It’s a gigantic question: How does a young Late Model driver in training make a path to big-time racing when so many hurdles persist?
NASCAR driver Clint Bowyer has come a long way from the short track racing he still enjoys when he gets time. Bowyer had words for aspiring young drivers wanting to break through to the top, but he also points out limitations.
“Keep digging, win races,” Bowyer said. “Jamie McMurray, Carl Edwards, myself, all three Midwestern guys that are here because of the stepping stones from NASCAR.
They went to trucks. I got my break in the ARCA series, then the Nationwide Series, then the Cup Series.
“There are stepping stones to get you to this level. They're all a lot harder to reach right now because of the funding. A guy racing around at a local level with no marketing background, nobody helping him, it's almost virtually impossible. That's what tough.
“A lot of doors open because of the opportunities you have along the way, taking advantage of those. But those advantages are few and far between right now.”
One fortunate prospect, Cody Coughlin, is the son of John and one of four brothers who own and operate JEGS Mail Order. Just 15 years old, Coughlin is part of a team stepping out of familiar drag racing turf to go circle racing.
Just having the Coughlin name creates a legacy and a responsibility to keep the popular JEGS banner in front of as many eyes as possible. Cody understands his role.
In NHRA drag racing, Team JEGS serves a dual purpose of branding and racing. With a third generation JEGS racer seeking alternate forms of racing, an advertising role takes shape also.
“It’s for the business,” Coughlin said. “That’s not the reason I chose circle tracks, but it also helps.”
Cody’s top try has top resources. For JEGS, the additional exposure is business as usual. Stock car fans and Late Model racers are a customer base that JEGS marketing seeks. It’s outside their iconic establishment in the National Hot Rod Association, but it’s not outside their future.
“I’m really excited about it,” Coughlin said. “We got the new CRA JEGS all-stars tour. We’re going to have a crate engine in it. We got a lot of good people on our team. We got Gary and Rich who just came on board. We got a lot of good people.”
Crew chief Rich Lushes has recently joined Team JEGS and is confident in Cody and the organization.
“I worked with bunch of young kids like him,” Lushes said. “I worked with Landon (Cassill). I worked with Michael Annette. I’ve worked with so many young kids at that age so I’ve got a little bit of a background of how to deal with them.
“It’s definitely a top notch organization with resources. At this level, this is definitely a top notch team, well funded, well organized. We’re looking at definite bright future here. The possibilities are endless.”
While the Team JEGS Late Model effort was racing in February at New Smyrna Speedway, NASCAR announced that it has lowered the age limit for drivers competing in its regional touring series from 16 to 15. That change applies to drivers in the K&N Pro Series East and West, Whelen Modified Tour, Whelen Southern Modified Tour and Canadian Tire Series.
That could be good news for this team down the road, but for now it’s all about learning.
A young but experienced NASCAR driver Landon Cassill, 19, has been mentoring the younger Coughlin last year and again this year at New Smyrna.
“For Cody right now, the toughest thing that he’s going to battle is harnessing the speed. For him keeping the car in one piece and under control—through doing that he’ll learn all the fundamentals that he needs to know. It’s just keeping him focused on keeping the car in one piece.
“There’s times that you going to worry about winning and times that you’re not worried about winning. You’re worried about just keeping it together.”
Coughlin has met with many NASCAR stars in person and on the phone where good advice flows naturally. He also has two-time ASA champion Gary St. Amant as coach to steer his skills properly.
Coughlin sees himself like Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart making it all the way to NASCAR.
“I’m very optimistic about it,” Coughlin said. “I think that we’ll get there. I just got to take it one series at a time. You can’t get to NASCAR without doing this stuff and this is a lot of fun."
Jack Roush, owner Roush-Fenway Racing, got his start in drag racing then moved over to NASCAR and knows much about racing and sponsorships.
“JEGS is a great automotive-based company, more in line with the way at the dawn of the NASCAR half-century. To start with sponsors were companies that sold cars, sold gas, sold tires, sold oil and other automotive products. To have a warehouse known for drag racing to jump in, I think shows the commercial value and the marketing appeal of NASCAR. At the same time it shows that JEGS is a heads-up company.”
Whether Cody Coughlin becomes a NASCAR driver is in the future, but he has the resources and the drive to get there. Perhaps in the commercial world and in the youthful racing world more matchups like JEGS with Cody are possible going forward.
Until then for Cody and others his age, it’s best to follow Bowyer’s words: “Keep digging, win races.”
FYI WIRZ is the swift presentation of pertinent motorsports topics by Dwight Drum @ Racetake.com.
Photo credit: Dwight Drum @ Racetake.com