NWMT • December 05, 2014
Second Title For Driver Secures Long-Awaited First For Team
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Dec. 4, 2014) - "Patience is a virtue." "Good things come to those who wait." "Great works are performed not be strength but by perseverance."
Pick your favorite quote about fortitude. Chances are, it will apply to Doug Coby, the driver whose enduring patience has resulted in two NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championships in the last three years.
In an age where rising stock car racers emerge seemingly younger by the year, Coby didn’t get a shot in a championship-caliber ride until age 32. It was an opportunity, at one point, he thought may never come.
The Milford, Connecticut, native made his first Whelen Modified Tour start in 2002 at 23 and his first full-time season was 2004. While he competed with only two different teams up through the 2007 campaign, Coby had yet to reach his potential. Eventually instability set in.
Coby spent the 2008-10 seasons bouncing around from team to team, making spot starts here and there with no real direction. It was during that period, however, that Coby actually felt that he became more stable as a driver.
"Right around the time when I turned 30, I felt that I was at the top of my game driving a modified," Coby said. "I had made a couple of changes like where I was working and how I was approaching life and approaching racing. I knew my attitude was in the right spot for me to start driving better."
Instead of getting impatient or discouraged at the lack of stability in when he was racing and who he was racing for, Coby embraced the opportunity to learn more about different teams and cars, and to showcase his talent.
"I was really comfortable in the car, comfortable at the different tracks we were racing at, and I really got to explore a lot of different teams by driving one or two races a year for a bunch of different people," Coby said. "That promoted me a lot to the series, which allowed for different opportunities to come my way."
In 2011 Coby latched on with Darling Racing and ran a full season for the first time in five years. A fifth place finish in the final standings was the best of his career to that point. One year later he was a champion.
After a runner-up finish in his title defense, Coby moved to Mike Smeriglio III Racing for the 2014 season. Expectations were high. Very high. The MSIII team was itching for a title, and Smeriglio identified Coby as the driver to succeed in that mission.
"There was a plan in place from Mike to pull all of the pieces that he would need to put a championship team together," Coby said. "From the first time that we all sat down together, winning a championship was kind of what we set out to do from the beginning."
Even though Coby had matured, had proven that he could win a title, and had confidence that he was at his peak; the new situation was a lot of pressure.
"That was kind of the nerves that I had of coming to the team," Coby said. "I was brought to the team to do a specific thing: to win a championship. In the beginning that kind of made me think, ’What if this doesn’t happen?’ Not only what if it doesn’t happen this year, but what if it doesn’t happen at all? What if this whole experiment is a failure?
"I could kind of tell pretty quickly, from what I knew of (crew chief) Phil Moran and the equipment they were bringing on board, that we were going to have everything we needed to win a championship. But I know from my own experience that you can’t count on all of that stuff coming to fruition."
All of the elements came together exactly as planned though, and in immediate fashion. Coby drove the No. 2 Dunleavy’s Truck & Trailer Repair/HEX Performance Chevrolet to victory in the pre-season UNOH Battle At The Beach on the temporary short track at Daytona International Speedway in their very first race together. The points season that followed included another win at Connecticut’s Stafford Motor Speedway and consistent top finishes that saw the No. 2 sit outside the top five only four times in 13 races.
"We thought we had a good team on paper and we backed it up with our performance. That was really important to all of us," Coby said. "Everybody may have talked about us as being a championship contender, but we actually went out and did it, and that was a really cool feeling for us throughout the year."
So even though the mission was accomplished, the expectations that were formed last winter when the Coby-Smeriglio partnership came together, well, they’re not going away anytime soon.
"I want people to look at the 2 car, and look at me driving it, and say if you want to win a points championship then it’s going to go through us," Coby said of his expectations heading into a 2015 title defense.
Now five years beyond what he originally identified as the peak of his racing acumen, and with two championships to his credit, Coby has another opportunity to self-evaluate.
"I feel like right now at 35, I’m the same driver that I was at 30, I just have better opportunities now to show that," Coby said.
Coby will be formally crowned as just the fifth multi-time titlist in Whelen Modified Tour history when he receives the championship ring and trophy at the NASCAR Touring Series Awards on Dec. 13 in the Charlotte (North Carolina) Convention Center at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
CHAMPION CAR OWNER: Mike Smeriglio III
NASCAR is a passion-driven sport. Passsion from the competitors, from the team personnel, and especially from the fans. Few bring more passion than newly-minted NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion car owner Mike Smeriglio III.
One of the best brand ambassadors in the Whelen Modified Tour garage, Smeriglio’s effervescent demeanor and willingness to help out in any way he can buoys his team as well as the entire tour contingent. It’s not uncommon for Smeriglio to loan a back-up car to a competing team that encountered issues and was in danger of not being able to participate in a race, or to give an opportunity for a younger driver to race a second team entry.
"The people in the garage, the officials, the track owners; it’s my second family," Smeriglio said. "You treat those the way you want to be treated back. I’ve always been given a lot of respect in this series, and because of that it’s my way of giving back."
The relationships he has forged on the Whelen Modified Tour are the effect, but Smeriglio’s passion is the cause.
"It’s a level of NASCAR that I always wanted to be a part of," Smeriglio said. "That goes back to my early days at Danbury. It’s what my dad had a passion for and it was in my blood from a young age. I just love the sport. I just love the modifieds."
Smeriglio’s first exposure to stock car racing came at the now defunct Danbury Racearena in his native Connecticut at the age of four. His father was involved with a couple of different teams there, and it was a standing Saturday night appointment for Smeriglio through his teens.
