On Sunday, high above the Daytona International Speedway there will stand a stout relaxed man with a baseball cap and a graying beard. While 40 cars do battle below him in a precariously tight pack at over 200-miles-per hour, Richard Coleman’s southern drawl cadence will ring out over the radio as Timmy Hill navigates traffic from the 32nd-starting spot in NASCAR’s biggest race – the Daytona 500.
The fact that Hill made the field for the race was a long-shot, but the fact that his spotter, Coleman, is here is truly unbelievable.
I know, 39 other spotters will also be in the spotter’s nest high above the track. However, Coleman has truly defied the odds by competing in this year’s Daytona 500 in more ways than one.
Just a couple of weeks ago, Coleman, who had spotted for the Gaunt Brothers Racing team over the last two seasons and was expected to return to the No. 96 team in 2020, had been let go in favor of Steve Barkdoll.
“Yeah. There were a couple of different scenarios that had to play out over there,” Coleman said in an exclusive interview with TobyChristie.com. “If Parker [Kligerman] was coming back with their limited schedule I was definitely on board with that. The Gaunt Brothers, they are a great group of guys. Marty Gaunt, Mark Hillman was the crew chief there, Mark Chambers. The whole crowd I loved helping them. I felt like I was family there.
“Then when Daniel [Suarez] came there, he, as a driver, wanted to make his own changes. He didn’t know me by my name. I think he would know me if he saw me, but I have never spotted for him. He chose to go a different route.”
Regardless, Coleman would have been at Daytona this weekend as he is the motorcoach driver for NASCAR Cup Series driver Christopher Bell, but the 52-year old’s true passion is spotting. Coleman was left scrambling to find a seat in the game of offseason musical chairs.
When the music stopped, Coleman found himself in a familiar seat.
“You know, things work in mysterious ways I guess,” Coleman explained. “I have been with Timmy [Hill] in his Xfinity stuff. I do his truck stuff. When my primary Cup deal, I thought was going to happen, fell through I called Carl Long. Long and I are lifelong friends. I used to help them back in the late ‘80s early ‘90s in the limited and late model days. So, I called him since I do his Xfinity Series stuff and the opportunity arose.”
Sure, MBM Motorsports isn’t a superpower by any means, and they weren’t expected to compete at the level of as his previous team, but still a spotting job is better than no spotting job.
Fast forward to the Bluegreen Vacation Duel qualifying races at Daytona, and Coleman’s former team – Gaunt Brothers – were lined up in the first Duel, while Coleman and his No. 66 MBM Motorsports team were in the second Duel.
Both teams were not locked into the field and would have to have flawless races in the Duels in order to make it into the big show.
Suarez was doing what needed to be done, as he was the highest open car in the first Duel as the race was approaching the half-way point. But then, disaster struck. While cars were pitting in front of him, Suarez swerved high to avoid the slowing cars.
As he did, Ryan Blaney knifed low at the last opportunity to make it to pit road as well.
When Blaney cut low, he collided with Suarez, sending the No. 96 Gaunt car head-on into the wall and out of the race. Gaunt Brothers Racing was sent packing.
Coleman, who spent years working on race cars himself, felt gutted for his former team.
“I know how hard those guys work, and I hate to see them tear up race cars and it is all due to the circumstances of the pit sequence at superspeedways now,” said Coleman. “I hate to see anyone tear up a car. I know what’s involved. I used to work on stuff way back in the day. Fortunately, I don’t have to do that anymore.”
When it was time for Duel No. 2, Coleman and Hill executed a perfect race.
They stayed toward the back and avoided danger for the majority of the race, and when JJ Yeley crashed past the half-way point, they officially locked their place in the Dayton 500 field by way of speed
But Hill and Coleman weren’t content with making it into the field by default. Over the final 15 laps, they were able to push past Brendan Gaughan’s No. 62 car to fully race their way into the Daytona 500 instead of relying on their speed.
Coleman and MBM Motorsports did what his previous team couldn’t, they locked into the show. Sure, it was sweet for Coleman, but he feels it would have been even more sweet had his driver topped Suarez head-to-head.
“It’s not a vindication there as far as — if I had to race them and we had beat them head up it would have been sweeter. I’m not going to lie it would have been sweet,” said Coleman. “But I don’t wish any ill-will to the Gaunt Brothers as I love that whole crowd there.”
In speaking with him, you can tell Coleman is a kind and gentle individual who is smack-dab in the cut-throat business of big-time stock car racing. Coleman is laser focused on his career, which has seen some pretty awesome turns. Coleman has been a spotter in various forms of motorsports since the 1980’s.
Coleman nickname is ‘The Bread Man’ a name coined by Alex Bowman when he spotted for Bowman in the ARCA Series. The duo of Coleman and Bowman won five races together in 2011.
Bowman’s nickname was a joke as Coleman once owned a Pepperidge Farm distributor facility.
Additionally, Coleman also has a Rolex 24 victory in the GTD class of the Rolex 24 with Magnus Racing in 2016 and he also served as the spotter for Danica Patrick in her final IndyCar start.
While his career has been a blast, Coleman’s accolades from the spotter stand pale in comparison to the passion he has for his family.
Coleman heads into the 2020 season, without his best friend by his side. His wife Melissa has been battling breast cancer since 2017. According to Coleman, the cancer has recently spread to her liver and other places.
While he asks that everyone add her into their thoughts and prayers, Coleman admits the year will be a difficult one mentally and emotionally as Melissa is unable to travel with him while she focuses on her health. However, Coleman finds strength and inspiration from the courage of his spouse.
“I have two tough ladies in my life, my mom and my wife,” said Coleman. “It’s incredible.”
While Melissa battles from home, Coleman will attempt to spot the perfect race on Sunday.
If the No. 66 team can somehow pull off the ultimate NASCAR upset in Sunday’s Daytona 500, you must imagine Coleman and wife Melissa would share some long-distance tears.
Coleman and Hill nearly pulled this feat off in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race on Saturday. The duo started the race from the 26th-position. Despite wild action all-race long, Coleman was able to guide Hill through the chaos. In the closing laps, Hill was in the mix for the win, before ultimately settling for a career-best third place finish.
What once seemed as a long-shot to make the field, is slowly turning into a dark horse pick to really surprise people on the biggest stage in the sport.
While a lot of times the focus in NASCAR is solely on the drivers and cars on track, Coleman’s story reminds us that every person at the racetrack each week has their own unique story. Coleman has about as interesting of a path to this year’s Daytona 500 grid than you’ll find anywhere else in the garage area.
If you need a person or team to pull for in the 2020 Daytona 500, MBM Motorsports and Richard Coleman would appreciate you cheering them on this Sunday.