Camping World Truck series driver Joey Coulter didn’t come from the traditional racing background that most of today’s drivers have. But at the age of eight, he began racing go-karts. Fast forward to 2009 when he and his family-owned race team began running the ARCA Racing Series full time. In two full seasons, Coulter posted one win, 14 top 5s and 25 top 10s. In 2011, he joined Richard Childress Racing full-time, where he spent two seasons. He took home Rookie of the Year before heading to Victory Lane the following season at Pocono Raceway. Since leaving RCR at the end of the 2012 season, Coulter worked with Kyle Busch Motorsports before heading to GMS Racing at the beginning of this year. The 24-year-old took some time to talk to Beth Lunkenheimer about the early years in the Truck Series, working atop the spotters’ stand and much more.
Beth Lunkenheimer, Frontstretch.com: Let’s start with your career leading up to the deal with Richard Childress Racing. How did that come about?
Joey Coulter: I was in the right place at the right time at the end of 2010, going into 2011. We had finished a couple of solid seasons in ARCA with my family’s team. We were just gearing up to run ARCA again in 2011 and try to run for the championship, and I got a pretty interesting phone call from one of the front desk girls up at RCR, saying Richard wanted to put me in a truck. I thought one of my friends was making some kind of a joke. It turned out it wasn’t–we all sat down in a conference room, worked out a two year contract and had a blast.
At the end of 2012, we got into the sponsorship battle part of it, and the best move for us to make at the time was to make a move to Kyle Busch Motorsports. Unfortunately, we just had a bad year last year with Kyle Busch. I got a really awesome opportunity to drive for GMS this year, and so far, things have really gone super, super well for us.
Lunkenheimer: Going back to RCR when you got that first career win in your sophomore season at Pocono. Can you put into words what it mean when you took the checkered flag?
Coulter: I probably still can’t put it into words. It was just such an awesome experience. You can run as good as you want in any form of racing, but as soon as you get a win, you’re putting your foot down and saying hey, I’m supposed to be here. That’s pretty much what everyone on that team felt. For a lot of the guys on that team, that was their first win in NASCAR too. It was a big deal for a lot of people.
The coolest thing for me was that I don’t think a lot of people expected us to win. I don’t want to say they didn’t think we could because I think a lot of people were pretty sure that we could. I just don’t think a lot of people expected us to because we were kind of an underdog team all the time. For whatever reason, we were really under the radar that year, and to just explode out of there like we did and get that first win and go on an absolute tear to the end of the season to finish third in points, it set up so many good things for us. It was a really rough decision to have to make to leave RCR in the first place.
Lunkenheimer: Excluding the win at Pocono, do you have a race in your career stands out the most to you?
Coulter: It’s hard to say. I’ve been super fortunate to drive for two really amazing owners right out of the box. Driving for Richard for two years and getting the chance to drive for Kyle and all of that backing and support from him and Samantha was great. It was really unfortunate to have the year that we had. That year at KBM was good in a lot of ways. Other than getting that win, being able to say that my first two rides in the sport were with a super top tier owner and another great owner that’s a whale of a race car driver.
Lunkenheimer: You mentioned Kyle Busch. A lot of people – fans and media alike – have bemoaned Kyle Busch’s presence in the Truck Series. Having worked for him in the past, I’m sure you’ve got a different perspective. What’s the biggest thing you’ve been able to learn from him?
Coulter: The biggest thing I learned from him was how to adapt faster to things that either are going your way or aren’t going your way. There were a lot of things last year for us on the No. 18 that didn’t go our way whatsoever, and the only thing we could do about it was adapt and try to make a bad situation good. I learned a lot of that from Kyle and how he deals with his race cars. It’s really hard to get a perfect race car, and I think Kyle is one of the best in the business in taking a not so good race car and making it do things that look good. I learned a lot from him, and a lot of it came from watching and being around him a lot. Watching him and running all those Truck races with him was a pretty big deal.
The reason I enjoy when those guys come back and race with us is because it gives us a chance to see what they do in that environment. You get a lot of information talking to those guys, but racing with them is where you get the good stuff.
Lunkenheimer: GMS Racing is a growing team working to find its foothold in the series. What’s been the hardest lesson as you and the team grow together?
Coulter: The hardest thing for us is learning how to learn. We started off this deal pretty late. I signed a contract right after New Year’s, and we weren’t even in our shop until right before the Daytona test. We had to come from behind, and it put us behind in our R&D and all the stuff we’re trying to get faster and better. The biggest thing has been going through and making the best decisions we can to get the parts we need to get faster fastest. It’s been a lot of fun and I think we’ve done a pretty good job so far. It’s definitely been a challenge for sure.
Lunkenheimer: There are times when you take off the driver hat and put on the spotter hat. What’s the hardest part of transitioning into the spotter role?
