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Posted by on Apr 20, 2018 in NASCAR at the Track, Racing Observations |

Good Spotters are Key to Success on Track

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.

2 Comments on “Good Spotters are Key to Success on Track”

  1. #1 RonRipple.com
    on May 27th, 2008 at 11:07 am

    I enjoyed your article and will agree that they get NO credit if any…

    Keep up the good work and fix your left hand categories column!

    Ron Ripple
    Nascar’s biggest fan

  2. #2 Steph
    on Apr 17th, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    I am a bit late responding to this post, but you mention that spotters don’t jump from team to team (usually) and I do know of one spotter who has worked for 3 different teams in one (possibly 2) season.
    Would that be because they have problems getting along with the driver, getting the job done or both? I read your “blacklisted” article and would think if that is the case that the other 2 teams wouldn’t have picked this spotter up, but I am even more confused to find that a “veteran” cup driver is now using him.

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Posted by on Apr 20, 2018 in Getting a Job in NASCAR, Racing Observations, The Business of NASCAR |

Burning Bridges; or How To Get Blacklisted

Militaries for centuries would burn a bridge after crossing it to prevent the enemy army from pursuing them. While this may not be the Army and there are not traditional enemies in pursuit, many people who work in NASCAR find that it is still very possible to burn bridges. This incredibly dangerous move sets individuals up for a speedy exit from the sport they worked so hard to get into. To best highlight how this can be done, let us examine a couple of fictional situations when burning a bridge can be so detrimental that finding a job is nearly impossible.

The first situation is the crew member. This crew member, we will call him Bob, worked very hard to break into NASCAR. He started with a small team, eventually working his way through the ranks to one of the sport’s largest teams. Despite working for years to get to this point, Bob is let go by the team. Bob’s only option? ARCA or leave racing.

So what happened to Bob? Well you see, Bob has trouble getting along with others. He is arrogant and belligerent. The small team put up with Bob’s antics for several seasons because he did good work and they did not have many options. Unexpectedly one weekend Bob quits to go to work for a larger team. He gives no notice and leaves the small team in a bind. At the big team Bob thinks he is hot stuff. He works on the pit crew and brags about his years of experience. Needless to say he is not well liked by his fellow team members. After just one season with the big team they decide they have had enough of Bob causing trouble and they let him go. By this point he has a reputation within the sport as an unreliable trouble maker. For months he applies for every job he can find, even landing a couple interviews. No one seems to want him though. Finally Bob is offered a job with an ARCA team that he has no choice but to take.

For the second situation we examine Jim who is a crew chief. Jim began in the sport years ago working as an engineer. Eventually he worked his way up with different teams rising to the level of crew chief. During these years though Jim developed a reputation for his temper. He is famous for berating his crew members whenever things do not go like he thinks they should. Often times he likes to threaten to fire employees when he gets angry. Unfortuanately for Jim, as so often happens, he is let go because he is not performing as the team sees fit. For months, Jim, like Bob, goes on job interviews but no one is biting. The fact is, Jim’s temper finally caught up with him. When crew members catch word Jim is a potential hire they complain and refuse to work for him. In order to keep other team members, owners realize they have no choice but to not hire Jim, no matter how good he may be.

The NASCAR community, as we have discussed before, is a very small one. Gossip spreads like wildfire, and reputations are built over night. For better or worse everyone in the sport is just a phone call away from every employer you have ever had. And you can bet when you are up for a job they will be called. This means the reputation you have built is now the most important thing you have. I know crew members who have gotten jobs site unseen based purely on their reputation. I also know others who, like our examples, could not find another job because they burned every bridge in town.

Teams crave stability and quality just like any other business. Once a team views a person as a problem they are out. Eventually, being the problem enough times can get a person blacklisted. And once they find they are on that list, chances are the they will never find their way back off.

 

8 Comments on “Burning Bridges; or How To Get Blacklisted”

  1. #1 Kasey
    on Aug 28th, 2008 at 10:20 am

    What is Michael “Fatback” McSwain doing now?

  2. #2 Trixie
    on Aug 28th, 2008 at 2:19 pm

    Sounds like Bob and Jim didn’t follow the golden rule. When you burn your bridges that’s the way it goes. You live with the consequences of your actions.

