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2014 NHRA: NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Teleconference: Jeg Coughlin, Richie Crampton, Cruz Pedregon
Posted by: newsla on Jun 05, 2014 - 06:11 AM
2014 NHRA: NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Teleconference: Jeg Coughlin, Richie Crampton, Cruz Pedregon

The following are excerpts from a teleconference featuring Pro Stock racer Jeg Coughlin Jr., Top Fuel racer Richie Crampton, and Funny Car racer Cruz Pedregon.


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THE MODERATOR: Today we are joined by three racers who have hot streaks here the past couple of events, Jeg Coughlin Jr. in Pro Stock, Richie Crampton in Top Fuel and Cruz Pedregon in Funny Car will be joining us. Jeg in the past three events, has been one of the leaders of the Pro Stock category. He's raced to three consecutive final round appearance and two victories, and one semifinal round appearance and he's has also had one No. 1 qualifying position season. He is currently tied for second in points with teammate Allen Johnson, who are both 123 behind Erica Enders Stevens. What have you guys hit upon these past handful of events to really bring that car to life?

JEG COUGHLIN: Well, you know, we've had the new Dodge Dart now since Gainesville, and we had an extremely impressive debut there running in the 6.40s, running over 214 miles per hour and then Allen going on for his first victory. I think when that car came out, obviously it was brand new to us. We had maybe 20 runs collectively going into the event on the new chassis, on the new aerodynamic package. The car is different. Crew chiefs Mark Ingersoll and Adam Hornberger have had to find their way through the car now. We have seen a lot of different conditions that we've raced on. That was very evident with Atlanta and very evident with Englishtown. The unique thing about those two events is we did have some struggles in the event, but we were able to overcome those through tuning the car and getting it to a raceable state and getting it to a competitive state. But I think that's been the big turn now is just having a bit more time on our side, and the team has been very disciplined, very focused on achieving that, and not to mention, everyone back at J&J and Tennessee, led by Roy Johnson, have been fine tuning the Hemi power plants that appear to be running right up front just about everywhere we go.

Q: We seem to see in Pro Stock that all these teams and cars can go on streaks. Erica was real strong for a while, your teammate in Gainesville and now you. Is it such a fine line that you guys dance upon to really hit upon it, and that when you get it, you just catch lightning in a bottle for a couple of events?

JEG COUGHLIN: We do see some streaks, sometimes throughout seasons and sometimes for seasons as a whole. Would love to think we are catching a streak right now that could carry us to the end of the year, but that's very wishful thinking. Pro Stock right now is the most competitive that I've seen it since I joined the ranks in late 1997, and in competitive meaning there's a good chance that just about any car that's qualifying for these shows can win the race on Sunday. And that makes it very difficult for the crew chiefs and that makes it very difficult for the drivers, but that's what makes it fun for the fans is that extremely competitive side-by-side racing. I think still with all that said, you do see teams that do get little breakout runs and Allen and I, being the past two reigning world champions, want to keep our names at the top of this list. As you mentioned, the Elite team with Erica Enders, they just set the national record in both the elapsed time and speed. And that doesn't leave the best taste in our mouth. We are working really hard to get our Dodge Darts to want to do the same, and we are very, very close.

Q: What's your thought real quick about Greg Anderson? He's returned and looking strong. You're fierce competitors on the track, but have known each other for years.

JEG COUGHLIN: Greg is a great competitor as you mentioned and we've been running side by side darn near since I came into the class in the late ’90s there. We certainly wouldn't wish what he and his family have gone through in the last six months. But it's great to see him back. He is a good competitor and he is a good ambassador for drag racing and Pro Stock in particular. It's been his livelihood. Since he's been back, he's making a very quick impression that his time away has energized him to be very focused and disciplined. And I think we've seen the performance of all three of their cars starting to tiptoe back to the extremely fast side and his driving in particular has been very, very aggressive. I would say he, in particular, is going to be a thorn in all our sides as we are approaching these next four straight races and then we get a week off and then the Western Swing. This is the fun time of the year for JEGS and for the J&J team of Allen Johnson. We are very strong, we are very disciplined and we are looking forward to it. It's going to be a great stretch.

Q. I spoke to Jimmie Johnson about his longevity with sponsorship, and you've got some strong longevity with JEGS obviously. Got to be thinking, he's a six time champion, you're a (five) time champion and you both started out slow in 2014, and I've been talking and watching all the stuff from your press releases and so forth. You're tenacious, confident, and same thing with Jimmie Johnson; he goes along in his same old way that team put it together, exactly what happened with your team, also. Could you talk a little about that, about that confidence and tenacity that gets you back into victory?

