Behind every superstar driver in the sport today is a good crew chief, good team, good equipment, and supportive sponsors. But one vital piece of the puzzle that doesn’t get the praise they deserve is the team’s spotter. If you ever listen to a scanner during the race, the voice you will hear 80% of the time will be that of the spotter. They are entrusted with being the “eyes in the sky” for their driver.
In today’s NASCAR with all the safety innovations being implemented, the driver’s visibility has been hindered by seat design, helmets, HANS devices, roll cages, and window nets. The drivers must rely heavily on their spotters in order to maneuver safely during a race. The spotters are constantly updating the drivers on where other cars are and must warn them of accidents on the track. At tracks like Daytona and Talladega where the racing is so tight and the wrecks so big, spotters are on the radio talking for almost the entire race giving their drivers information.
The amount of trust a driver must have in his spotter is immense. One wrong call by a spotter can result in ruined races, but also wrecked race cars and injured drivers. Many driver/spotter combinations are long lasting partnerships. Cup driver Ryan Newman has a particularly close relationship with his spotter, who also happens to be his father. And you won’t usually find spotters jumping from team to team like many other crew members.
Spotters do much more then just say “clear” on the radio. Besides the actual spotting they do, they must also be a coach during the race. They can either calm or fire up a driver, let him know about the lines other cars are using, and help coach their technique. Many former drivers serve as spotters such as Jimmy Kitchens, Curtis Markham, David Green, Mark Green, Jason Jarrett, and Tim Fedewa. Their racing experience proves valuable to many drivers.
Spotters also have to keep track of what other cars do on pit road. Crew chiefs can’t see up and down pit road, so the spotter is often called upon to relay information about the strategies of other teams.
It is also important for spotters to know what’s going on inside the racecar. They must keep track of what switches the driver has on and off for things like brake fans, and they must know pit road rules and pit road speeds.
During the race the spotter must not only listen and talk on his own team’s radio, but must also listen to the NASCAR Race Control frequency to keep abreast of calls NASCAR is making in regards to running order, cautions, debris, and any other instructions from the race director.
Today’s spotters have a lot of responsibilities to juggle. It becomes a “pat your head, rub your stomach, and chew gum all while you walk” exercise. And it is definitely not something anybody can do. In my time in racing I’ve seen both people that could get it done, and those who couldn’t. A spotter who doesn’t pay attention all the time or doesn’t know what is going on can be a dangerous thing. It takes complete focus for an entire race to be successful.
I will forever be grateful to a specific spotter who is in the Cup Series. During a race at Texas, a car spun out of turn four and was headed for pit road. This spotter had the sense to not only let his driver know there was a wreck, but also warn our team as it was happening to get away from the pit wall. The car ended up hitting the pit wall just two stalls down from ours and came to rest right in front us. That is how to get it done as a spotter.