Six-time NASCAR Whelen Modified champion Doug Coby is living out a dream. His win in the series opener for SRX at Stafford Motor Speedway June 12 opened the eyes of many who had never heard of the 41-year-old dominating on short tracks throughout the northeast.
While other Modified regulars, like Ryan Preece, got their shot at NASCAR’s top levels, Coby somehow skated under the radar despite years of success. Now, he has a one-race Camping World Truck Series deal with a top-tier team (GMS Racing) after beating NASCAR legends like three-time Cup Series champion Tony Stewart and 19-time Cup winner Greg Biffle on national television.
Coby looks back on his SRX experience and emphasizes why it’s so important for short track stars to have a platform, not just within NASCAR but to keep their racetracks alive and well over the long-term.
Tom Bowles, Frontstretch: If you had to sum up the last week for you, what would you say? Has it been like a dream?
Doug Coby: Yeah. I’m just kind of riding it, you know. Never really got too many opportunities like this. I knew that the SRX Series was going to be a big deal and I knew that they were going to do it right.
I’ve always been a big fan of short track racing. Whether it was me, or watching the street stocks, or whoever. The effort that it takes to put into running weekly at Stafford, or the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, or where the base of motorsports is.
It’s been a great time to discuss short tracks. I’m happy to be the torch bearer for the short track guys in this particular instance and to follow up drivers like Ryan Preece and Josh Berry and the good things they’ve done on the national level. It’s just kind of showing everybody that we’re there. You’ve just got to find us.
Bowles: What do you feel like the impact of this win can be on the short track community and Modifieds you love so much?
Coby: My goal is to help the short tracks. Put people in the stands and remember, even in this era of technology where you can watch short tracks live on FloRacing, NBC Sports Gold and all that stuff, you have to go there and you have to spend money. Because these are small businesses owned by families.
Those are the short tracks of America. The dirt track, the national tracks we all race on… they need to survive. You watch Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s show Lost Speedways and Matt Dillner chasing around all the speedways in the ‘60s, ’70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, whatever… they’re disappearing today, too. You look at Myrtle Beach Speedway and Concord Motorsports Park, those tracks are not just shut down, they’re bulldozed.
That’s happening on our watch. The way you fix that is by getting people in the stands and creating a renewed interest in short tracks in all different parts of the country.
Honestly, that’s what this is about for me. I’m way too old, I think, to get anything permanently big and change with my racing career if I had to guess. We’ll see.
The deal with GMS Racing is huge and is going to get people excited for an old guy to run Trucks for the first time.
Bowles: Congrats on that deal with GMS Racing. Was that the first time you’ve ever been offered a Truck deal, even with six championships in the Whelen Modified Series?
Coby: Right opportunity, right time. By chance, Mike Beam (GMS Racing President) drew my name for celebrity crew chief. He and I connected pretty quickly and he knew I was hungry to win that race. Man, he wanted to make the car as good as he could for me within Ray (Evernham, SRX co-founder)’s rules. I think as the day went on, Mike hopefully saw the maturity that I have, the knowledge that I have, the feel for the car and what I wanted.
He trusted me and I trusted him. I let him make the final decision, but I just told him what I really needed in order to get the job done. I think that went a long way.
He told me, I’m going to try and get you in a Truck, and it’s probably going to be at Bristol. And I said, ‘OK, let’s go.’ And that’s the first time anybody’s ever called and said, ‘Hey, let’s do this.’ And it was really never about what [money] I could bring to the table.
Realistically, if I had money that I need to have to run Xfinity or Trucks, I could have done it years ago. There’s opportunities if you have the funding. But that’s just never been my focus. I’ll take a lot of the blame for that.
A guy like Ryan Preece went out and got the funding to go run Joe Gibbs cars for a couple of races and proved himself. I’m certainly somebody that could have done that. I haven’t. I’m a different mindset and in a different part of my life, I guess.
Bowles: Well, you say you’re old but there are plenty of full-time drivers running in their 40s, even their 50s. If there’s a full-time Truck Series ride that opens up, are you open to taking it at this point in your career?
Coby: Well, of course I am, yeah. I’ve always thought for the past several years, if I were to go anywhere, I’ve felt that the Truck Series would be a natural fit. I’ve always admired there were a nice mix of older and younger drivers in that series. That’s really what’s going to make the younger drivers better is having them compete against the Matt Craftons and the Johnny Sauters. You need more of them.
And I’m not saying that I’m one of them. But I’m saying that if I had a home in the Truck Series, I would be somebody that would make it pretty difficult for these young kids to come race with. And that’s what’s going to make the future of motorsports, especially NASCAR brighter, is when the kids have to race against experience.
I can tell you if a lot of those kids came and ran on the Modified tour, they’d find it pretty difficult to race against the experienced drivers that we have. And I can tell you from personal experience that there are at least six or seven other Modified tour drivers that could really do something great in the Xfinity Series or Trucks if given the chance.
Bowles: There’s definitely a lot of people in lower series that seem deserving of the opportunity. But is it more of who you know and what money you bring as much as it is the finishes you get on the track?
Coby: Yeah, that’s understandable. I mean, it should be about money. It’s a money-driven sport. I’m not saying everybody should hand out rides. But there have to be some sponsors out there who want people who are going to bring something different to the table.
