Lvfri 9
Jeg Coughlin Jr. is returning to full-time Pro Stock competition in 2024. (NHRA photo)

Jeg Coughlin Jr. ‘Fired Up’ For Second Act In NHRA Pro Stock

In mid-September, Jeg Coughlin Jr. was cleaning out his motorhome and stumbled across a handful of items from his glory days of NHRA competition.

Among his findings were a few articles of fireproof clothing with faded logos still attached, which he promptly threw away after deciding he no longer had a use for it.

“I was like, ‘I’m not gonna be doing this stuff anytime soon,’” Coughlin said.

At that point, the 53-year-old had been retired from professional Pro Stock racing for three years — since 2020.

After having competed regularly since 1998, he was enjoying his uptick in elective time. To add to that, Coughlin logically decided that even if he were to get back behind the wheel, all the Nomex products and team branding would need to be updated.

“Fast-forward another couple weeks and Richard (Freeman) called and said, ‘Hey, I need you to bring a helmet.’ And I was like, ‘Son of a (expletive),’” Coughlin said, chuckling. “That was it.”

Freeman, the owner of Elite Motorsports, had rung Coughlin to see if he’d be interested in shaking down one of the team’s new cars during the final two races of the year. The Elite-powered machine would then be turned over to six-time and reigning Pro Stock champion Erica Enders the following season.

While it wasn’t the first time Freeman had made this type of offer to Coughlin during his retirement, it was the first time Coughlin felt ready and willing to accept.

“I was a little more intrigued with that offer again,” Coughlin admitted. “I felt like I could possibly do two things. One, enjoy getting back behind the wheel of a Pro Stock car, which I really, really enjoy driving. Two, kind of challenge myself to see if this is something I wanted to do going forward.”

Since retiring from full-time driving, the 65-time Pro Stock national event winner hadn’t fully departed from drag racing. He continued to bracket race — at both local and big money events — and made about 300 to 400 runs per year.

But until his first test with Elite Motorsports in Tulsa, Okla., ahead of the penultimate race of the season at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t touched a Pro Stock car in three years.

“I made a run and thought, ‘Well that felt pretty nice,’” Coughlin said.

He made five runs that day with Freeman, Enders’ crew chief Mark Ingersoll and a small crew overseeing the process.

After testing, the group traveled to Las Vegas to send Coughlin and the car into the burgeoning Pro Stock ranks in the height of the championship chase.

The main goal for Elite was to log a few competitive runs with the new car.

Meanwhile, “the goal on my end was to see if there could be a potential for this to go somewhere in the future,” Coughlin recalled. “Let’s selfishly take this opportunity and see if I still have the drive, if I still have the competitive juices and mindset to try and compete.”

A semifinal finish at Las Vegas and quarterfinal appearance at the In-N-Out Burger Drag Strip in Pomona, Calif., two weeks later were enough to show Coughlin he could still do it.

So, at 53 years of age, the five-time Pro Stock champion is returning to the class full time this season.

He will compete under the Elite Motorsports banner.

Though his retirement was a legitimate effort to step away from the sport, Coughlin has always left the door cracked open for the “right opportunity,” as he once said.

“I’m a never say never kind of guy,” Coughlin explained. “With the passion I’ve had and the drive that I’ve had in the sport, I’m never gonna close it completely.”

His competitive edge is as sharp as ever, and Coughlin is determined to be the first Pro Stock champion in NHRA’s new era of being the Mission Foods Drag Racing Series.

“I’d love to continue the trend of new NHRA sponsorships and winning a championship in those first years,” Coughlin said. “I think I’ve done that with Powerade and Full Throttle, but I missed Camping World.”

Coughlin will be chasing the Mission Foods title in a new livery, primarily sponsored by SCAG Power Equipment.

After spending the majority of his career campaigning the iconic yellow-and-black JEGS machine — representing the family-owned racing business — Coughlin is energized to start something new for his latest act in NHRA.

“On one side of my mouth, I feel like I have less pressure on myself, but on the other side, representing a new brand and company adds that pressure back in,” Coughlin said. “I’ve echoed this a couple times, but I’m pretty fired up about it.”