Come every spring, for almost two decades, Doug Coby has been relentless in the pursuit of a single goal.
NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour excellence.
The 42-year-old now has 31 victories in 259 starts on the most prestigious regional short track tour in the country. His six championships make him a no-brainer to join Richie Evans, Jerry Cook and Mike Stefanik in Charlotte at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Coby has already accomplished more than he ever could have imagined, but the grind had started to feel routine and overly familiar. While winning at the highest level of the discipline remains a thrill, Coby was looking for something akin to a second wind approaching his 40s.
"I admit that I had started to look for something to rekindle the spark," Coby told Racing America on Monday. "Sometimes, you get so deep into what you’re doing and for 20 years, that was winning Modified Tour races and championships."
Ray Evernham set the fuse when he made the call asking Coby to serve as the first local ace for the inaugural SRX event at Stafford Motor Speedway on June 12. Coby lit the fuse when he emerged victorious at his sold-out home track in an event watched by over a million viewers on CBS.
The race at Stafford was won with GMS Racing president Mike Beam serving as the celebrity crew chief. Beam rewarded Coby with his NASCAR Truck Series debut in September at Bristol Motor Speedway. Coby completed all 200 laps at Thunder Valley and finished 12th after starting 30th with no practice or qualifying laps to his name.
Coby missed his first NASCAR Whelen Modified race in a decade to race with SRX but did win at Riverhead Raceway for the first time in 20 Tour appearances on May 15. He backed it up with another victory on Long Island on June 20.
That one was personal too, having lost races at Riverhead in every conceivable fashion over the years.
The chance for a seventh championship will come later but the value of winning a race at home against the likes of Tony Stewart, Marco Andretti, Ernie Francis, Tony Kanaan, Michael Waltrip and Indianapolis 500 winner Hélio Castroneves couldn’t be quantified.
Coby has never been a bucket list kind of guy.
He has already accomplished more than he ever expected. He doesn’t need to make a Cup Series start to validate his career. He doesn’t view a seventh championship as any more meaningful as the six that preceded it.
Coby simply wanted to have fun doing something different while providing a positive spotlight for short track racing.
"I am proud that I made a Truck Series start, only because I ran every lap and finished on the lead lap without any practice," Coby said. "They'll never be able to say he couldn't do it in a national series.
"But SRX fulfilled a lot of different things for me. It opened my eyes to a world outside of Tour Type Modifieds. It has me thinking about Super Late Models somewhere down the road. I was able to support my series, even if I didn't race in my series this night."
That is kind of indicative to where Coby is these days.
Coby and Justin Bonsignore have become the faces of Tour Type Modified racing alongside Ron Silk and Matt Hirschman. They’re fierce competitors but also ambassadors. They are drivers that fans pay to see race.
It’s a responsibility that Coby is starting to better embrace as he gets older.
"I’ve made mistakes in that role and not always lived up to that role," Coby said. "But I do feel like I’ve graduated into that role with Ryan Preece and Ron Silk. There is such an appetite for short track racing right now and its personalities.
"I’ve been the guy that couldn’t find the funding to race a full season, and now I’m the car owner and that is a whole other set of challenges too. I’ve lived all the roles.
"My reasons for wanting to race have changed over the past 10 years and that’s just come with getting older. Changing perspectives. Hopefully, I get to continue promoting short track racing and Modified racing."
To that point, Coby expects to be at New Smyrna for the Whelen Modified Tour season opener in February during Speedweeks. He hopes to make the second race at Richmond in April too. From there, if things get off to a positive start, maybe that seventh championship will be within reach.
Or maybe additional extraordinary opportunities present themselves in the same way they did in 2021, too.
"I don’t have any ongoing discussions right now beyond making sure we’re ready for New Smyrna," Coby said. "I’d love to race anything, but it comes down to someone wanting to make it happen financially. I’ve kept in touch with the SRX guys and with Mike Beam. You never know what 2022 has in store.
"The most rewarding part of this year is that I didn’t plan for any of it. It was a big deal."