  3. #3 Michael
    on Aug 28th, 2008 at 4:36 pm

    I believe Tim Brewer(ESPN) met his demise that way when he worked for Junior Johnson.

  4. #4 Suzy
    on Nov 16th, 2008 at 5:06 am

    And how about drivers? Look at what happened to Mayfield.

  5. #5 david
    on Nov 22nd, 2008 at 2:40 pm

    I think Tim Brewer took the wrong side in Flossie and Junios divorce.I work in a garage and see things like this a lot.The lazy,incompetent and arrogant get a rep they cant shake.People that work hard and try their best get fans they dont know they have.

  6. #6 Garry Pacer
    on Jun 9th, 2009 at 7:31 am

    Do you think this is what happened to Carl Long?

    Right now I am very sympathetic to Carl, but if there are tyhings we not being told that could change. NASCAR operates under secret rules, and hush hush and that is too bad, it is why I am walking away, for now. I hope NASCAR fixes this perception problem, cuz right now NSACAR IS ON MY BLACK LIST.

  7. #7 Yowser
    on Jul 13th, 2009 at 10:18 pm

    Garry,

    What happened to Carl Long was that he should have never entered the All-Star Race. Although, Nascar should just tell folks that they shouldn’t do something rather than let them hang themselves (ie Jeremy Mayfield).

    It really isn’t secret rules. Nascar has been doing this for a long time and people really need to pay attention that Nascar does these things and sometimes the rules will be applied to them should they “get in the way of the France-Smith Mob”.

  8. #8 Inside
    on Sep 22nd, 2009 at 6:43 pm

    HHHHuuuuuMMM ? Butch Hylton, Dave McCarty, Tim Brewer,Fatback, but they still have JOBS. Go figure!

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Posted by on Apr 17, 2018 in Over The Wall |

The Anatomy of a Pit Stop

There is no doubt that if you’ve ever watched a race from ARCA all the way up to Cup, you’ve seen a pit stop.  The driver comes to pit road and the seven man crew springs into action putting on four fresh tires and filling the tank fuel of Sunoco race fuel.  There are many different variations on the basic pit stop, but I thought I’d run through and explain what happens during a stop for each member of the crew during a clean (no mistakes), basic four tire stop.

 

Before I get started, I went on YouTube and found a half way decent video of a stop done by Jeff Burton’s crew at Loudon this year.  It shows an entire stop from start to finish, just excuse the fans in the background.  Check out this video.

This was about a 13.2 second stop.

A pit stop essentially starts when the car hits the back line of the pit stall just behind the team’s own.  Per NASCAR rules, crew members cannot leave the wall until the car touches that line.  The second the car crosses that line, all seven guys jump.

In the front, the front changer and carrier jump, get into place quickly around the nose, and are waiting for the car to stop to begin service on the right side.  The jackman is around to the right at the same time as the front guys, and he pegs the jack as soon as the car stops (a peg means getting the jack plate on the jack post on the car).  In the rear, as the car crosses the line, the rear guys step off the wall, but must wait until the car passes by them before they run around to the right side.  The gas man and catch can man plug in as the car comes to a halt in the stall.  As soon as the car stops, the jackman gets a big pump on the jack handle and the tire changers start hitting lugnuts.

After the fuelers plug in, the gas man will get a short count and hand the first can off to the catch can man.  He then goes to the wall to retrieve the second can.

The front tire changer will hit five off, set his gun down, pull the right front tire, wait for the carrier to hang the new tire, pick his gun back up, switch his button (to make the gun tighten the lugs), and hit five back on.

The rear changer gets a bit of a late start hitting lugnuts because he must chase the car down, unlike the front guy who is just waiting for the car to stop.  After the rear changer hits five off, the jackman will reach in and pull the old tire out.  The jackman pull helps the rear changer to regain the time he lost to the front guys.  The changer ducks out of the way, allowing the old tire to come out and the new tire to come in.  He then switches his gun over, and hits five back on.

Once the new tires are hung and the changers get one lugnut tight, you will see the carriers take off and roll the old tires back to the pit wall.

