Doug Coby has the opportunity to do something special this season on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. The Milford, Connecticut driver will be looking to accomplish something that has not been done since the founding of the modern Tour in 1985. He has the chance to become the first driver to win three championships in a row since the great Richie Evans won seven straight from 1978 to 1984.
Coby has accomplished much in the last five seasons, winning the 2012, 2014 and 2015 championships with a runner-up performance in 2013. He’s also scored 16 race victories, more than any other driver in those five seasons.
It is a feat that many in the Modified circles would not have predicted a decade ago. After success in full-fender cars at his home track of Stafford Motor Speedway (CT) in the late 90’s, Coby transitioned to Modifieds. He first competed in the track’s SK Modified division before setting off on the Tour full-time in 2003. A glimmer of hope came when Coby won his first career Tour race at Stafford for owner Kurt Chase in 2006, but he was still left without a full-time ride at the end of that season.
From 2007 to 2010 Coby bounced around from ride to ride, but never gave in to doubt and gained strength from those he worked with.
“To go from having no ride not too long ago then look at what’s gone on the last five years it has been a really special time for me and all the people who have helped me along the way,” Coby told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “It’s one of those things where sometimes you just have to keep digging and keep grinding when things aren’t going your way. Too many times people, especially those in racing, throw their hands in the air and give up then let the passion fade away. With me, racing has never been something I do, racing is who I am, and that’s the way it’s been since I was six-years-old, it’s been 30 years in a row that I’ve been racing.”
It wasn’t until the end of 2010, when offered a seat by Wayne Darling, that Coby found just the spot to stand up. He found himself back in NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour victory lane at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park (CT) in 2011 and he continued to improve from there. Coby picked up five wins in 2012 on his way to the first of his four NWMT championships.
“It started with the No. 52 team, we clicked right off the bat at the end of 2010 when I ran the World Series. It looked like we were headed for a win in our first race together then we had problems,” Coby recalled. “But right from that race forward they basically said to me, ‘You’re the driver we want in our car.’ It had been a three or four years for me as driver that someone had said that to me. We got three years out of it, a lot of those same people from the 52 team came over with me to the 2 team simply because of the bond we had forged in 2011 and 2012.”
The bonds that Coby has made throughout the last five years with members of the Darling team, and now the people involved with Mike Smeriglio Racing, is what he firmly believes has been the key to success.
“It was pretty amazing how we became close friends and almost like family. They stuck by me when I made the move. A race team is about our performance number one, but also our friendship off the track, we race together then go camp together after,” Coby explained.
“That’s why I do this with these people because if I wasn’t having fun with them and didn’t enjoy spending time with them, I probably wouldn’t still be racing right now. That’s the start of a championship team, people who genuinely care about each other, and respect one another for what they do.”
While Coby is unsure of the statements from many of the Modified faithful that he has stepped into the realm of one of the Tour’s greatest of all-time, he continues to credit his peak performance to the mechanics he works with and the cars they prepare.
“It’s just one of those things where I have been very fortunate to drive for the two teams I’ve driven for the last five years,” he said. “They are championship quality teams ready to go every week. The cars were always prepared and very well put together by both John McKenna when I was in the 52 and now Phil Moran with the 2. That’s where it starts, to have guys in the shop so dedicated, and so knowledgeable of how to get a little extra out of a car.”
The main focus for Coby and the No. 2 Smeriglio team is now the 2016 racing season. Despite the prospect of a third straight championship in the making, it is still business as usual for the defending champions.
“It’s a pain in the a– every year,” Coby chuckled. “Because it doesn’t matter how many you’ve won, you never know how your year is going to start and you never know who’s going to be fast.”
Coby’s closest competition in 2015, Ryan Preece and Woody Pitkat, have both settled into part-time roles on the Tour this season. With a lot of fresh faces and new driver/team pairings, Coby will be looked at as the favorite once again. He won’t be taking anything for granted, however. He knows that other drivers will step up their game and that the 2016 season could be a look into the future strength of the Tour.
“I know a lot of people are saying that with Ryan (Preece) and Woody (Pitkat) being part-time this year, we’re certainly the favorite to win it. I guess given the last two years, it’s probably a fair statement,” Coby declared. “But it doesn’t mean that there aren’t other teams that are perfectly capable of stepping up and challenging for top three finishes every race they go out there. I think a lot of people are going to be surprised by a lot of the new combinations on the Tour and how well they do. I think we’ll be surprised by younger drivers who have a year or two under their belt and they are ready to break out into the top five every race.”
While Coby knows that steady finishes are the best bet for a championship, a boatload of wins can offset any misfortunes during the season, as it did for him last year. The plan moving forward: consistency through winning.
“The Tour will always be about consistent finishes and not having too many bad races. Last year was an anomaly because we had a couple of bad races but we just won so many we were able to make up for it. You have to finish in the top 10 to have a realistic shot at the championship. Now we proved that otherwise by winning a lot, but that’s not typical. We’re excited for the season. I think we can improve upon some things from last year, and if we can do that we’re going to be tough.”
Coby will kick off his bid for three championships in a row this weekend at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park, a track which he’s won the last four races at. Those at the track should keep an eye on the No. 2, not only because he’ll be at the front but also because he’s establishing himself as one of the all-time Modified greats.
Getting to that point hasn’t been easy, but his success proves that anything can be accomplished by digging, grinding and never giving up.
-By Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com State Editor (CT, LI, MA) – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo credit: Speed51.com/Rick Ibsen