JEG COUGHLIN: Well, I think in our case, probably in both of our cases, we are surrounded with great people that have championship loins in them. They have either won championships well, they have won championships in our case with both Allen's team and the JEGS team. You know, I think there are going to be bumps in the road, there's no question about it. Every day can't be perfect, as we all know. In Pro Stock racing, that's even more true, because you've got 14 other cars on Sunday that are looking to up end you. But I think having that championship caliber team, knowing that you have that and having the drive to be able to take a situation that maybe isn't going quite the way you want to, and step back and reevaluate in a very quick manner, because in some cases, we are talking a 50-minute time frame between first round and second round as we were just faced at Englishtown on Sunday. We had a very poor first round performance and within 50 minutes, we were able to reevaluate and refocus our efforts to getting the car near competitive or looking to be 100 percent competitive; but we got it very close to being competitive and we were able to work out way through that field. And that's the kind of team; that's the kind of integrity that our team has; that not giving up and being able to realign your thoughts to put yourself back in a winning position. You know, I think that's how our team is made up and those are some of the patterns we've gone through so far in 2014. We've had great success with it when you add up the wins that we've had collectively. I think we've won five of nine Pro Stock events this year between Allen and myself. It's actually been a very good year.

Q. You've done exactly what Jimmie Johnson said, goes back to another question I asked him weeks before that; the dedication of the team, and you went right to it. He also mentioned, he gave the credit to his team because of the preparation and planning and the scenarios and why they won so many championships is because they go over everything over and over and over and they are ready. Is that something that your team does, also?

JEG COUGHLIN: Well, I think we have a living motto or a standing motto in our pit area, and that is that anyone can double-check anyone's work at any time. And understand that's only for it’s not to second guess. It is just to do as it's mentioned. It's to support one another, and that one out of a hundred times, that double check actually needed requested because maybe something didn't get done just exactly right. I think when you have a team that's comfortable and our teams are all when you add up both of our teams, we might have 15 to 20 people. When you look at just the JEGS team, there's typically five or six hands in on this project. So you don't have to look too far to kind of help double check everyone's work. But success is what we are all there for, and to be able to do that, we need to make the right calls in the pits and we need to execute those well while we're in the pits. That gives me, the driver, the confidence to be able to get in the car and do what I love to do, and that's efficiently get it down the racetrack. And collectively when you put that whole package together, you know, we've been successful with it and we certainly look to continue that.

Q: We are going to back to Epping for the second season. We saw last year a tremendous fan base up in the northeast. Talk about returning to that track and such a rabid fan base.

JEG COUGHLIN: Yeah, that was quite a warm welcome that we experienced in 2013 coming to Epping for the first time. I've known of the drag strip for years, but for the first time, to have an NHRA major event there was very exciting, for us as racers. But more I think what was more exciting to me was feeling the warmth from the fans that were there with us on hand. And they packed that place like no other. It was a lot of fun. We had great weather. We're near sea level there. So if we could catch a break similar to what we just experienced in Englishtown where we could get, it’s difficult in June I realize, but to catch a cool and dryer air condition, we could, again, see potential national records. But, you know, that's yet to be seen. Last year was hot and warm, warmer and hot on Sunday. So played that crew chief role, and we had a great time at the drag strip. Was able to get out and go kind of put our toe in the ocean, and spent a little time on the boardwalk there and very much looking forward to coming back for the 2014 campaign.

Q. As a driver, you need to be prepared for anything that comes your way when you stage that car. Did you have any clue what was coming first round last weekend?

JEG COUGHLIN: No, none, none whatsoever. We completed qualifying on Saturday. We had great air conditions. The track, we had some cloud cover, but the track was warm but not hot. We ran a 6.48, was good for the number three spot at the time and that was in the right lane and came back for a final Q4 run and we were going to go to the more favored left lane. And when I say "more favored," it might have been five thousandths to a hundredth quicker for the Pro Stock cars, but we wanted every thousandth we could get. We felt like we were going to run a 6.47 something. In fact, right in front of my eyes was teammate, Allen Johnson, who went a .472, and I was licking my chops and couldn't wait to get on track. The car accelerated much straighter than the .48 run, was clean, sounded unbelievable and put a .49 up on the board. So we are like, dang, that's not exactly what I felt in the seat. Not that I wasn't happy with it; just we had to do some homework for it. As we looked at the run and looked at what the forecast was for Sunday, a little bit cleaner air more yet, but also warmer track condition, we thought that would really come to our setup. So I had no inclination that when I let the clutch out that this thing was absolutely not going to cooperate. But, you know, nothing I could do about it at that point and really just tried to get it into second gear as quick as I could, get it into third gear as quick as I could. I was trying to be in third gear by about the time I got to the tree which typically we are not even pulled into second gear at that point. I would have been much better suited to just let off the throttle a little bit and let the thing settle down and get back to it and bang through the gears. But my wiring typically doesn't work that way when I'm driving. But we got away with it, and as I mentioned earlier, we were able to regroup and capitalize on that round win and push that into three more wins and an event victory.