Once the right side lugs are tight, the changers and the jackman take off.  The front changer goes first around the front, followed very closely by the jackman.  The front tire carrier must stay up against the wall until the jackman comes through to the left side, allowing him plenty of room.  Simultaneously, the rear changer comes around the back of the car and must thread through a small gap in between the car and the gas man.  As soon as the changer is through, the gas man will plug in to begin dumping the second can of fuel.

On the left side, both tire changers will sit down and start hitting lugnuts.  Both will hit five off, set their guns down, pull the tires, wait for the new tires to be hung, pick their gun back up, switch the button, and hit five back on.

While the changers are hitting five off on the left side, the jackman pegs the jack, gets a big pump on the jack handle, and adds one little extra pump just to make sure the car is up.  We call this a “pump & a bump,” and its done on the left side because the car is heavier on the left (lead weights and the driver).

When the gas man plugs in the second can, the catch can man will begin watching and waiting.  As soon as he sees fuel coming out of the overflow, he’ll start shaking the first empty can over his head, letting the crew know the car is full.

When the jackman sees the car is full of fuel, and both changers have five lugnuts tight, he drops the jack, ending the stop.  Now imagine doing all of that in 13 seconds… Whew!

As I said before there are many variations on the basic pit stop, including adjustments, fixing damage, two-tire stops, fuel only stops, etc.  Each one of those variations has its own challenges.  But hopefully you now have a better understanding of what exactly goes on during that bit of controlled chaos called a pit stop.

Any questions?

4 Comments on “The Anatomy of a Pit Stop”

  1. #1 Henry
    on Sep 5th, 2008 at 7:11 am

    Anatomy is good! but as an “insider” each article should be preceded with “racing on the track was put on life support in May 1989 after Darlington and just about snuffed out with what Buddy Parrott and Rusty Wallace did at 1st New Hampshire 1993″. Pit Crew racing is the only racing at the track!

  2. #2 Kenn Fong
    on Sep 5th, 2008 at 11:37 am

    T.C., if you were a hitter in baseball, your batting average would hit the stratosphere. I’ve yet to see one of your post which was only good.

    Because of this post, I got curious about how the jackman finds the peg. I went to Jayski and looked at some paint schemes and saw the notch with the arrow indicating the peg location. The notch and the arrow have been there all the time, but I’d never noticed them before.

    Thanks again!
    Kenny
    Alameda, California

  3. #3 Darcy Bennett
    on Sep 7th, 2008 at 2:20 pm

    What is really going on in the petty shop why they are not running up front or better than they are ,

  4. #4 Ben
    on May 13th, 2009 at 1:18 pm

    Cool site! Can anyone point me to some other cools NASCAR websites, Cheers

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Posted by on Apr 9, 2018 in Nascar |

The NASCAR Life: The Job

Written by Journo on

The positions available in the sport are as varied as the people who work in them. Like any professional sports team there is a front office that handles the business side of things. There are accountants, account managers, PR people, travel coordinators and countless other positions. For the most part, these are the positions that have normal 9-5 hours with some weekend travel time (obviously if you work PR you are traveling every weekend). Despite the normality of these positions, they are not easy to come by and for the most part there is nothing overly glamorous about them. Sure you get to go to the track every now and then and interact with the drivers, but you still have deadlines to make and bosses to make happy.

Down on the shop floor there are mechanics, body guys, engineers, paint guys and many others. These positions are the ones that are highly specialized and require a good deal of knowledge about race cars. The people who work these jobs work a lot of hours and are at the beckon call of a crew chief and many others above them. During the season these guys often work 50 or more hours. They have cars to get ready and often not a lot of time to do it.

That leaves us finally with the on-the-road guys. The mechanics, pit crews and hauler drivers are the ones who bring the race (or circus as we like to call it) to the fans week after week. TC earlier put the spotlight on the hauler drivers and daily shows the ups and downs of working on a pit crew. These guys and gals are some of the most dedicated people you would ever hope to find. Many work 40 hours a week at the shop and then spend their weekends at the track. They spend very little time at home and often times are forced to give up a lot to continue their careers.

Recently I went to lunch with some guys who work for a race team and a trait that I often see within my own family emerged. Everyone complained about how much they hated their jobs and how it was great when they were at Roush, or Hendrick, or Yates but the team they work for now stinks. It is something that always makes me laugh a little, because they all do it and I suppose it is something most people do at any job. They say “The job’s okay, but it could be better.”

So lets talk money. I would guess many who dream of careers in the sport picture fat paychecks and awesome bonuses. While this is not entirely untrue, for the most part the money isn’t all that great. Lets say for instance you drive hauler for a team during a championship year, there is a good chance you’ll make very low six figures, but if your driving hauler for any other team in a normal year (which is most everybody) you won’t be making anywhere near that kind of money. Bonuses are pretty common among large teams and if they have a good year, you’ll get a good bonus. On average they’ll be in the mid to high single thousand dollars, obviously more if a championship is won. Despite this, very rarely is overtime paid and almost always overtime work is not the exception, but the rule. A good living can be made in the sport, but generally not more so than in any other industry.

Not long ago, a guy I know who drives hauler told me about being at an event with the truck when a girl walked up to him. She said, “you must have the best job ever. What do you do, just drive to the track?” He laughingly said, “yeah thats about it.” The fact of the matter is, his job is almost neverending, be it cooking cleaning or driving, he never sits still.

So whats the moral of this story? Despite how cool it may seem, it’s just a job. Sure these guys have a lot of fun and enjoy a great comradery, but at the end of the day, they work their butts off and don’t enjoy a whole lot of benefits. Like anything though racing is something that gets in your blood and no matter how much they may say it, they wouldn’t rather be doing anything else. If this all still sounds appealing to you, get in line because you’re not the only one.

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Posted by on Apr 2, 2018 in Nascar |

A Salute to the Midway Madness

Written by Journo on

Outside the race track every weekend the village of souvenirs, car displays and sponsor tents appear seemingly out of nowhere. They offer samples of sun screen, chewing tobacco, and Coca-Cola. You can even play video games, or test your skill as a member of a pit crew. Whatever your pleasure, the city of tents and trailers serve a pivotal part of any weekend and it is only with the hard work of perhaps the most under appreciated men and women at the track that the midway is so flawlessly executed.

As we have said here before, NASCAR is much like a circus, in town to entertain, but quickly moved to the next venue. This is perhaps most true of the people who work in what I will call the midway. For 36 weekends a year they make sure sponsors are happy and fans fulfilled. They provide entertainment when none is happening at the track, and give fans a place to spend their hard earned souvenir money. They also provide a place for sponsors to showcase their product and connect with their supporters. Their hard work enhances the fan experience, with little benefit.

Team members are a visible part of the NASCAR world, and have TV segments and entire websites dedicated to them. When was the last time you saw a roster with the names of midway workers on it, or watched a segment on Fox saluting their efforts? It does not happen. They often work non-stop for several days to make sure the displays best represent their team or sponsor only to tear it down and begin anew in another city.

While crew members and transport drivers are able to pack up and fly, or drive immediately home, many of these people have to spend hours deconstructing a display that may have been up for less time than it took to build. I remember a couple seasons ago the Sprint (or Nextel) fan display was actually built out of large glass panels (see the above picture). It took at least a full day for that team to set up and then they were working immediately after the race to deconstruct. Following that they would have to transport those materials to the next venue. Not to mention they worked the fan zone during the whole race weekend. Their story though is not unlike the many others who make the midway possible.

Be it the Chevrolet display, one of the scanner companies or the many souvenir haulers, each and every person gives up a lot just to be at the race track every weekend. In fact, most of these people do not ever get to see races from inside the track. They are cleaning up or leaving while the race is going on. Many spend nine months of the year away from their friends and families, for little compensation, all in pursuit of the NASCAR dream.

I challenge everyone to thank the people who make the midway possible next time they are at the track. They work hard to build displays and then in turn to enhance your at track experience. Do you have any stories of your midway experience? What is your favorite display? How did a midway worker enhance your weekend?

1 Comment on “A Salute to the Midway Madness”

  1. #1 SearsPointer
    on Aug 5th, 2008 at 5:03 pm

    Speed did “7 Days” episode two years ago that was dedicated to one of the guys who manages the merchandise haulers. I don’t remember any names, but it was a great little eye opener along the lines of what you describe here.

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