As every NHRA season winds down and Silly Season gets up to operating temperature, changes in team personnel in every professional category are not only expected, they are a certainty. Sometimes the rumor mill is right on. Other times, it misses by a mile. And, sometimes it winds up somewhere in between.
Following the season finale in Pomona, Calif., earlier this month, a couple unofficial reports surfaced concerning David Nickens' Team Mopar Pro Stock operation. The first was that Jeg Coughlin would either join the Mopar effort or his own team would switch from Chevrolets to Dodges in 2002. The second rumor was that Mark Osborne would be replaced as one of the team's drivers next year.
Two weeks ago, the proposal for Team Jeg's to make the change to Neons declined and the Coughlin brothers -- Jeg and Troy -- will continue to campaign Cavaliers in 2002. This week, Nickens ended speculation about a team shake-up by confirming that Osborne would return next year, along with Darrell Alderman.
"It's a done deal," said Nickens, a Houston-based engine builder and former Competition Eliminator champion. "Mark will be back next year."
The news will undoubtedly be favorably received by Mopar fans after Osborne finished seventh in the standings in 2001. In four final-round appearances, he won once. Osborne, who also took the top qualifying spot twice, set a new NHRA national top speed record at Maple Grove in October of 204.35 mph.
Osborne replaced former Mopar veteran Scott Geoffrion at the beginning of last season, a move that was considered somewhat of a surprise by many within the sport. Geoffrion's good looks and bad boy image next to teammate Alderman helped define Mopar's Pro Stock personality.
But since 1991, the picture within the Dodge drag racing operation has been in a state of almost constant change. The announcement that Osborne will be back for 2002 will help reduce the impact to the team that another personnel move might have had.
The 2002 season gets underway on Feb. 7-10 with the Winternationals at the Fairplex in Pomona.