Getting young people involved in drag racing to insure the future of the sport has been a recurring topic of discussion. Many of the stars driving in the NHRA Mello Yello Professional categories today are in their 40s, 50s, and even 60s. Those drivers have expressed concern for the future of the sport once they all retire, wondering if enough drivers are coming up through the ranks to carry the torch behind them.
Within the last couple of weeks, a couple of announcements have come out that would make one think the future of the sport will be just fine. Troy Coughlin, Jr., son of Pro Mod racer Troy Coughlin (and nephew of Pro Stock’s Jeg Coughlin, Jr.) will be racing in Top Fuel with Kalitta next year. Tanner Gray, son of Pro Stock driver Shane Gray, will be taking the wheel of the family machine as a rookie next year.
Add to them drivers like Vincent Nobile, Drew Skillman, Alex Laughlin, Brittany and Courtney Force and one would have to think there are plenty of young drivers coming up through the ranks. There might be an argument that drivers are not the problem. The problem is having seats for them to occupy. What we really need is more team owners and/or more opportunity for incoming owners to actually be competitive (read: a way to make this sport cost less money).
But there is one other caveat that is sort of related to the above. The Coughlins, Grays, Forces, and Skillmans have been involved in the sport for years. Yes, it’s great to see another generation come up and show an interest, but what of drivers not named Force or Coughlin? How many truly new drivers are entering the sport? Maybe an even bigger consideration is what opportunities exist for these drivers?
- Six drivers are in competition for the 2016 Automobile Club Road to the Future award, the NHRA equivalent of the rookie of the year for the four professional Mello Yello Series categories. The winner receives a $20,000 prize and a trophy that is awarded at the season-ending championship awards ceremony and is chosen through a voting system by the nation’s leading auto racing journalists. Candidates for the award are Jim Campbell (Funny Car), Cory Reed (Pro Stock Motorcycle), Aaron Strong (Pro Stock), Melissa Surber (Pro Stock Motorcycle), Trip Tatum (Top Fuel), and Brandon Welch (Funny Car).
- Marathon Petroleum has extended their sponsorship agreement with Pro Stock driver Allen Johnson into 2017. “We are thankful for our continued partnership with Marathon Petroleum, both on and off the track,” the driver said this week. “We learned much in 2016 as we improved our performance and adjusted to a new electronic fuel injection system. We’re excited to hit the track again in 2017, determined to bring home another championship.”
Driver Profile: Alex Laughlin
Category: Pro Stock
Hometown: Granbury, Texas
Date of birth: September 7, 1988
2016 car: Gas Monkey Garage Chevrolet Camaro
Crew chief: Javier Silva
Team Owner: Kenny Laughlin
Career wins/runner-up finishes: 1/1
Best points finish: 20th in 2015 (7 races-2016 is his first full season run)
Career best ET: 6.514, Dallas, 2015
Career best speed: 212.83 mph, Dallas, 2015
2015 – Made Pro Stock debut at Sonoma; attempted seven races and qualified for all of them.
Follow Alex Laughlin: @AlexLaughlinPS on Twitter, Laughlin Motorsports on Facebook, @fuelpotential on Instagram
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Program Date/Time Channel SUMMIT RACING EQUIPMENT NHRA NATIONALS Qualifying Friday, June 23, 10:30 PM ET FS1 Qualifying Sunday, June 25, 12:00 AM ET FS1 Eliminations Sunday, June 25, 6:00 PM ET FS1