ALEX LAUGHLIN – 2016 NHRA SEASON RECAP + Q&A

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We caught up with Gas Monkey Energy NHRA Pro Stock driver, Alex Laughlin, on how his 2016 season went, what it was like to win his 1st NHRA Pro Stock event and obtaining his Top A/Fuel License.

GMG: This year was your 1st full season in NHRA – how did the season go and what were some of the highs and lows during any points of the season? 

ALEX:  The season started off a lot better than we finished last year since we had a more competitive car. We consistently qualified in the top half of the field from the beginning of the season, something we never did at all last year. I only had about 40 passes in the car combined in 2015, so I still needed to dial in at the start of this season.

We really started picking up momentum about halfway through the season and picked up our first win in St Louis. My idea of a perfect season is to win a round, qualify number one, make the countdown to the championship, and win a race. We did all of those things in 2016 with the exception of making the countdown, so all in all, it was a solid season.

GMG: What was it like to win your 1st NHRA Wally?

ALEX: It was an unbelievable feeling. The whole day passed by so fast, from one round to the next. When I coasted to the end of the track and realized I had won; it was something that words can’t describe. Honestly, I’m relieved to get my 1st win under my belt.

Alex Laughlin with his first Wally in St. Louis

GMG: When was the exact moment it hit you that you earned your 1st NHRA Pro Stock win?

ALEX: The point when it really hit me was after I pulled the parachutes and saw my win light come on as the car coasted silently down the top end of the racetrack. It was a feeling of calm relief.

GMG: Is it common for drivers to win in their 1st full season?

ALEX: Many of the of other drivers have raced for 5+ years and never won a race. Doing it in my first full season is a huge accomplishment, a defining moment for my team and a relief from the weight of not winning lifting off my shoulders. It energized me and I, of course, want to do it again.

GMG: Was it your 1st final?

ALEX: Yes, St. Louis was my first ever final-round appearance which lead up from the race prior in Charlotte where we made it to the semi-finals a week before. I was breaking new ground, but I felt confident.

GMG: Did your pre-race preparation change before your 1st final or did you keep it the same as any other round?

ALEX: Before the final, there wasn’t much time to think since we didn’t have long to get the car turned around and back to the starting line. It was kind of a blur really. It finally hit me when we pulled the car out of the pit and my competitive instincts started to kick in.

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GMG: Were you nervous at all or were you able to focus easily? 

ALEX: You know, I wasn’t nervous. There was something about that day – I was more focused and intense than I’ve ever been. Since then, I’ve tried to find that same mindset and recreate it by remembering that day’s routine, I even tried to remember my diet that day and week leading up to St Louis.

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GMG: What was your mindset going? Did you feel like getting to the final round was kind of a win already or was it all or nothing for you?

ALEX: I felt that going to the final was a win no matter the outcome. My opponent, Bo Butner, and I both had never won and it was just cool to me that there was going to be a 1st time NHRA Pro Stock winner that day. Of course, I was elated to get my first win, but I would have been happy for Bo if he ended up winning.

GMG: What was it like sharing the moment with your Dad, Kenny (Laughlin)?

ALEX: Seeing the look of excitement and relief on my dad’s face was something that I’ve always wanted to give him since it’s not something that’s easy to do. That day was just as special to him as it was for me.

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Chuck Ness (left) and Kenny Laughlin (right).

GMG: What’s it like having your Wally around after the weekend and did he ride on the plane with you? 

ALEX: Yes! I took the Wally straight to the airport with me, ran it through the TSA X-Rays and everything. Now it’s at home proudly displayed on my mantle.

GMG: This year you obtained your license so you can race a Nitro Dragster. How did the foray into that class go for you? Is getting your Top A/Fuel License an entrée to Top Fuel?

ALEX: It went well. Having a Top Alcohol license is definitely the step before Top Fuel. The car will run over 275mph while a Top Fuel car hits speeds up to 330 mph. That’s appealing.

I’d love to race Top Fuel. The speed is so intriguing, and it’s a bit more marketable than Pro Stock. Casual NHRA fans don’t understand Pro Stock as much as hardcore fans do and what it takes to make the cars perform the way they do. In Top Fuel, the cars are faster, blow fire, and sometimes blow up – that’s what the spectators like to see.

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GMG: Will you continue in Pro Stock or is Top Fuel where you want to be eventually?

ALEX: While Top Fuel is appealing, Pro Stock is my favorite. It’s a driver’s class and the driver’s job is just as important as anyone else’s. I love going down the race track with one hand on the steering wheel and the other shifting through five gears.

GMG: How did you like the NHRA post season awards dinner in LA? 

ALEX: The banquet was fun. It was hard to sit there in my seat while the Top 10 drivers were up on the stage. The MC said to the entire ballroom that I missed it by 2 points and I would have been the one to give the world champ a run for their money. Tough, but at the same time – nice to get the recognition.

Alex Laughlin and his wife Sierra
Alex Laughlin and his wife Sierra

GMG: What are some of the learnings you took away from this season that you’ll take into next?

ALEX: I learned a ton as far as what works for me and my own driving style. I decided I like to let the clutch out with my heel instead of the ball of my foot. I learned how to focus on the tree differently so I can react to the light faster.

I’m so appreciative of the fans and support we received – sometimes more than any other team across the various classes. Everyone has been so receptive and supportive of our efforts and I look forward to feeding off our many fans heading into the 2017 season.

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