Mattioli manages a smile while...
Mattioli manages a smile while waiting for driver introductions, his self-described "worst part of the race." Photo by Rob Fisher
Just like anyone else, I hate backseat drivers, so when my spotter speaks, he uses short, concise phrases. For example, if there's a caution in Turn 1, he'll say "yellow 1." I also try to keep it brief when I talk to him so that I don't lose my concentration on the track. I may say "tight exit 1" or "loose entrance 3."
Spotter talk aside, pace laps-at least, for asphalt cars-are the ideal time to take care of some essential items such as scrubbing the tires to clean off debris and get some heat into them, as well as tapping the brakes to build heat. Just be sure to check your mirror, and don't tap the brakes too hard-unless, of course, you're starting dead last.
When the green flag drops, my car roars past the grandstand, but at the same time, everything goes quiet for me. After the field makes it through the first turn, things calm down quickly. During the early laps of the race, I have my spotter watch the lines of the drivers in front of me, specifically the leader. We literally compare lines with the leader throughout the race to determine if I need to adjust my line to cut down my lap times.
During final preparations,...
During final preparations, Mattioli and his spotter go over the phrases they'll use during the race to prevent confusion. Photo by Rob Fisher
I'm one of those drivers who only talks on the radio when I have a problem with the car. For instance, in the first part of this race (aptly named the Pennsylvania 200), I fought a tight condition. Obviously I told my crew chief so that the crew could adjust for it on the next pit stop, but I also asked my spotter to help me adjust my line to reduce the impact of the tight condition. He had me turn later into the corner, which allowed me to hit a later apex and gave some additional room to drift coming off the corner. While this was a crutch that essentially masked the problem, it allowed me to maintain my track position while I waited for the pit stop to really fix the tight condition.
As any race progresses, drivers are bound to have to avoid a few accidents. A driver and a spotter will usually establish a way to call out an accident that doesn't fluster the driver and cause him or her to panic. As I mentioned earlier, my spotter will tell me the location of the wreck, for example, "yellow 1 high" or "yellow 3 bottom." That way, I know the spot or area I have to avoid.
Close-quarters racing like...
Close-quarters racing like this requires a good spotter on the roof. Photo by Bob Costanzo, ARCA
It's critical that you and your spotter agree on the language long before the race starts-and don't change it. It's difficult for a driver to ascertain what is happening on the track if he hears "middle Turn 2 high" one lap, and then hears "up top of the second corner in the center" 20 laps later. Yes, they mean exactly the same thing, but the different language can confuse even a seasoned racer. If my spotter gives me consistent instructions every time, my job, to slow the car up and avoid any debris that might be littered on the track, is a whole lot easier.
For me, the race at Pocono turned out to be a success as I ended up leading for about five laps and finishing a solid 16th. After the race, I drove the car back to the garage where I celebrated a good day with my crew, family, and friends. That's what makes Pocono the most special stop of my season: getting out of the car and seeing all the kids I grew up with, and enjoying a good race with my team and my family. It's at times like these when I realize you don't have to finish first to be a winner and there's literally no place like home.