Q. The Coughlin family is waist deep into motorsports. How involved is your father in your Pro Stock operation?

JEG COUGHLIN: I wouldn't say he's not involved by any stretch. He's probably one of my biggest supporters and always has been, which is just phenomenal to have in my corner. As far as hands on, he has not been as much to the races in the last couple of years, but I can promise you, he doesn't miss much on ESPN3 coverage, online coverage, watching the races live online. There's a lot of times he'll poke me a little text or give me a call and suggest a few things, and that goes a long ways. He's probably one of the more brilliant people I've ever worked with in my whole life, in a lot of different ways, but in the racing world, he's just been phenomenal and it's great to have him in my corner for sure.

THE MODERATOR: Now we are joined by Richie Crampton, who drives the GEICO/Lucas Oil Dragster. He raced to his first career victory at Englishtown, and also welcomed the birth of his first child a week ago, as well. Crampton defeated Doug Kalitta in his first time to even reach a final round in just his ninth career start. The Adelaide South Australian native took over driving duties from Morgan Lucas after serving as a crew member on the team since 2007. Richie, first, congratulations on the win. Congratulations on the birth of your child. It's been quite a whirlwind week for you, hasn't it?

RICHIE CRAMPTON: Yes, it has. Thank you, of course, too. Yeah, it's been a little bit of a blur for me. The past two weeks have been pretty hectic. Fortunately, I was able to make it home from the Atlanta race in time to be there for the birth of our daughter, Emma, and most importantly her and my girlfriend, Stephanie, are doing fantastic. So couldn't have wished for anything better there. Yeah, and then to go to Englishtown and get my first win in Top Fuel against someone like Doug Kalitta, it truly was a dream come true. So my head is still spinning a little bit and my feet really haven't touched the ground. It's truly been an amazing two weeks for me.
Q: The Doug Kalitta car, that's been the class of the field almost since the season started. So you definitely earned that victory in that final round, didn't you?

RICHIE CRAMPTON: Well, yeah, I think so. Obviously Englishtown is a very special race for the Kalitta family and all of their team cars. You know, I'm sure sentimentally, it would have been great to see Doug win that final round, given everything that happened there with Scott (six) years ago and all that stuff. Yeah, Aaron Brooks and this GEICO team definitely earned that win. A 3.81 in a final on a fairly hot racetrack was a stellar run. I didn't do the best job on the starting line but fortunately Aaron Brooks had some tricks up his sleeve, and to be able to run as good as we did in the final and get around Doug Kalitta, that's still just surreal to me to think that we won like that since Doug Kalitta has got the best Top Fuel car around right now.

Q. Perhaps going out and getting that win like that, certainly you're no rookie but then again, nine career starts, there have been guys that have been around the business like John Force, who he keeps saying it, he lost for 15 years before he started getting his championships. What do you have do you think that gets you to be able to pull off a win so early?

RICHIE CRAMPTON: Well, honestly, I truly believe that I'm just kind of lucky. I'm very fortunate to start my career driving in one of the best Top Fuel cars around. The car that I get to drive finished No. 4 in the world last year, so when you kind of keep that in mind, we have all the equipment, all the personnel and all the best parts, and there's no reason why this team shouldn't perform. So I'm very spoiled. I get to drive a great racecar for a great team, and you know, I'm just very fortunate that I got into the winner's circle so early in my career. I really don't know beyond that what you attribute winning my first national event so soon to. You know, that's the bottom line. I'm just fortunate to drive the best equipment and I tried hard, and we also had a little luck on our side, so things went well.
Q. I get to talk to Marcus Ambrose over at NASCAR and of course he's Australian also, and when you guys come to another country like this and to be able to excel, what do you bring give you a chance to talk about Australia I guess a bit. What do you bring to get this opportunity that you have both done so well over here?

