It's crucial for a spotter...
It's crucial for a spotter to find a location where he has the best possible view of the track.
Editor's note: Eric Martin's death during practice for an ARCA race at Lowe's Motor Speedway in October 2002, focused attention on the role of spotters in stock car racing. Martin was killed when his car, sitting idle on the track after a minor spinout, was T-boned by another car. Soon after, both ARCA and NASCAR mandated that spotters be in place at proper vantage points for practice as well as actual races. Driving instructor Andy Hillenburg offers insight into what makes the best spotters.
The past several years have brought much in the area of technological advancement to all levels of racing. From Daytona to your local short track, engineers have brought in more grip, more horsepower, better braking, and better handling; but the one facet that is quite often overlooked in the search for racing success is the spotter. Great radio communication to the driver will result in better finishes by keeping the driver running the whole race and by helping him or her stay focused on what is important to the situation at hand.
First, when choosing your spotter, think of these areas before making a decision: trust, dependability, attitude and demeanor, emotional attachment, and knowledge of the sport and the rules of the series. These five areas are all equally important in helping to get closer to the front of the pack.
Having the same spotter at every race makes a difference. Consistency is important to this sport and having it on the radio reinforces this to the entire team. You want the same speech before each start and restart, in the same calming voice, to reduce the chances of making mistakes. Also, with the same speech over and over, it isn't nagging or distracting to the driver because he has become accustomed to hearing the same issues reinforced.
For example, on a restart a good conversation with the driver would be: "Going green next time by. Tug on those belts and make sure your tires are cleaned off; keep it tight; no passing except to the right till the stripe; protect the top; pace car is off. Ready, ready, ready, green, green, green!"
As a driver I want the same person to tell me that on every restart. That's where dependability plays a part in performance. You don't want a new jack man every race and, likewise, you don't want a new spotter every race.
Trusting your spotter is an ongoing process, but you must have had some trust in him or her to begin with or you would not have given him or her the job. Make sure your spotter knows what his or her job is and the particulars in their order of importance.
A spotter's No. 1 priority is safety, helping keep the driver out of accidents and out of dangerous situations on the racetrack, such as oil, debris, a wet pit road, safety workers on the track during cautions, etc. A good spotter will also help guide you through dust or smoke when there has been an accident.
A spotter's second priority is to help keep the driver focused for the entire race. Knowing when to calm the driver down and when to do some extra cheerleading is hard for a lot of people to understand, but helping a driver stay calm and focused can make all the difference in a championship hunt over the length of a season.
A spotter's third priority is helping a driver's performance on the track. Clearing the car in traffic, clearing the car out of the pit box, and keeping the driver alert to which particular line of traffic is moving to the front are among the many things a spotter must be aware of. It is essential for a spotter to understand the order of these priorities in order to build a relationship of trust and to maximize a driver's success.
In most cases, family members do not make good spotters. A spouse or a parent can get a driver in trouble on the racetrack so often that the team would actually be better off without a radio. This can occur in at least two different ways. First, the family member can be so excited for their driver to get to the front that they forget one simple fact: A 17-foot car doesn't fit in a 12-foot hole. Basically, they are trying to wish their car through the pack, and it just doesn't work. The end result is the race car is often brought in on a hook and there are a lot of angry people. The spotter, meanwhile, doesn't even realize he contributed to the accident, so the situation is repeated throughout the year.