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It was a dream season for Doug Coby, who six weeks after hoisting the championship trophy for the first time, still struggles to put to words what it means to be known as the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion.
“I don’t even think I really know what it means yet because I never really expected it,” Coby said. “It wasn’t something I thought was a realistic possibility. To be honest, I don’t know if it’s really sunk in yet. Maybe the banquet will help the team and myself realize what a huge accomplishment it is.”
As Coby and his fellow regional touring champions descend upon Charlotte, N.C., next week for the NASCAR Touring Series Awards, it’s an opportunity to reflect on the championship-winning season of the 33-year-old from Milford, Conn.
To say it was improbable is probably not accurate. Coby had won races before. The No. 52 Reynolds Auto Wrecking Chevrolet team had won races before. But one could say the title campaign was unforeseen. Neither party had previous won – or even contended for – a Whelen Modified Tour championship.
To appreciate how they got there, let’s first rewind half a decade.
After coming up through the Connecticut racing ranks, Coby landed his first full-time Whelen Modified Tour ride in 2003, where he had stable employment through the 2006 season. What followed was a four-year odyssey where he competed in 30 of 59 events for nine different car owners.
Instead of lamenting his lack of stability, or perhaps considering hanging up the helmet, Coby made the most of his opportunities.
“I’ve always been somebody who could adapt to change very well,” Coby said. “I like mixing things up in my life. I kind of learned back maybe in my early 20s that things in racing aren’t always going to the way you planned and sometimes good things happened when you think you’re at your worst.
“It was definitely not what I had planned for 2007 to 2010, but it was really kind of needed, and was probably one of the biggest positive parts of my career. Most people look at is as a negative, ‘When are you going to get a full-time ride?,’ and I kept telling people, ‘It will come, it will come if it is meant to be.,’ and it came with the 52. We kind of showed that we were really getting along well from the beginning.” [AUDIO: Coby talks about his stint as a part-time driver]
The last of those nine car owners to give him a shot was Wayne Darling, who ok’d a crew member’s suggestion to put Coby behind the wheel of the No. 52 for the 2010 season finale at Thompson International Speedway. Coby was leading the race with four laps to go before a fluke mechanical issue forced the team to settle for a third-place finish. But the success of the one-off deal laid the groundwork for the future. [AUDIO: Coby talks about how he ended up with the No. 52 team]
After teaming up in the offseason, their first campaign together resulted in a fifth-place finish in the season standings, highlighted by a victory in both the points and exhibition races at Thompson in September. It was a good season, but hardly an indicator of what would happen in 2012. The No. 52 team’s performance in 2012 – that was unforeseen.
Following an eighth-place finish in the opener, Coby drove the B-52 – the team’s nickname for the car, after the famed bomber aircraft – to Victory Lane in four of the next six races.
Coby had two wins in 116 Whelen Modified Tour starts prior to the season. In a six-race stretch he had tripled his career total.
Despite the wildly-successful start, Coby can’t put his finger on a time or place where he became comfortable with the realization that they were championship contenders. [AUDIO: Coby talks about becoming a title contender]
“We had never won a championship before, so I don’t think any of us knew what it took to be a championship-caliber team,” Coby said. “We were always thinking, ‘Do we have the right people, do we have the right equipment, do we have the right driver, are we making the right decisions with tires?’’
“I kind of thought that if we could make it through the summer stretch of Stafford, Thompson and Loudon that we would be in pretty good contention for the championship, but you really never know,” Coby said.
It wasn’t all roses for Coby en route to the title, however. After seven-consecutive podiums the team suffered three-straight finishes outside the top 10. A stabilizing fifth and final win came at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Race 12 of 14, and set them back on track for the crown.
“We had those three bad races in a row, and you couldn’t have predicted that, because we were running well at every track up to that point,” Coby said. “I don’t necessarily know when it is that you realize you have a championship-caliber team where you’re going to win a championship until the checkered flag flies at Thompson at the end of the year. All I know is this year we were the best of the bunch and my guys are really deserving of it.”
On Saturday, Dec. 8 Coby and the No. 52 team will finally get to take possession of the 2012 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship trophies as part of the NASCAR Touring Series Awards ceremonies in the Charlotte Convention Center and NASCAR Hall of Fame. The awards ceremony is slated to be streamed live online in three languages – English French and Spanish – at www.nascarhometracks.com.
Coby attended the event last year to support and celebrate the championship season of his friend and fellow competitor, Ron Silk, and is looking forward to trading roles this time around.
“I’m excited to go down there and do the whole thing,” Coby said. “I’m glad I went last year to see what it was like with Ron [Silk]. It was a cool experience to be there last year with him – one of my good friends – and it’s nice to know that I’ve got a lot of people going down there and they’re going to feel the same way about me and my team being there. We’re definitely ready to soak it all in.”
But like any driver who has had a taste of the ultimate prize, Coby is already thinking about what it will take to do it all over again in 2013.
“We’ll have some fun next week, then it’s time to focus on next April.”
A perfectionist, Coby actually came up short of his own personal goal this year - he wanted to finish in the top 10 in every race. He was able to do it in 11 of 14 events, a tour-high. 122 West photo for NASCAR