Column By: TADD HAISLOP / NASCAR – NEW SMYRNA, FL – One does not need to look hard to understand why Joey Coulter finds himself infatuated with Modified stock car racing.
Maybe it’s because he won his first race driving one of the machines known as ground pounders, an accomplishment the 31-year-old added to his resume in 2020 at South Carolina’s Florence Motor Speedway.
Or maybe it’s the simple-yet-intoxicating joy of wheeling one of these beasts.
“It’s like racing a fighter jet,” Coulter explained to NASCAR.com. “They respond so quickly because they have all of that raw and mechanical grip. You’re sitting right on top of the earth. No bump stops, and 15 inches of tire. It’s just raw grip. And then the power.”
Regardless of his reasoning, on the heels of his participation in last month’s World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing at Florida’s New Smyrna Speedway, Coulter is hooked. This tends to happen to anybody — drivers and spectators alike — who is new to Modified racing.
And Coulter is indeed still new to this. The 2022 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season-opener at New Smyrna marked the Miami Springs, Florida, native’s third race in a Modified and only his fourth time driving one.
A kill switch issue doomed Coulter in the Tour race and led to a 25th-place finish to open the World Series. He then finished 30th in the Modified feature the following Monday.
The rest of Coulter’s World Series time at New Smyrna, though, featured nothing but top-10 finishes. He took ninth in the Tuesday Modified feature, fourth in the John Blewett Memorial on Wednesday, sixth in Thursday’s Modified feature and fifth in the Richie Evans Memorial on Friday.
“We crammed the experience of a season into five days,” Coulter said with a laugh. “There were a ton of ups and downs, which is to be expected with any kind of new venture. Started off on the wrong foot, but once we got racing, things started getting together. Our race pace was excellent.
“That allowed us the rest of the week to just find that raw speed.”
Raw speed, of course, is synonymous with Modified racing. It’s why Coulter didn’t hesitate to oblige when Randy Renfrow in 2020 called and asked whether Coulter would race his newly configured Modified in a Southern Modified Auto Racing Tour (SMART) race.
“I’ve always wanted to drive one of those cars,” Coulter recalled thinking.
He noted how his entrance to the world of Modified racing was “basically an accident,” but the success made it feel like fate. In his first race, Coulter set the track record in qualifying at Florence before winning the main event that evening. He raced Renfrow’s Modified again in 2021 at North Carolina’s Caraway Speedway and finished third despite a chance to win.
Without that success — and the amusement that came with it — Coulter and longtime crew chief Harold Holly might not have gotten back into pavement racing with a Modified.
Holly was Coulter’s crew chief when they competed in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2011-14. The pair also worked together when Coulter raced in the ARCA Menards Series from 2009-12. But a detour to dirt racing with Coulter’s Rum Runner Racing operation had kept them away from asphalt. Modifieds brought them back.
Coulter said he didn’t set expectations for his week at New Smyrna, where, as a Florida native he had raced in the World Series twice before — in a Pro Truck in 2006 and in a Super Late Model in 2013 — but not recently.
“Let’s go knock out a solid week; run as many laps as we can run,” Coulter said of his mindset. “That should always be priority No. 1.”
So ending the week with a four-night streak of top-10 finishes was a welcome outcome that creates momentum for Coulter Motorsports’ young Modified program.
Coulter plans to compete in five to seven more Whelen Modified Tour races in 2022. He said he has both the New Hampshire race (July 16) and the event at Thompson Speedway (Aug. 17) circled. He also will run some SMART races, but his schedule beyond those events is up in the air. This is a result of a move from Texas back to Florida and life with two young daughters.
The only certainty when it comes to Coulter’s racing world in the near future is he will continue to run Modifieds. He will take what he learned at New Smyrna — specifically, the Mod’s sudden tire drop-off after the car has been pushed to the limit for a couple dozen laps — and apply those lessons to his future entries.
He’ll look for more wins. And he’ll keep experiencing this simple-yet-intoxicating joy.