Cody Coughlin is a lucky 14-year-old. As a member of the third generation in the family-owned JEGS High Peformance/JEGS Mail Order business, he might be prone to follow his grandfather, dad, uncles, and most of his cousins down the drag strip in NHRA. Not Cody.
Young Cody does drive a NHRA junior Dragster at times, but he’s more inclined to race in circles and wants to go straight to NASCAR. He’s a past champion in USAC .25 Midgets, and now he’s an aspiring competitor in the ASA Late Model Northern Series.
Many adolescents have their dad as coach. Cody’s father, John Coughlin, is a top Dragster champion and surely supports his son’s racing efforts, but the coaching goes beyond home.
His car chief and at-track coach is two-time ASA champion, Gary St. Amant, and his past stimulates the reality of Cody’s off-track coach.
Not long ago, St. Amant helped tutor a young motorcycle and off-road racer out of El Cajon, California in 1998 and 1999—a guy named Jimmie Johnson, who was an early standout then. Now, of course, Johnson is a four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion.
According to St. Amant, Coughlin is a fast study.
"The best thing I can say about Cody is he's gotten better every time out," St. Amant said. "And that's saying a lot. He's taking all the steps and doing it the right way. He was as raw as they come when he first started, but he's handling it very well. I can't even imagine what he'll be like three or four years from now with a head-start like this. He has the potential to be very special, like a Joey Logano-type driver."
Coughlin could have had NHRA Pro Stock in his dreams, but that has not been in his vision.
“I’ve always watched Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, and Tony Stewart. I’ve always wanted to be like those guys.”
Words from Jimmie Johnson, as he points out what it takes to make it to the top levels, can help coach Coughlin from a distance.
“It’s just what’s in you,” Johnson said. “You can learn technique. You can learn right and wrongs. At the end of the day, I think we all see people that have the desire to be in our sport and succeed. It doesn’t always turn out into the amazing experience that I’ve gone through. I think that’s something that you’re just born with.”
Young Coughlin likes racing in circles and understands the racing business at a tender age.
“I really like the competitiveness, the passing back and forth of each other and stuff like that,” Coughlin said. “Also it’s just for the business. That’s not the reason I chose circle tracks, but it also helps.”
Jimmie Johnson had help along the way to his unprecedented championships.
“There’s such a long list, drivers, crew chiefs, even friends that weren’t associated with racing due to the influence of hard working parents," Johnson said. " You meet so many great people along the way, and so many people mold you into who you are.”
Gary St. Amant has history worth sharing.
“I remembered a situation that came up when I was working with Jimmie Johnson.
"One time, Jimmie's dad told me about his other son Jerrod. He was wanting to race motorcycles and they had one all set up for him at the track. Well, he went to get him and Jerrod was playing with a frog he had caught. He said, 'Jerrod, you want to race or play with the frog?' and Jerrod told him he wanted to play with the frog. So they just let the bike sit there and he didn't race.
“Mr. Johnson said, 'Racing will always be there. You're only a kid for a little while.'
“I never want to lose sight of that. Cody's the youngest driver I've ever worked with, and I want to let him grow into this at his pace, which has been plenty fast enough."
It’s likely that Coughlin will be listening closely to St. Amant and to Jimmie Johnson’s statements as well while he looks to the future.
“You can only worry about the things you can control,” Johnson said. “I could care less when we race, where we race. I don’t even worry about it and go on. Whatever the format is, we’ll put up a good fight and be competitive through it all.”
Talent, the means to race, and experienced team support will do much to increase Cody Coughlin’s chances to fulfill his dream. One big factor that will help flatten learning curves along the way is great coaching. Coughlin has that in his dad, St. Amant, and Johnson.
Only time will tell if his dreams come true.
“Fast forward” will get that answer.
FYI WIRZ is the swift presentation of pertinent motorsports topics compiled, condensed and often written by Dwight Drum @ Racetake.com. Quotes provided by NASCAR and Sprint Cup team media.