RICHIE CRAMPTON: Well, it's kind of hard to know. One thing is for certain: When you make that commitment to move to another country to do something, you give it your 120 percent every opportunity every day. Because bottom line is, you leave a lot of things behind and a lot of familiarity of everything where you grew up, and you kind of throw all that stuff away to go and pursue something. So I'm sure Marcos is in the same situation where he made that commitment to move away to the U.S. If he wasn't trying as hard as he possibly could, then it was possibly a waste of time. So that's kind of my mind set, just try as hard as I can every day at whatever I'm doing, and good things will hopefully come. You know, just being in the situation I'm in and having the opportunity to have worked at Morgan Lucas Racing for the past seven years has been that in itself is very gratifying and I'm very fortunate to work at such a high caliber team. Being able to drive their car for them, also, is just one step beyond that. I'm not sure what it would be from Australia that got me to this point, but just a lot of hard work.

Q. Congratulations on being the 100th brand new Top Fuel driver to win a national event.

RICHIE CRAMPTON: Thank you so much. Obviously, I had no idea that I could ever possibly stake my claim on that list of so many legendary drivers in that kind of unique slot of No. 100. That also is kind of like the cherry on top. Trying to go out and try to win a Top Fuel drag race has always been something that I have always dreamed about doing, and to finally get to contend in a final and to win and then to be No. 100 on that list that's full of so many legends, that's definitely still surreal to me. It's kind of pretty exciting and pretty cool.

Q. You've worked on the team when Morgan Lucas was in the seat, and you know how hard it is to come by these wins. Did you expect even on the outside chance that you would pick up your first win in your first season, in so few races, really.

RICHIE CRAMPTON: No, as I kind of said earlier, we all know the caliber of this team and we all know the way that Aaron Brooks goes about running this race car. Bottom line is, the GEICO Top Fuel car could be in the winner's circle this year. However, I wasn't sure about myself and whether I could put together four good runs on any given race day. I just didn't know coming into the season whether I could do it. I've worked here at MLR for so long that I've seen so many other drivers come and get so close and lose in the final round and lose in the final round, and just it's just truly amazing to me that I got to the final and we're able to win and run so good to get around Kalitta.

Q. Does that help you moving forward, do you feel pretty optimistic, now that you've won one, it seems as though they come in streaks. Are you looking forward to the next?

RICHIE CRAMPTON: Yeah, absolutely. Looking forward to many more. It's the ultimate confidence booster for myself and the team. I think everyone kind of took a little leap of faith when I got offered or got given this position to drive for MLR. So I think everyone, you know, kind of makes everyone feel a little better about the decision, and at least they can see that there's definitely some more potential, if, you know, we can get to the winner's circle maybe another once or twice this season. It's a great feeling and everyone at MLR is on cloud nine right now.

THE MODERATOR: You mentioned the word "leap." I saw a great photo of Morgan, and he had to be leaping eight feet in the air when you got the win. What did he say to you?
RICHIE CRAMPTON: First of all, that was an amazing shot. I didn't know he could jump so high. But no, when we finally got to have two seconds to talk after we won that final, and I just obviously thanked him again and told him that he would never understand how it felt for me to fulfill my dream like that and get that win. He just said ‘Hey, you did a good job today and I'm really proud of you and that is just a great day. Whatever you do, just enjoy it, because this first win is huge and savor every little thing.’ He said that Forrest and Charlotte (Lucas) were proud, and it was, what am I going to say, emotional, but it kind of was an emotional little back and forth there at the other end of the racetrack.

THE MODERATOR: We have Cruz Pedregon, driver of the Snap-on Tools Toyota Funny Car. He is a two-time Funny Car world champion, and he raced to his first win of the season and 35th of his career in Englishtown. This was his second consecutive final round appearance, and he sits eighth in points after starting the season as low as 12th this season. He also has two No. 1 qualifying positions. Cruz, first off, thanks for joining us and congratulations on the win. By your standards, you had a rough start to the season. What was the reason for the turnaround these past two events?

CRUZ PEDREGON: I think the races as they have unfolded, we have just finally found the sweet spot, so to speak, in the setup of the car. We had to just go through what we had to go through to get things ironed out. And as painful as it was and embarrassing at times, when you make changes like as dramatic as we have made as far as engine components like cylinder heads, the clutch management system and the clutch itself, we went from a five disk unit to a six disk unit. So, you know, it just took time to iron all those bugs out. We started to see flashes, even at the beginning of the year, we ran a four flat which qualified us in the top three, I believe, and so we just didn't have that consistency. So we finally got it on Sunday at Topeka last week and then we had a great run there, a couple runs there at Englishtown. And after some early struggles on Sunday with smoke on the tires, we finally got that win there in the final round. So it was like I said, just a process and not just one thing; just a matter of getting things sorted out.

Q. As far as your communication abilities, obviously drivers need them but you have exceptional ones that put you into the booth there for a little while. Do you ever think about that while you're racing; that you could perhaps go back to that?