The experience left an indelible impression.
"That’s where the love of the sport originated for me," Smeriglio said. "Outside of family and business, my next passion is NASCAR."
An accountant and financial planner, Smeriglio’s entry point into NASCAR racing on the other side of the fence came in the late 1990s when he became the owner of Frank Wainwright’s SK Modified team at another famed Connecticut oval, Stafford Motor Speedway. When Wainwright retired, Smeriglio co-owned the No. 47 Stafford SK with various drivers until an opportunity came along to go tour racing.
A resident of Greenwich, Connecticut, Smeriglio bought his first Whelen Modified Tour car from the No. 50 team that was closing up shop two years after a championship with driver Todd Szegedy. Smeriglio was able to attain Szegedy for his new No. 2 Mike Smeriglio III Racing team for their first season together in 2006.
Smeriglio finished as the championship runner-up twice with Szegedy, and had five other seasons in the top five of the final standings, but they were never able to break through for the title. After 10 wins together, the pairing parted ways after the 2013 season and Smeriglio went out and got Doug Coby, a driver just one year removed from his first championship.
For the financial planner Smeriglio, it was an investment that provided immediate returns: the long-awaited championship.
And Smeriglio’s valuation of the asset he invested in?
"Doug Coby really is the complete package as a driver," Smeriglio said. "He’s talented, smart, calculated, easy on the equipment, and he’s always there at the end. He may not lead all of the laps, but when the checkered flag nears, he’s always in the best position that he’s been in for the entire race."
Coby may have been the final piece to Smeriglio’s puzzle, but one piece already in place took great satisfaction in seeing the mission finally accomplished, the No. 2 team’s veteran crew chief Phil Moran.
"To win the championship for him is great," Moran said. "He’s finished second, third and fourth in the points before, so to see the joy in his face in the last race at Thompson was just incredible. It was really, really good to win it for him, and to win it for the guys that have been with Mike for a long time and have been close before."
Moran has great respect for his boss, who takes a hands-off approach when it comes to the technical aspects of the team, and serves in more of a coach and motivator.
"Working for him is incredible," Moran said. "He’s the best kind of boss you could ever want mainly because he has the trust in me and the team to do what we need to do.
"He’s very competitive. He wants to win practice, he wants to win time trials and he wants to win the race, but he’s very upbeat all of the time. He never gets down."
Smeriglio’s resolve has been tested through his journey to this first title though. He had the championship within reach in the 2011 finale, but a late-race accident ended the dream.
"That was the most difficult one to swallow, but you hear it often that you have to lose one to win one," Smeriglio said. "Well, I’ve lost two, so hopefully we’ll win a second one to make up for it."
For a person as passionate and as driven as Smeriglio, there will certainly be some time to reflect on this year’s accomplishments, but he’s also more than ready to turn the page.
"I’m really looking forward to the banquet and celebrating with the guys, and as much as I am excited about what took place in 2014, I’m even more excited about the opportunity in 2015," Smeriglio said. "I think we’ve got a great package, and we’re making the team even better moving forward."
CHAMPION CREW CHIEF: Phil Moran
Long considered one of the elite crew chiefs on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, the case for that exclusive status was significantly bolstered in 2014 when Phil Moran added a second tour title to his rÃ©sumÃ©
A second championship, which came with a different driver and car owner, and in a different era of Whelen Modified Tour competition.
Originally from Preston, Connecticut, Moran got his start in NASCAR modified racing in 1985 with car owner Art Barry and driver Greg Sacks. He’s attained varied experience along the way, including his first Whelen Modified Tour title in 2003 with driver Todd Szegedy and car owner Don Barker.
Barker sold his team to Mike Smeriglio III after the 2005 season and Moran went to work for Chassis Dynamics before eventually returning to the tour to work with Szegedy and Smeriglio and manage the team’s shop in Newtown, Connecticut.
In 2014, Moran was able to lead this team to its first Whelen Modified Tour title with Doug Coby behind the wheel.
"Doug is very meticulous, he thinks out every race," Moran said. "We’ll talk about strategy before the race starts and nine times out of 10 we’re on the same page. That’s a big thing for us to be on the same page. Usually we’re right on the money right out of the box as far as what we’re going to do for a race."
Being on that same page showed in the results. The team posted a tour-high 12 top 10 finishes across the 13-race season.
"The consistency that we had with Doug was a lot better," Moran said. "We finished consistently in the top five - we only had four finishes out of the top five - so that was the biggest significance to this championship."
With the championship-winning team remaining intact, Moran feels confident in a title defense.
"There are a lot of good teams out there; Ryan Preece is going to be tough with his new deal, Woody Pitkat is going to be tough, but we’re going to be tough too," Moran said. "We know that we’re going to be a team to be reckoned with right out of the truck."
Moran certainly isn’t going to rest on the team’s 2014 laurels though. They’re making a full team switch in chassis from Troyer to LFR, and they will utilize the spec engine for a number of races to complement their two Bob Bruneau built motors.
"You’ve got to keep on moving forward to be the best," Moran said. "We’re just getting the best bullet in our gun that we can get."
Smeriglio entrusts Moran for all racing related decision the team makes. The aforementioned major changes for next season following a championship are a perfect example.
"My business is as an accountant and financial planner, and I don’t have any sophisticated or technical knowledge as it pertains to race cars, so I give complete reign of the racing side of the operation to Phil, and I couldn’t be more proud of what he has done for the No. 2 team," Smeriglio said. "He’s been the best crew chief that I’ve ever had and hopefully we both retire together."
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