Joey Coulter is one of only a handful of racers to have steered both a Dirt Late Model and a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series machine around the Eldora Speedway. In 2016, the Miami Springs, Fla. native finished 12th in his heat race and came up short in his bid to make the feature for the prestigious World 100 in his only attempt on the Rossburg, Ohio half-mile clay oval in a Late Model. In 2013 and 2014 the 27-year-old driver scored finishes of 4th and 14th on that same track in a truck.
During the NASCAR portion of his career, Coulter amassed a total of 43 top-10 finishes in the Camping World Truck Series, including one victory at Pocono Raceway in 2012. He finished a career high third in the final standings that season while driving for Richard Childress Racing.
According to Coulter, there have been very few times in which he has been a part of a more electric racing atmosphere than the first time the NASCAR CWTS trucks hit the track at Eldora in 2013.
“The first year, especially, it was great and every year since it is probably one of the most unique races out there right now,” Coulter said in an interview with InsideDirtRacing.com. “The first was just wild because, to us, Daytona is our Daytona, but to those folks who go to that race track it’s their Daytona, it was just neat interacting with the fans. I think a lot of them were really excited, but at the same time, we were looking around and wondering ‘what are we doing here?’.”
Coulter said he and most everyone else was confident that the return of one of NASCAR’s major divisions to dirt would prove to be a success. At the same time, there was a touch of uncertainty. The series will visit Eldora once again this Wednesday night(July 19).
“Everybody thought it was going to work, but nobody knew how,” Coulter explained. “We didn’t know what the racing was going to be like and we didn’t know what the trucks were going to be like. I had started to dabble with the Dirt Late Models and I knew pretty quick that wasn’t going to matter because the trucks are so heavy. They have 700 horsepower on a ten inch tire and that’s not anything like a 1300 Hoosier. The first year was definitely different. It was really unique and it was a good time. We finished fourth the first year running for Kyle Busch Motorsports so we definitely liked it right off the bat and had a pretty good run the next year too. It’s definitely a unique race. I wish some of the Late Model stuff applied a little more but they’re just so different that you almost can’t take anything with you.”
So what are the major differences in the feel of a Late Model versus the truck?
“The biggest thing is that the Dirt Late Model is built to handle that kind of surface with the rear end moving the way it does and all the front travels,” Coulter pointed out. “And being on that extra tire, fifteen inches compared to ten inches, is a pretty big difference as far as contact patches go. And the weight is probably the biggest thing. The trucks are 3,400 pounds and the Late Models are 2,350 pounds. Moving all that weight around and moving it in the right direction is a big challenge for those things because they don’t have the four bars(Dirt Late Model suspension), they have truck arm suspension. That made it interesting, but a lot of fun for sure.”
Another big difference between Late Model racing and NASCAR is that dirt racers are not allowed to use rear view mirrors or spotters. Those are two ‘must have’ components on a NASCAR ride.
“It’s hard to explain,” the World of Outlaws Late Models regular decribed. “In the Dirt Late Model you don’t have spotters and you don’t have mirrors but you can see and hear a lot more than you can out of one of those trucks because you’re so closed in and the seats are bulkier. I think that if they want to make it more interesting there for the trucks, they ought to take away the spotters and radios.”
Coulter says that the experience of being involved in the first Camping World Truck Series event on dirt was one of his favorite memories in racing.
“I was really glad we got to be involved in the first one,” he said. “The coolest thing about it is that every year, and they did an amazing job the first year, but Tony Stewart and his crew have made that race better and better every year. The track prep has gotten more dialed in to those trucks. The first year it was all running around the top, there was still good racing and a lot of passing, but the fast groove was up on the top. Every year it seems like the groove is widening out a little more which is going to make it better.”
Coulter’s experience in a Dirt Late Model up to that time proved helpful to his more asphalt oriented truck crew.
“I remember in the heat races I knocked the end of the spoiler in and crunched the quarter panel pretty good,” he recalled. “In between the heats and the feature we were allowed to do a little body work and the guys were working on it but I told them to not bother. We were fighting for about an eight inch strip of moisture up against the wall and the quarter panels are twelve inches behind the tire so something had to give.”
The idea of hoping to find moisture on a race track seems foreign to many NASCAR fans. However, being able to do so can prove to be the difference between winning and losing in dirt racing since moisture provides grip, and grip means traction.
“That’s another thing that’s been so challenging in making the move from pavement to dirt for me,” Coulter admitted. “But for that level of driver to walk into the race track and say ‘this is the new norm’ for a day and a half and to see how a lot of those guys were able to adapt was neat.”
The driver of the No. 2 Rum Runner Racing car says that knowledge of the truck and how it operates is perhaps more important than knowledge of racing on dirt in this one event. That said, Coulter has admiration for a dirt racer such as Bobby Pierce, who has competed so competitively in his Camping World Truck Series races on the Ohio clay.
“It’s just because they’re different,” he said in comparing the two forms of racing. “When it comes down to it, the comfort zone for me at that time was in the truck and now it’s becoming these things. For the truck regulars, that’s where it is. For Bobby Pierce, he had a lot of good people around him who told him this is what we have to work with and this is how they work. And he’s a wheel man to begin with and he’s run there a ton. He kind of has the best of both worlds.”
Having only one race on dirt causes NASCAR CWTS organizations to do a great deal of work that is only used once each season. So, should NASCAR consider finding another dirt racing venue to add to the series schedule?
“I think they could get away with one more,” Coulter declared. “It would need to be some place shaped like Eldora because even at 65-70mph, and when that place slows down that’s about what the trucks are running, it’s still hard to get that kind of weight to stay on the race track. I think they could get away with it, but I would just be afraid that it would take away the uniqueness of it.”