By Lee Elder
JOLIET, Ill. (June 3, 2018) – Jeg Coughlin grabbed a huge victory in the final round of Pro Stock at the NHRA’s Jegs Route 66 Nationals at Route 66 Raceway.
It was Coughlin’s first win of the season and unofficially vaulted him to the tenth spot in the NHRA’s Countdown standings. It had been two seasons since Coughlin won in Pro Stock.
Robert Hight won in Funny Car, Clay Millican won in Top Fuel and Matt Smith won in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
The Pro Stock final against Greg Anderson was a match of greats, like Ali-Frazier or Leonard-Duran. It was a classic final round, matching two drivers among the best in the history of the category. Anderson tied Warren Johnson by advancing to his 151st final round. Anderson and Coughlin have nine Pro Stock championships between them. Coughlin’s family owns Jegs High Performance, the parts distributor and he is sponsored by the family business. Anderson is sponsored by Summit Racing Equipment, a business rival. Both companies are headquartered in Ohio. It was the 19th time the pair has met in the final round and Coughlin now leads 10-9. Neither had won in 2018.
Coughlin is among the best leavers in drag racing. Anderson jumped too early and fouled out.“When I let the clutch out, I said, ‘Man, he’d better have been on time.’” Coughlin said. “Then I saw that he had turned it red. Then I told him in the shutdown area, if I wasn’t double-oh, I might have been red behind him because every ounce of my attention was focused.” He added, “It feels fantastic, without question. Today was one of those days we won’t forget. I’ve had a little bit of a dry spell.”
Anderson beat Vincent Nobile in the third round and took the lead in the Pro Stock standings. Coughlin took the 10th spot in the standings with the victory.
Coughlin said, “This will probably come as a shock … the KB team lent us some parts to fix (a problem the Elite team found in the Coughlin car) something in the suspension that we didn’t have.”
How wild was Sunday’s racing? Clay Millican was beat off the starting line by Doug Kalitta in their semi-final round race in Top Fuel. Then Millican’s parachute came out before he crossed the finish line. Millican won anyway.
Millican beat Leah Pritchett in the Top Fuel final, the third victory of his career and his second straight. His elapsed time was 3.894 seconds, his speed was 289.32. Pritchett’s car spun its tires at about mid-track.
Hight won for the 42nd time and the first of this season. His reaction time in the final, .047 of a second, was narrowly better than Ron Capps. Hight’s elapsed time was 4.073 seconds and his speed was 310.63 mph. Capps’s time was 4.310 seconds.
“I always thought Chicago might have my number,” Hight said. “This is my 14th time here and I’ve never won this race. Been in some finals. I think John Force has (defeated) a couple times, but finally got it done today in Chicago and that’s big.” He added, “Last year I won the championship and we didn’t win until Denver, so I’m ahead of last year.”
Smith beat LE Tonglet in the final of Pro Stock Motorcycle, Smith’s first win of 2018.
“We’ve always run good here in Chicago,” Smith said. “I learned something Saturday and we had the quickest bike each round (on Sunday).”
Smith had to fight the bike in the final. A cross wind pushed him near a retaining wall. He said, “I had to ride it hard in the finals.”
Steve Torrence leads Top Fuel with 712 points. Millican is next with 687. Courtney Force leads Funny Car with 728 points and Jack Beckman is second with 647. Anderson leads Vincent Nobile 653-647 in Pro Stock. Andrew Hines leads Pro Stock Motorcycle with 348 points. It is the closest race in the professional categories. Eddie Krawiec is second with 345.
Three drivers who won in Jegs Allstars competition Saturday got to the final round of sportsman competition, giving them chances at a $5,000 bonus. The three drivers were Shane Westerfield in Top Alcohol Funny Car, Joey Severence in Top Alcohol Dragster and Lester Johnson in Top Sportsman. Johnson’s chance seemed golden when Don O’Neal left early in their semi-final round race, fouling out. But Johnson’s car had a mechanical failure during the run and swerved into a timing block, giving the win back to Johnson. Westerfield and Severence won their final rounds, earning the bonus.
NOTES: Luigi Novelli’s victory in the first round of Top Fuel was his first round win since 2006 at Columbus, Ohio. … Funny Car star John Force advanced to tenth place in the NHRA Countdown to a Championship, passing Jonnie Lindberg. The top 10 in the professional categories advance to the NHRA’s second season playoff system. … Hector Arana Jr. recorded a speed of 200.89 mph in the second round. He is the only rider to post speeds above 200 mph in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class and this was his third pass over the 200-mph mark. … Funny Car veteran Tim Wilkerson was not happy with the racing surface this weekend. He said, “Maybe we can get a track with two lanes to race down. Not this one.”… Pro Stock racer Greg Anderson raced in his 1,100th round of competition Sunday. … Jeg Coughlin’s win was his 59th in Pro Stock and the 67th of his NHRA career. … World of Outlaws racer David Gravel was at the track with Funny Car ace Cruz Pedregon Sunda