THOMPSON – When Doug Coby was a teenager driving in the Late Model division at Stafford Motor Speedway he and his father made a pact.
Actually, it started with a directive from a father who wanted see his son climb the ladder of the sport in full-bodied cars.
“He pointed to a Modified and said ‘You see that thing, you’re never getting in one of those.’” the 35-year old Coby said. “And I didn’t want to.”
That was 1997. Fast forward to Sunday at Thompson Speedway, and the kid that was never supposed to drive a Modified was instead joining an exclusive club that only includes a few of some of the best Modified drivers in racing history.
Coby finished 17th in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season ending Sunoco World Series 150 at Thompson Speedway Sunday to capture his second Whelen Modified Tour championship.
Coby, of Milford, was in his first season driving for team owner Mike Smeriglio III. He won his first championship driving for team owner Wayne Darling.
Coby became the fifth driver in the 30-year history of the series to win multiple championships, joining Mike Stefanik, Tony Hirschman, Jimmy Spencer and Donny Lia with multiple titles.
“I looked at that and that’s pretty cool,” Coby said. “And there’s only two other guys that have done two with two different teams. That’s really important to remember, that this is our first year together.
“We’ve got to maintain for the future but everybody on our team is on board for that. That’s our plan, to go after championships and it’s awesome that it happened the first year together. I’m excited to see what else we can do with it.”
Coby, who has competed with the series regularly since 2003, finished second to Ryan Preece in the Modified Tour standings in 2013, but when Darling decided he would likely go to a part-time schedule for 2014 Coby decided that his best option was to leave the organization and take over the open seat with Smeriglio’s organization.
From 2006 to 2013 Todd Szegedy drove for Smeriglio. Together they had two runner-up finishes in the standings, but they never got a championship.
“I’m at a loss for words,” Coby said. “This was a very tough winter for a lot of people. Racing is a tough sport and you make decisions to move forward. Everybody on this team made a tough decision this winter. They made some driver changes, some crew changes and the plan paid off. This is all about Mike Smeriglio and this team and this family and all the hard work they put in on the Modified Tour. He is the most deserving car owner in the pit area to get this championship. Phil Moran is a top notch crew chief, he knows what he’s doing and the guy can put a car together and this is really about those two. It’s a great feeling to be able to drive this car and represent them.”
While Coby was celebrating the championship, he wasn’t celebrating the clinching day at Thompson. Running 10th on lap 144, Coby hit the wall in turn two, causing a right front flat and he ended up crashed in the turn four wall. He ended up two laps down from the leaders in the final running order. Coming into Sunday he had finished in the top-10 in the first 12 events of the season, with one victory.
“The whole weekend kind of sucked pretty much,” Coby said. “[Saturday] was a debacle with the rain and having the car on the track when the rain came [during qualifying]. Then the starting field was expanded which was something we weren’t really counting on happening and we just had to deal with it because we have no say. Then today we had a pretty good car. I was giving people some room, not letting anybody get to the my left front tire and shove me up the track.”
“I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t get a top-10. No champion has ever finished with a top-10 in every race on the Modified Tour during a championship season and we were in position to do that [late in the race] and I bopped the wall in turn two and flattened the right front tire and then got penalized for deliberately bringing out a caution.”
Coby came into the event with a 28-point lead in the standings over Ted Christopher of Plainville. Christopher was the only driver with a mathematical chance of overtaking Coby in the standings in the final event.
Christopher was involved in a lap 140 crash and finished 20th and fell to fifth in the season’s final standings. Preece, with his victory Sunday, jumped from sixth to second in the standings, ending the season 22 points behind Coby. Preece also finished second to Coby in the standings in 2012.
Coby said the championship only sets the table for what’s to come with the team.
“I’m happy that we did it,” Coby said. “It doesn’t mean that we can not do it again. We have to do it again. There’s only one way to go from here. There are things we can improve upon and I think we’re going to do that. Now everybody on the team can relax because we won the championship and now it’s time to focus on building our program and building our relationships together so it can last the next five or 10 years.”