CRUZ PEDREGON: I appreciate that. That's a compliment. I do. But the guy they have up there is doing a pretty good job so I don't know that they would even want me back. Mike Dunn does a good job there. I do think about life after racing, and, yeah, I don't know what I want to do yet. You get older and you figure, man, how long am I going to race and all that kind of business. But for right now, I'm enjoying what I'm doing and I'm getting a little bit better at it, so maybe I can stay around a little bit longer.

Q. As far as the communication abilities, it has to help with your team. Not that you talk to your car, but it's got to help with your team, doesn't it?

CRUZ PEDREGON: Well, it does, because it's all about communication. We have several team members, and I think I have 15 employees along with my race team. And from top to bottom, it's always a challenge at a certain level; and it's always an ongoing thing, interpreting what you want and being able to really fine tune your team through your people, I think that's the key. So here we are, once the car starts performing, it seems like everything falls into place. So for some of the younger guys on the team to see that and see what we are capable of, definitely helps, as Richie mentioned earlier, that confidence is definitely key when you get a win like that, or when we set a record like we did, that definitely contributes.

Q. Did you take any training at all for announcing?

CRUZ PEDREGON: No, I didn't. I just was a fan of sports. I'm a Howard Cosell fan and Steve Evans and of the people I've really looked up to, Chris Economaki and different people like that that have been in whatever sport it's been, boxing or auto racing and everything in between, I'm just a fan, and I didn't even finish school to be honest with you. Don't recommend that to anyone, but I kind of came up the hard way, the school of hard knocks I guess you could say, and just kind of worked out that way for me I guess.

Q: The series, we are going to have a stretch of four events, four very great tracks and one of those being Epping, going for our second stop there. We saw a great fan base there and fans really turned out for us. What are your thoughts returning to that track and seeing the fans of the Northeast again?

CRUZ PEDREGON: Well, it's always great to visit a new venue. I think NHRA reaching out and getting that far up Northeast, I didn't even know you could get much further than Englishtown to be honest with you. There's a whole other world up there. It's really cool to see a different part of the country and the fans come up to support it. Obviously, the track was new and it had some little rough edges here and there with parking, but I hope they can get that ironed out. Our performance hopefully will get better. We were not quite on our game. I had a little food poisoning there, if I recall, and just wasn't hitting on eight cylinders myself that weekend. Hopefully we'll go back and have a good event and see more fans than we saw at the inaugural event.

Q: You moved into the Top 10 in the points. It's obviously early in the season, but how important is that to get in that Top 10 and hopefully try to put a little bit of cushion between yourself and that tenth spot?

CRUZ PEDREGON: Oh, it's huge. I always get nervous. In fact, I don't ever when they ask me about it, I just kind of played it off. When you're at the track in race mode, the best thing to do is keep your eye on the task at hand. I have to be honest; I was looking at the Internet between races. And I was getting nervous, I'll be honest with you. I was like, man, we have got to make a move here and do it fast, because the last thing you want to do is get close to that cutoff time and be fighting it out. I've been there before and it's not the greatest feeling in the world, especially if you don't make it. You're exactly right. We want to not only get in the Top 10 but start creeping our way into that top five if we can, and we’ve got a lot of racing left. But we definitely can help ourselves this first three race swing or this last three race swing.

Q. I wanted to first of all congratulate Cruz on the run, we follow you here, all the Mexican fans. When you got this record, did you know you had a perfect run on the track or was it a surprise to you? What is it going to take to go up on the points and build yourself up to the lead on this season, this championship, 2014?

CRUZ PEDREGON: Thank you, I love the fans in Monterrey, México. One day I want to go there and see everybody. But you know, it was I felt it was a great run until halftrack, and then the car dropped a cylinder and it started to slow down. So I wasn't real sure, because I had the feeling that while it was such a great run early, but then I kind of felt it nose over. I was very surprised at the time that it ran at 3.95 because it felt like it ran more it didn't run as good. But I was just so excited, and I looked at the times; I started dissecting everything. And so the good news is we ran a 4.00 or a 3.95, all time quickest run ever for Funny Cars. And in the back of my mind, I'm thinking that at some point, someday, I hope we can have an opportunity, because I think we can run a little quicker than that or maybe back up to get the record. But it was a great run. As far as the championship goes, we just want to position ourselves in the top five somewhere and then get into the Countdown, and once you get into the Countdown. It's much like the NFL playoffs: You just have to do your best in six races and whoever scores the most points is going to win it. So we've been there before and we've got a shot do it again. So we've got to continue. Obviously there's several races before that time, the cutoff, but I think we are in a good place now. We have the car to beat. Not that it's the car to beat but we have one of the cars that can run with any car out there, and that's what it's all about.

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