Photos courtesy JEGS Performance

NHRA surprise: Jeg Coughlin Jr. to semi-retire after 2020 season

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One of the most successful drivers in NHRA history, Jeg Coughlin Jr., shocked the sport Saturday during the opening race weekend on the 2020 schedule, revealing this will be his final season of full-time competition.

The news broke at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California, site of this weekend’s Lucas Oil Winternationals, that Coughlin will be stepping away after the season finale, also at Pomona, in early November.

Coughlin has amassed 82 national events wins (63 in Pro Stock) in his NHRA career, as well as five Pro Stock championships (2000, 2002, 2007, 2008 and 2013) and one Super Gas crown (1992),

The Delaware, Ohio native has dubbed the upcoming farewell season as his “Breaking Barriers Tour,” in reference to the many drag racing achievements in his career.

“Since 1997, I’ve been able to live out my biggest childhood dream by racing with my family and following my Dad and older brother Troy into the professional ranks and racing a Pro Stock car,” Coughlin said in a media release. “We’ve been able to win six championships, five in Pro Stock, and 82 national events in a variety of classes. It’s been a remarkable run.

“It certainly hasn’t been an individual effort. It’s taken so many talented crewmen and crew chiefs, engine builders and chassis experts, my incredible family, everyone at JEGS, and all the other companies that have partnered with us through the years. I couldn’t have asked for a better scenario.”

The 1998 Pro Stock Rookie of the Year said that even though he will be stepping away from full-time competition in Pro Stock, he is not completely retiring from the sport. He still plans on racing part-time at the NHRA Sportsman level going forward in 2021 and beyond. He also doesn’t rule out an occasional race back in Pro Stock, according to the media release.

Coughlin will continue to race this season with Elite Motorsports, driving the Chevrolet Camaro, alongside teammate and defending Pro Stock champ Erica Enders. Coughlin finished runner-up to Enders in last year’s Pro Stock championship battle as Enders captured her third championship in the class.

This is a very meaningful season for Coughlin, who will perform his swan song in the 50th year of NHRA’s Pro Stock class, as well as the 60th anniversary year for the Coughlin family and its JEGS Performance Parts company.

Jeg Coughlin Jr.’s championship cars through the years. Image courtesy JEGS Performance.

“This is the 50th year of Pro Stock and the NHRA has some neat things planned to celebrate that milestone,” Coughlin said. “Our company is celebrating its 60th year in business, so we’ll be able to promote that occasion with our race program. Plus, I’m turning 50 so it seems like a bunch of things fell into place to continue into 2020.

“The support of the fans also has driven me for many years. People stopping by and sharing stories or even just hollering the famed ‘JEGGGSSS’ when we roll through the pits is so cool. We’re lucky to have so many supporters.”

Coughlin has been one of the most versatile drag racers in the sport. He’s the only driver to win a national event in seven different classes — including four in one season — and the only professional to win from all 16 qualifying positions.

“We’ve definitely had some fun,” Coughlin said. “And my passion to continue is still there. I’m not hanging up my helmet by any means. It’s just that as we age our priorities shift and other things move to the forefront. It’s been an incredible ride and it’s not an ending, just pulling back a touch.”

Coughlin said no decision has been made on who will replace him in the team’s signature yellow-and-black JEGS-sponsored Camaro next season, but a strong candidate is Jegs’ nephew Troy Coughlin Jr., son of Jeg’s brother Troy Sr.

“I’ve had countless conversations and races alongside Troy Jr. as he was growing up,” Jeg said. “He’s always wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps in Pro Stock, and we had a great time in our pre-season testing together. In fact, I made three runs total and he made 21. If the stars align and Pro Stock is indeed his future he would do a remarkable job.”

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Robert Wickens shares more positive strides toward recovery in new video

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Robert Wickens has made massive steps since sustaining a spinal cord injury in an Aug. 19, 2018 crash at Pocono Raceway.

Since the accident, Wickens publicly has shared his recovery, often uploading videos of his physical rehabilitation on Twitter.

In his most recent update on Wednesday, Wickens shared a video of him walking on a treadmill. Fellow NTT IndyCar Series competitor Tony Kannan, who competes in triathlons during his spare time, also was visible running on the treadmill behind Wickens.

“When I am @TonyKannan [sic] age, I hope to run as fast as him…” Wickens tweeted. “Today was a good day!”

Wickens, who will turn 31 on March 13, first made his return to the IndyCar paddock in last year’s season opener in St. Petersburg. Since then, he’s made a return to the driver’s seat, piloting a specialized Acura NSX prior to the start of last year’s IndyCar race in his hometown of Toronto.

In September, Wickens fulfilled a vow to his wife Karli, by standing with her during their wedding. The new husband and wife also danced together during their reception.

Should Wickens fully recover to resume racing, Arrow McLaren SP co-owner Sam Schmidt has stated that the team’s No. 6 entry will be available for him to drive. Wickens continues to remain as a “driver coach and consultant” for the team.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter