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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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