the complications that the rule change has brought, “The technology is so advanced in these power plants.” Fortunately for Laughlin his Gas Monkey Energy Camaro is powered by Gray Motorsports. “We have such a good relationship with the Gray’s and everybody at Gray Motorsports that we don’t really have any interest in trying to do our own thing or go somewhere else.”
Given the competitive nature of professional drag racing, it can be very easy for drivers and teams to get caught up in the intensity of the sport. But Alex and his team seem to be very intent on staying positive. “We’re really big on being good people and being friends with everyone. It seems that so many people out there have some enemies and whatnot but we like getting along with everyone.” Having started racing as a child the sport was always viewed as a fun passion to pursue. But once he started progressing through the ranks and eventually running full schedule as a professional in the NHRA, reality set in about life on the road. “The whole deal with racing full-time is that it’s been a lot more of a commitment than some people would give credit to. I always wanted to run Pro Stock on a full schedule with the NHRA and I absolutely love what we’re doing, but it is challenging of course and anybody will tell you. Having a family and being married, there’s definitely times that you wish you could be at home with everyone else. But again, there’s pros and cons to everything. We love what we do, we love being here. As long as we can, we’ll keep it that way.”
Most know Alex as a racecar driver, but he also is vice president of the family business, DRP Industries. “We have a business back at home; we build oil and gas flowline equipment. So when we’re not racing I’m there at our manufacturing facility.” When he’s not shifting gears or working at manufacturing facility in Granbury, Texas, Alex still likes to stay active, “On the weekends we’re off I like to go to the lake and wakeboard and surf or ride my bike and hangout with friends.”
As the season is winding down and competition is coming down to the wire, Laughlin defines what it is that he would like to accomplish during his first full season as a professional racecar driver in the NHRA, “To make the countdown. Everything seems to have worked out pretty well and our goals haven’t really changed much as far as how I foresaw them playing out. We’ve already got a number one qualifier and then I’d like to win a race of course. I told National Dragster that because of the way everything is lined up, I think we need to make the Countdown first and then focus on winning a race after that. If we do make the Countdown and everything will still be right on track hopefully we can win a Wally this year.”
You can catch Alex Laughlin in action this weekend during the NHRA Lucas Oil Nationals in Brainerd, Minnesota. Final eliminations will be shown Sunday on FS1 at 2:00pm ET.