Thursday, March 28, 2013

Young Truckers Ready To Make Waves

Semi-elder statesman Coulter shows teens Wallace, Jones the ropes

MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- With 16-year-old Erik Jones seated to his left and 19-year-old Darrell Wallace Jr. to his right, Joey Coulter was undoubtedly the veteran of the Kyle Busch Motorsports triumvirate of drivers during Wednesday’s appearance at Martinsville Speedway.

In this case, though, being a veteran is simply a manner of speaking. Coulter is just 22 himself and is in his first season with KBM after running with Richard Childress Racing last year. But with 48 career starts in the NASCAR Camping World Trucks Series and a third-place finish in the final points standings last year, Coulter’s two years of driving far outweighs the trucks experience of Wallace and Jones, who have one combined start.

“It’s really strange,” Coulter said of being considered a mentor at such a young age. “When I got in the truck series, I went straight to Ron Hornaday (Jr.), Todd Bodine, Johnny Sauter. I went to guys who have been racing longer than I’ve been alive. So it’s kind of strange to have 14 years of experience and be giving advice to someone who has eight. But at the same time, it’s a lot of fun. I really enjoy hanging out with these guys.”

The deference to Coulter was on display Wednesday during a segment of open-ended questions in which both Jones and Wallace were more than happy to allow the full-time college student Coulter to answer with thoughtful, articulated responses.

Jones was equally as poised when discussing his future as he was in the final laps of the 2012 Snowball Derby, when he bumped with NASCAR Sprint Cup Series star Kyle Busch during the final laps before pulling away to win what is considered the most prestigious event in late model racing.

Winning that race, Jones said, is what allowed him to be at Martinsville Speedway on Wednesday. Shortly after his victory, KBM signed the up-and-coming driver to a five-race deal in the No. 51 Toyota Tundra.

“That was a big moment in my career,” said Jones, who also noted he had previously spoken to Busch intermittently a few months before that December race. “Hopefully I earned a little respect from (Busch) in the Snowball Derby. Really, winning that race, that’s the reason why I’m here today.”

To focus on racing, Jones now takes online classes as a junior at Swartz Creek High School in Michigan. He recently got his driver’s license and grew up driving for his family-owned team -- Paragon Racing, LLC -- after telling his uncle at age 4 that he was “born to race.”

If Coulter is the elder statesman and Jones the polished rookie, Wallace, with an impressive pedigree himself, is the class clown.

Some of his one-liners Wednesday:

  •  On the long break (six weeks) between Truck Series races: “I’m not even sure I remember how to drive.”
  • On whether or not he’s been racing recently: “I’ve been doing a lot of racing on Xbox, but I don’t think that really counts.”
  • On the intricacies and history of Martinsville, following sharp answers from both Jones and Coulter: “What they both said.”
  • On meeting Jones for the first time: “I just gave Erik a ride in the pace car. That’s as much as he’s getting out of me.”

Wallace’s ability in a car is no laughing matter, though. A graduate of the 2010 NASCAR Drive for Diversity class, Wallace won six races in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East from 2010-12. His 2010 win at Greenville-Pickens Speedway made him the youngest race winner in track history, and the first African-American driver to win at that track.

Wallace and Coulter, along with 22-year-old NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Parker Kligerman, met with team owner Kyle Busch and his wife, Samantha, for what Coulter described as a “shooting the breeze” dinner prior to the season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway.

The goal: To build a bond between teammates that ultimately leads to a more successful on-track product.

So far, the bond is there. Perhaps the on-track results will be there, too, at next weekend’s Kroger 250.

“Until I got to RCR (in 2011), I had kind of been a one-man band,” Coulter said. “It really showed me how important it is to have a good team and all be working toward the same goal. Going racing with these guys, especially with Darrell because he’s full time, if everyone’s on the same game plan, you can really make both teams excel. That’s what we want for ourselves and for each other.”

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