NASCAR Sprint Cup spotters...
NASCAR Sprint Cup spotters keep a critical eye on the action high atop the grandstands at Bristol Motor Speedway. Photo by Sam Sharpe
There is an art to spotting for a racecar and to be good takes a lot of observation and knowledge of what the driver needs. A spotter is just like a co-pilot in an airplane, in my opinion. In many cases, the spotter should be able to "fly" the car if need be, or have the kind of experience and knowledge needed to do that.
We talked to Shawn Reutimann, cousin and spotter for former short track and current Sprint Cup driver David Reutimann, to get some of his ideas. He gave us a measure of validation for my own ideas as well as some insider tips. He has been spotting for David for over fifteen years and has some valuable insight into the responsibility.
I have spotted for stock cars and road racing cars. I have been watching and listening in on teams' live race communications in all divisions including short track and NASCAR Cup races for as long as there have been radios. When I was a teenager growing up in Daytona, I was at every race watching the cars and the moves drivers made. I saw when they got good information from the spotter and I saw when they did not.
Few short track spotters ascend...
Few short track spotters ascend to the top level of stock car racing like Shawn Reutimann has done. He has spotted for his cousin, David, since the early days running mini-stocks and late-models. The relationship he has developed with his driver is a model for every team.
In the past few years, I have spotted in the Grand Am 24 Hours of Daytona endurance race, doing 18 hours in 2006 and 16 hours this past January. I have spotted for veteran Bobby Labonte and Michael McDowell, the up-and-coming Sprint Cup driver. I have my style and others have their style. The best style is the one the driver likes.
I know when I am on my game and when I am slacking off. When on, the drivers know it, and although I get very little feedback when it is good, the drivers always want to make sure I am with them. When I find myself drifting off (after four or five hours in the rain) I snap back to it and remember why I am there.
From all of that, I formed some opinions as to what a driver needs and what the spotter should know in order to do a better job of spotting and keeping the car out of trouble. I offer some of my thoughts on the subject, keeping in mind I don't even begin to think I know it all, I just have some thoughts that might relate.
In order for a person to do a good job at spotting, they need to get educated about racing first. They need to watch a great deal of racing with the object of seeing how drivers work the traffic and how they react to traffic working them. Shawn told me, "a spotter should have a good knowledge of racing as well as good eyesight." Growing up with David, he learned what his driver wants to hear and what he doesn't.
This is the view atop the...
This is the view atop the spotters' tower at Daytona before the 2005 24 Hours of Daytona race. I can see my car at nearly every point on the race track from up here, and I cannot take my eyes off the car or I lose it. At night it is even worse. This year I did the 12:30 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. stint, and it rained all night. You've gotta love it to do it. Photo by Jim Jones
If possible, early on, listen in on spotter/driver communications and get a feel for what sounds right and what makes sense. As a boy, I remember watching races and trying to figure out who was fast and how they worked to pass other cars. I could pick out a crash a good two or three laps ahead of time by observing a conflict early on. I would tell my buddies, watch the number so and so cars, it's fixing to get ugly. Sure enough, nine times out of ten, they would get into each other and the crash was on.
Back in the '60s, radios were not used and the driver was on his own. Conflicts between drivers happened a lot of time because a driver cut off another car for a lack of knowledge about the spacing between them, not on purpose. With the advent of radios, we now see much cleaner racing with fewer missteps.
Draw on your past experience gained just from watching races. How many times have you said to yourself, man that guy needed just a little help from the spotter and that wouldn't have happened?
Once you have taken on the role of spotter, do a lot of practice before an actual race. Work with the driver in testing and practice sessions. Get to know how much information he wants and needs from his perspective. It doesn't matter what you think, although you can offer suggestions. In the end, it is what the driver feels comfortable with.
You will inevitably need to do your first race. This trial by fire is the fastest way to learn. I remember having never spotted before and being asked to help a Dash team from back home at Martinsville. How hard could it be? Afterwards, I realized that I knew nothing about this art and I got informed in a hurry in case that happened again.