24 Nov 2021 | 08:45
In just two hours, Doug Coby transformed from a little-known short-track racer into a household name, live on national television in front of a sold-out crowd at Stafford Motor Speedway in Connecticut.
It’s the beauty of SRX on CBS — a local modified champion being able to beat legendary racers from NASCAR, IndyCar and sports car racing in the series’ debut. Among those Coby flew past Saturday night were 2021 Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves and three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Tony Stewart. He then fought back against 19-time Cup winner Greg Biffle in the final two laps to claim the first ever SRX trophy as the local track ringer.
To do it, Coby gave up a potential shot at a record-tying seventh Whelen Modified Series title, missing a race at Oswego Speedway up in New York. Instead, the 41-year-old from Milford, CT scored one for the little guys, racing at small tracks across the country who dream they could beat the best in the sport, if only given a chance in equal equipment.
That risk was rewarded.
“If it takes one more year to tie a great like [Mike Stefanik],” Coby said. “I’m happy to wait.”
Here’s more on Coby while piecing together five takeaways from the first SRX race in history.
1) Don’t sleep on the locals. Coby was picture perfect in utilizing the SRX format to his advantage. He gained four positions from 10th in Heat 1, leaving him mid-pack with better track position when the 12-car field inverted for Heat 2. Then, he charged ahead, passing Michael Waltrip with two laps remaining to get up front for the main feature.
It was smooth sailing from there, Coby leading 80 of 100 laps before fending off that challenge from Biffle on the final restart. The only awkward moment came when Coby slipped while jumping atop his vehicle to salute the fans.
“The only thing I screwed up tonight was my exit,” Coby said. “I’d do it all over again if that’s what it takes to win this race.”
The 30-race feature winner at Stafford set a high bar for local All-Stars picked each week to challenge the SRX full-timers. It’s a reminder a racing David can still tackle Goliath when the playing field gets leveled out.
An emotional Coby dedicated the win to his former Modified owner and friend Don King, who passed away last week. It’s people like King who are important in the industry, opening the door at a grassroots level for people to learn, then potentially move up into the highest levels of NASCAR.
“This is an opportunity,” Coby said. “To show people who believe in somebody that 20 years later, they might do something good.”
2) NASCAR short track surprises. While Stewart had a decent night, finishing third, it was a pair of NASCAR drivers you didn’t expect up front. Greg Biffle and Michael Waltrip, who went 0-for-247 for their NASCAR Cup career on short tracks, led a total of 81 laps on Saturday night.
Biffle impressed the most, leading all 36 laps from the pole to capture Heat 1. Then, after a wreck in Heat 2 forced him to a backup car in the feature, he weaved through traffic to lead 13 laps, giving Coby a run for his money.
“Got rear ended under caution and had to go to a backup car with 47 practice [laps on the tires],” he said on Twitter. “Was able to come back and fight for the lead!! [SRX Co-founder] Ray Evernham built some awesome cars.”
Waltrip was less fortunate, leading 32 laps in the second heat before Coby blew by him. That seemed to take the wind out of his sails.
“I got sideways [off 2],” Waltrip said. “And then Doug ate me up.”
But both drivers impressed, in particular Waltrip who is fighting for the SRX Championship.
3) Ernie who? Ernie Francis, Jr. the youngest SRX driver at age 23, is the least known of the full-time competitors despite his seven Trans-Am titles. But it was Francis, not a mainstay from NASCAR or IndyCar, who was the only one to score top-5 finishes in both heats.
He held his own in the feature, slipping to sixth on the final restart after being within striking distance of a win. It’s an eye-opening result and a boost for sports car racing that shows he’ll be a factor all season long.
4) IndyCar had an off night. The quartet of stars have a tough challenge for this series based on IROC. In that racing All-Star league, which ran until 2006, the last open-wheel champion was Al Unser, Jr. way back in 1988.
Paul Tracy spun off Michael Waltrip’s bumper for the first caution flag of the night. He’d later get lapped. Indy 500 winner Castroneves was involved in two incidents, although he did recover to gain seven spots (11th to 4th) in the main event.
Marco Andretti did impress, moving up from shotgun on the field and drawing praise from other drivers watching on Twitter. But Andretti popped a tire in the main event and dropped from contention.
Tony Kanaan? He just wasn’t very fast, no better than 5th in any race. It leaves the open-wheel set with a little hole to shovel out of heading to the dirt of Knoxville, Iowa next weekend.
5) SRX didn’t just survive. It thrived. Sold-out crowd. Nine lead changes in the main event. An action-packed flurry of side-by-side racing. Only one driver (Bill Elliott) with mechanical failure. A Cinderella upset winner.
I’d call that a solid start for SRX.
“The whole concept was to have fun and celebrate motorsports,” Stewart said after the race. “I think this was a perfect example of that tonight.
“Let’s go five more weeks and do the same thing at five more tracks.”