Q&A with young hotshoe JT Coupal
JT Coupal (on the right in this photo) finished on Spec Miata podiums before he got his driver’s license! Now he’s competing for wins every time he hits the track. We recently caught up with JT to learn more about his background and goals.
First, tell us a little about yourself.
I’m 16 years old (going to be a Junior in high school) and am from Rochester, New York. I grew up – and continue to grow up – in the Finger Lakes Region, meaning I’ve been to Watkins Glen countless times as a spectator and finally this past spring as a driver. While racing is my passion, I also enjoy and am interested in creative writing/journalism and marine biology.
When did you start racing – and in what?
I started racing karts in 2011 at a local sprint course. I competed there for two years before branching out into WKA’s Gold Cup series, where I raced one season. I then happened across a WKA Road Racing event (where you race much faster karts on standard road courses such as VIR, Mid-Ohio, Daytona, Summit Point, etc.), which was intriguing enough to constitute a shift in focus to the series. I competed in the 2013 season, winning 13 races and two national championships across two classes. The following year was spent taking multiple Skip Barber schools. Then came the decision on what to do next; the eventual answer of course being racing with Flatout!
What was the transition to cars like?
Once I finished the Skip Barber classes I knew I wanted to go into car racing, but I didn’t know where or how. I decided my strengths lie in sports cars. After much searching, we found Flatout and in the fall of 2015, I competed in my first SCCA race at Palmer in the #90 rental car, landing on the podium in ITS/STL. After another race at Thompson, we as a family worked to make a decision for the next step. We considered all options and the advice given to us from multiple sources before settling on Spec Miata. We chose this not only because it’s the most competitive amateur series around, but also because we knew we would get a competitive car from Flatout, as well as the indispensable race-day support.
You seem to get a lot of energy and support from your family.
It’s a cliché, but I couldn’t be doing any of this without them. They make everything happen no matter the difficulty or inconvenience, not to mention financial outlay. The commitment they show is incredible, and I hope to be able to reciprocate their efforts with future successes built on their current sacrifices.
Does your karting experience translate to racing Miatas?
The main skill I’ve gotten out of karting that aids me in SM is definitely car control. It’s not a stretch to say that the fastest way in a kart is usually at least somewhat sideways, and while that is certainly not the way in a Miata, it does allow me to deal with different situations in the car much better than I would otherwise. Obviously, changing gears was a new thing for me when I jumped from karts, but perhaps more than that was the sensation of body roll and suspension loading. Karts don’t have suspension as such, so I had to learn about weight transfer and its effect on handling.
So what does the future hold?
As far as racing is concerned, my goal is to go pro. Everyone wants to do what they love and make money doing it, and I can’t say I’m any different. I’m open to any and all opportunities in professional racing, and I think I can make it if I make all the right decisions and never stop improving. Outside of racing, I definitely want to go to college and if racing does not become my source of income, I would love to pursue a career in automotive journalism (and other forms of writing). Ideally of course I’d love to be a professional driver who writes about cars on the side!