I had the opportunity to spot...
I had the opportunity to spot for a friend of mine at New Smyrna Speedway during Speedweeks. This gave me a new respect for spotters since this was my first time in the spotters' stand.
During the course of last year, there were many times where my spotter, whether it was my father or someone else, heard me complain about something that happened on the track. It is a fact that drivers are going to complain to someone about what is happening around us. That's not to say that I ever "chewed out" my spotter, but there were times where I was upset about the situation that was happening around me, and I felt the need to complain.
With all that being said, I now have a new perspective on the role of a spotter, because I finally had the opportunity to climb on top of a spotters' stand and spot for an old friend of mine.
It all started when I was preparing to leave for Speedweeks at Daytona in mid-February. My cell phone rang and I discovered it was Steve Law, a good friend of my father. My father's friends don't always call me, but it turns out Steve's son, Les, was racing at New Smyrna Speedway in his truck, and Steve was calling to see if I would spot for Les.
After a few minutes of discussion, I decided this would be a great chance for me to see what it is really like from a spotters' stand and I agreed to do it. I had to warn him, though, that I had never spotted for anyone during a real race. I had done it for practice, but I had never had the chance to do so during a race. he was fine with it, which made me even more nervous.
Before I can go any further I have to give you a little background on our friendship with Steve and his wife, Linda. Steve and my dad were nearly inseparable before I was born. Steve ran a Dirt Late Model and my dad would crew chief for him at the races. They would also work together on Kenny essary's Dirt Late Model (Kenny was inducted in to the Dirt Late Model hall of Fame in 2006).
When I arrived at New Smyrna I was not only excited about getting the chance to spot, but also because I had a chance to validate all the stories my dad had always told me. one of those was when my father punched a Late Model after the driver had spun out Kenny in the a-main. hearing Steve tell it made me realize my dad wasn't exaggerating the story in the least bit. Steve remembers moving out of the way on the pit road so that the drivers could get back to the trailers when the race was over. Then he looked over to see my dad standing right in the middle of pit road. he said he actually yelled at him "you're on your own this time, Chuck! I'm not fighting a d_ _ _ car."
New Smyrna is a half-mile...
New Smyrna is a half-mile oval that produces some great racing.
My father waited for the driver to come by and proceeded to punch through the car's shroud and ductwork, in hopes of actually reaching the radiator. he failed to puncture it, but I know the driver had to be thinking, "I'm not messing with this guy if he's going to punch my car. I'm not even going to think what he could do to me."
The Laws and gibsons have kept in touch over the years and Les started racing about the same time I did. he started out in Bandoleros, eventually graduated into Late Models, and has run a few hooters Pro Cup races as well. But Steve will tell you that the Pro Truck they are racing right now is the most fun of all.
"We built this truck from the ground up," says Steve. "Les's girlfriend's father built the chassis and we put a lot of hard work into getting it (to New Smyrna)."
Going Right To WorkFrom the moment I arrived, I assumed would have the chance to spot for him during practice or during a heat race to familiarize myself with the track and how Les likes his spotters to talk to him. however, I arrived late because of the Gatorade Duels at Daytona. The thing about the trucks is on this day they were not running a heat race. Instead, they were drawing for positions. I prayed he would start up front. They had a large field of 25 trucks there that night, and I expected a wreck-fest on the half-mile oval. Luckily, Les started up front, drawing the fifth starting position.
This was the first time I...
This was the first time I had ever spotted for anyone. Les made it very easy for me by starting up front and keeping his nose clean during the race.
One of the things I picked up on quickly was that different drivers like different things. Personally, I like for my spotter to talk a lot. and I mean I want him telling me everything that is happening around me. Les isn't quite like that. he just wants to know what's going on periodically. But one thing I made sure we communicated first was what "looking inside" meant. I wanted him to understand that if I said "looking inside" it meant that he could still run his line but he had just a little pressure coming from behind. I really think a lot of accidents happen when drivers think that their spotter is saying one thing, when in fact he means something completely different.
Someone told me that it is extremely nice to be in Daytona around February because of the weather. Well, on this particular night, someone didn't bother telling Mother Nature about the weather. It was cold, and to make things worse Les had one of the last races of the night. So, at 10pm I made my way up to the spotters' stand and made sure I got a decent spot to see the entire track. As luck would have it, I found a great spot, but the man standing next to me was way too loud, almost yelling at his driver the entire race. I couldn't pick out who he was with, but I could tell that driver was getting passed a lot. "Inside! Clear! Inside!"
As the green flag was ready to drop, I made sure that Les warmed up his tires and brakes so that everything was ready to go at the drop of the flag. They gave the one lap to go signal and I gave Les the rundown: "all right, one to go, let's tighten it up and get a good start. remember it's a 25-lap race. Let's just be there at the end."
"All right, get ready...ready...ready...green flag...clear outside ...great start!"
From the drop of the green flag, it looked like Les had the equipment to finish in the top three. he quickly passed for fourth with ease and was hunting down the third-place driver when the first caution came out.
I did my duty: "The caution's behind you. you're behind the 22 car running fourth."
"How's the truck, Les?" asked his dad. "It's loose off the corner," said Les.
Steve reminded him not to drop a wheel below the yellow line and that might help with his loose condition. Les also said that his brake pedal was starting to get a little soft.
Les (in blue) standing next...
Les (in blue) standing next to his dad before the race. Les had a great chance of finishing in the top three, but a brake problem put him out of the race.
When the green flag came back out I could notice right off that something had changed. Les was passed by a couple of cars, but got into a nice little spot running sixth and had no pressure from behind. he radioed, "This brake pedal is getting closer to the floor every lap."
"Try pumping it up before you get to the corner," said Steve.
The problem eventually dropped him from the race when a wreck happened in turns three and four. I saw the crash occurring and told Les while he was coming out of turn two: "Spin in turn three and four, two trucks sitting at the bottom of the track, go high."
Les had more than enough time to get slowed down, but what I didn't realize was how bad the brake problem had become. he came within a few feet of hitting the truck in front of him because he couldn't stop.
"I just can't stop this thing. I am about to hit the guy in front of me," Les said while trying to avoid the truck in front of him.
Steve and Les talked for a time, but eventually decided to park it for the night. They had two more nights of racing and didn't want to end up trashing the truck that night. Disappointed, but with some hope because while the brakes were okay, he was running easily in the top five. Turns out that Les had a couple of worn-out brake pads and a problem with his brake ratio.
Les prepares for the race...
Les prepares for the race where he started fifth out of 25 trucks.
In reality, it was good that they parked it when they did, because the next caution was from the big one on the backstretch, and Les would have had no place to go. They were extremely happy with how fast the truck was before the problem and I left that night with a new appreciation for how difficult spotting can be. It was extremely easy to just watch Les's truck cruise around in fifth place but I had to keep my eyes in front of him and look for those potentially bad situations. But, I can't reiterate how important it is for a driver and his spotter to have that history between them. If you are switching spotters every weekend, you are setting yourself up for failure.
At some point this season sit down with your spotter and nail down exactly what you want to hear from him and what he will mean when he says certain things. all in all, this was a great experience that I would do again in a heartbeat.