During a “Silly Season” of movement up and down the roster of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, it’s been the most talked about seat vacancy on the series.
Who would fill the seat of the No. 2 Mike Smeriglio III owned Whelen Modified Tour ride? That has been the burning question since it was announced on Nov. 8 that team was parting ways with longtime driver Todd Szegedy.
There’s an answer to that question now.
Doug Coby confirmed to RaceDayCT Thursday evening that he has accepted an offer to join the Smeriglio owned team for next year.
It means the 34-year old Coby will walk away from the Wayne Darling owned organization that carried him to his first series title during a magical 2012 season and a series runner-up finish in 2013.
“This was the most difficult thing I’ve probably ever had to do in making a decision in racing,” Coby said. “My whole career I’ve always been the driver that was passed over on the good rides. I was always right there, but next in line. And here I was with two teams that wanted me. That’s a position I’ve never been in before. I’m grateful for that. I’m leaving on good terms. It’s really like leaving a family behind.”
After four seasons running part-time in the division for a multitude of different teams, Coby returned to full-time competition on the Whelen Modified Tour by bringing Darling’s team together with a team owned by George Bierce, with each team running half the schedule in 2011.
In 2012 Darling, a longtime part-time owner in the series, made the decision to run full-time for the first time and it paid off handsomely. Coby came into the 2012 season with two victories over his first 116 series starts from 2002-2011. In 2012 he had five victories and 11 top-10’s in 14 starts to capture his first series title.
In 2013, despite missing one of the 14 events on the schedule, Coby finished second in the series standings, 31 points behind champion Ryan Preece. He finished the season with two wins and 10 top-10′s in 13 starts.
But there were questions with the Darling organization. Darling confirmed not long after the end of the 2013 season that his team would run part-time in 2014 because of some issues for time commitments from key team personnel. When it became apparent that Coby might leave, Darling made the moves to prepare the team to run full-time again. But Coby said security of stability with Smeriglio’s organization was key.
“It’s a stability thing for me I think,” Coby said. “After the way that my career has gone, one thing that I crave is knowing that I’m stable year-to-year. Not that the [the Darling team] is unstable, but the [Smeriglio team] is just very stable and they’re really looking to go after a championship. From an equipment standpoint and a personnel standpoint, I think both teams are equal. It just seems like the right direction for me to go with right now.”
Coby made his Whelen Modified Tour debut in 2002 driving for team owner Don King. After running three events that season he ran 15 of 18 events for King in 2003. He joined owner Curt Chase in 2003 and it was with Chase that he won his first series event, the Spring Sizzler at Stafford Speedway in 2006. In 2007 Coby ran six of 16 events, four for Chase, one for King and one for Smeriglio.
The 2008 season saw Coby run five of 16 events, all for King. In 2009 he started 11 of 13 races for Bierce and the 2010 season saw him start eight of 14 events in rides owned by Darling, Ralph Solhem, Bob Katon Jr., Bob Santos and Ed Partridge.
Szegedy, the 2003 Modified Tour champion, had been driving for Smeriglio since the start of the 2006 season prior to his release. Szegedy had 10 victories with the team and over eight seasons he finished worse than fifth in the standings only once, in 2013, when he was sixth in the final standings.