Coulter: Probably just the not driving part. For me, it’s hard to be at the race track and not be driving just because I get to run so many races a year. But at the same time, it’s kind of similar; a spotter goes through the same things the driver does other than the physical part of it. It’s neat because you’re playing the chess game but you’re getting to see the bird’s eye view going on. I think a lot of the best spotters out there are good drivers. It’s hard to just teach someone how to spot. I think if you get someone that’s been driving for a while, they’re going to be good at it.
I really enjoy it; it’s a lot of fun. Getting that win the other night for Grant (Enfinger) at Berlin (Raceway) was fantastic because that was a track that I had won at previously. It’s the first time I’ve won a big race as a spotter, so it was cool to be on a different side of victory lane and get to celebrate the same way. It was pretty neat.
Lunkenheimer: Are you able to take away any extra information from your bird’s eye view of the track that’s helpful when you’re behind the wheel?
Coulter: Oh yeah, absolutely. I think I’m going to get a chance to spot for some of the mile-and-a-half ARCA races toward the end of the year. You learn things about the racetrack that we as drivers don’t ever get to see from that angle.
The best example is that I went to the spotters’ tower at Bristol one time and watched Cup practice, and after doing that, I went and got in the truck and everything was different. The whole racetrack was completely different to me after going to that spotters’ tower afterward. Things just made a lot more sense being able to see it all from the top down. I think it’s a huge tool being able to go up there and do that. There’s been tons of tracks where I’ve gone up to the spotters’ tower during Cup and Nationwide practices and just watched everything down on the track that I might not be able to see from where I sit.
Lunkenheimer: What’s the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in your life in favor of your racing career?
Coulter: It’s tough to say. I don’t think there’s every really one big one. There’s a lot of little things. Growing up racing, I missed a lot of best friends’ birthday parties; you get into high school and miss homecoming or prom and thing like that. The biggest thing is that you lose some home time, whether it’s with your family, girlfriend, fiance, wife. You lose a lot of that time because it’s a passion. People call it a sickness and I think they’re right. You can’t help but want to go to the racetrack sometimes. It’s fun, it’s fantastic. I think it takes more sacrifice for the people that have to deal with it. For my fiance Jessica, the list of things she’s given up to follow me to the racetrack is huge. It takes a special person to deal with somebody that’s really into racing like that.
Lunkenheimer: Do you have a favorite race track?
Coulter: It’s hard to pick just one. I’ve always like Pocono a lot because it’s so different and it’s so challenging in so many different ways. The trucks racing there have always been awesome. My other favorite is Iowa. I don’t know why I’ve always liked it, but the first time I ever went there, I was just hooked. I love racing there every year; it puts on a great race for the fans. It’s the perfect size – it’s big enough where you’re running a lot of speed kind of like an intermediate track, but it’s short enough to where you drive it like a short track and you race people like you’re on a short track. It’s great for the fans and it’s a lot of fun for the drivers.
Lunkenheimer: When you’re not racing or spotting, what kinds of things do you like to do to fill your time?
Coulter: When I can, I always head back home to Florida and do a lot of deep sea fishing and scuba diving. When I’m staying in North Carolina, which is where I live now, I do a lot of tinkering. My dad and I have a ’72 Chevelle that we’re working on more than we’re driving. I’m pretty big into RC cars and I do a little iRacing here and there. I’d say 90 percent of it involves some form of racing and some kind of car unless I’m down in Florida.
Lunkenheimer: Are you a stick and ball sports fan?
Coulter: I’m definitely a fan. I couldn’t name probably ten players on any major team, though. I just don’t have time to every really pay attention. I’ll watch football when it’s on and I’ll watch basketball–I’m a Miami Heat and Miami Dolphin fan. I don’t tell too many people, but I’ve been a Dolphins fan since I was a little kid.
Lunkenheimer: Do you have any pre-race rituals or superstitions?
Coulter: My favorite saying in the trailer is that it’s bad luck to be superstitious. Pre-race rituals are tough – I’m a big peanut butter and jelly sandwich fan. I guess that would be my pre-race ritual.
Lunkenheimer: What kind of jelly?
Coulter: Grape. There is no other kind of jelly.
Lunkenheimer: What’s the strangest thing a fan has asked you to autograph?
Coulter: Oh man, that’s tough. I was in Toledo for an ARCA race in 2010, and I was doing an appearance at a Toledo Mudhens game, the minor league baseball team up there, and it was kids day. We brought 500 hero cards and I signed all of them. There were just more people in line. I was signing phones, wallets, purses, everything. This one kid came up and asked if I would sign his forehead. I told him I wouldn’t sign his forehead and that he had to go get one of his parents. The last thing I needed was one of his parents mad at me for doing it. His mom came up and said it would wash off. I ended up signing his forehead for him. I think I was more surprised that the parents OK’d it more than the kid asking for it.