And right now, an experienced 41-year-old, I am different than what you usually see in the Truck Series. My hope is that a lot of these alcohol brands need somebody who’s of age and can represent them. If AARP wants to get back involved in racing and sponsorship… there’s all sorts of opportunities out there.
I’m a house flipper by trade. I’m not a hands-on house flipper, but I manage projects. I’m a real estate broker. So there’s a ton of real estate-related companies out there. Companies like Home Depot, Lowe’s, I use their stuff. I shop at their stores. That’s the kind of stuff that… if you make connections with people, you never know.
I’m not calling anybody out and saying that they should do something. But if they pay attention, they might like what they see.[But] if the worst thing that comes from this is I get a one-race Truck ride, and I get to talk a whole lot about short track racing in front of different fans and different people, then mission accomplished, as far as I’m concerned.
Bowles: Let’s revisit the SRX race. When was the moment for you at Stafford where you realized beating all these guys was going to happen?
Coby: I think I thought I could win it when I was fast in practice and I adapted pretty quickly. I also knew those guys weren’t going to get a ton of practice laps. I just know how difficult Stafford is. That’s something people don’t understand. You can take the best race car driver in the world, and if they don’t have enough seat time and there’s a lot of things going against them… it just becomes tremendously difficult to figure it out against somebody who’s got experience.
I would say that, in the race, as soon as I got back by Biffle after Marco [Andretti] booted me out of the way, I realized at that point I needed to control the rest of the race. After that happened, I thought to myself, ‘OK. Time to pick it up here, time to lay down the law and take control of this thing. Do what you can do to keep the tires and have enough at the end of the race.’
Luckily for me, I knew that Biffle was probably saving something. He said he was trying to save. I think Tony was all flat out as much as he could go. I saved so much that, honestly, at the end, I could have gone a lot longer and laid down some really good lap times. So I did my job and was able to drive away at the end, for the most part.
Bowles: Final restart scare you at all?
Coby: Yeah. Anything can happen on a restart like that. My first sense of trying to figure out what I had to do was not spin the tires and get a good restart. I’ve won more green-white-checkered restarts at Stafford than I’ve lost.
I’ve definitely missed shifts on restarts when I was a kid. So all that started weighing on me. Thinking about people saying, “Oh, you had it in the bag but you screwed up since you spun the tires or something.” So I just tried to take it easy. Tried to do the same restart as in the past, a couple of times. Luckily, it worked out, got clear of Biffle and didn’t have to worry about him being close enough to sail it in, hit me with his bumper and knock me out of the way which one of the local guys would do.
So my goal was to get as far away as I could and make it so that if they overdrove the corner to try and get me, they just couldn’t get close enough.
Bowles: Have you made peace with the fact, all these days later, your post-race dismount might be more nationally known than your win?
That just happened pic.twitter.com/rAGvgSE4wi
— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) June 13, 2021
Coby: I am perfectly fine with it. ‘Cause you know what, I thought about this, it’s a metaphor for my racing career.
You win, and then, two seconds later, you get the rug pulled out from under you. And you fall down and you just get back up and you do it again.
I can laugh at myself with anybody. So I feel like, the more I laugh at myself and the more I poke fun of it on Twitter and stuff, eventually some people will forget about it.
I thought there was a little sabotage involved because the flag and the window net were there. I probably should have just opened the trap door. But I’ve been racing for 30-something years and never had a trap door to open in a car. So quite frankly, I just forgot it was there.
Got out of the car through the window. And that was something I’ll learn, and if I ever get a chance to run SRX again, and happen to win the race, I will be opening the trap door and I’ll make sure I don’t fall on my butt.
Bowles: Any conversations about running the rest of the series after that win?
Coby: There hasn’t been. I’m busy with the Modifieds. The Nashville race for SRX [series finale] I race at Loudon that day… these are big races for my sponsors and my race team and all the people that support me.
I am free for Slinger and I am free for Lucas Oil, so if Ray ever decides he wants to add a twist to things, I’m free those weekends. There was never any talk of that and I’m happy to let the other local guys have a chance in their race. That’s something we all signed up for and I support those guys 100 percent.
They’re certainly going to do us proud. It would be cool if, at the end, if some of us local guys pull off these wins, if we get to somehow do something together. But I’m happy with the one-race deal. It is what it is.
Bowles: With the Modifieds, you made clear going into SRX you were comfortable giving up a seventh series title if that’s what it took to run the series. Are you still OK with that, knowing all the points you gave up?
Coby: I’m totally comfortable with it. I was further back I think at this point in the year in one of my championship seasons. Everything’s going to have to go my way for me to crawl back into it.
I have to hope Patrick Emerling and Justin Bonsignore have a bad race or two. So if these two go out there and perform in the top 5, the top 3 every week, they’re going to make it difficult on me.
But we’ve been so good this year, everywhere we’ve gone, that I feel really confident we can win every race on the schedule. Not to say that we’re going to. But we’re really going to try our hardest, just take it one race at a time and try to get max points. We say that all the time on our team. Max points this week and whatever we can get, we get.
Editor’s Note: Coby went out and won at Riverhead Raceway after this interview, his first race back after running SRX. He’s tied for fourth in points, 41 behind championship leader Emerling.