Spotters Toil In Anonymity Despite Huge Importance In Race

According to an article in ESPN -The Magazine this week, a NASCAR race spotter is “equal parts shrink, motivational speaker, messenger, seer, treaty negotiator, driver’s ed instructor and life preserver.” After Sunday’s rain-delayed NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Pocono, you can also add weather forecaster to the mix.

The ESPN article explores spotting – one of racing’s most misunderstood and least appreciated jobs. Penned by Ryan McGee, the story gives the reader a small history of how race spotting (the term taken from returning WW II artillery vets) came into fashion to what the responsibilities of the job are today.

The fact that McGee even did this story is somewhat surprising to this writer.

For years, we’ve stated publicly that spotters are the second-most important person in any race. Next to the driver, no one team member has a greater role – or responsibility – in the team’s success while the vehicle is on the track. You wouldn’t know it, however, based on the attention spotters get.

Don’t think so? Let’s compare jobs.

The crew chief is responsible for race strategy and without a doubt, can have a hand in the outcome of the race. Bob Osborne’s gas strategy won the race Sunday for Carl Edwards, but as important as that was, Osborne wasn’t riding with Edwards for the 3 hours, 49 minutes and 46 seconds it took to complete the event. The spotter was.

Meanwhile, the pit crew, as we saw with Jimmie Johnson’s unit last week at Indy, can actually win a race. But their 13-second ballets are just that – a micro second burst of energy five or six times an event – not the three-plus hours of totally engaged activity that Johnson’s spotter had.

Still, almost every fan can tell you who the crew chief is for a particular driver. Some of the real hardcore followers of the sport can even recite the names of team tire changers, carriers, jack and gas men. Now, name five spotters for me. Heck, name one if you can.

The bottom line is spotter’s toil in anonymity. Nobody knows who they are. Crew chiefs roll up the team’s television time and Joyce Julius numbers with countless interviews and sponsor mentions. Meanwhile, pit crew members get face time and name mentions every week and in special events like the All Star race at Charlotte.

The spotters? – They’re occasionally shown, almost always in a long shot, huddling together up on top of the press box or whatever structure they are perched on. Once in a great while, the spotter is called by name by a broadcaster but to date, I have never seen a winning spotter interviewed during or after a race. For that matter, I can’t remember the last time I saw a spotter being interviewed about anything.

For whatever reason, the television and radio networks that cover the sport don’t take time – or value the role of the spotter enough – to find out who that person is for any particular team. Most teams are just as guilty rarely putting the name of their spotter in their press materials.

The ESPN article included the names of Cup spotters Brett Griffin (Elliott Sadler), Jeff Dickerson (Kyle Busch), Joel Edmonds (Greg Biffle) Shawn Reutimann (David Reutimann), Eddie Masencup (Casey Mears), Rocky Ryan (Jeff Burton), T.J. Majors (Dale Earnhardt, Jr.), and Greg Newman (Ryan Newman). Without a doubt, the story was the most recognition spotters have been accorded anywhere to date – and it only mentioned eight of them. Given there are 43 drivers in a Cup race, that means 35 other spotters didn’t get any love in the story.

Now, I know some of you are thinking this column is just a case of sour grapes. As a NASCAR race spotter since 1995, some of you might deduce this story is just a way for me to toot my own horn about how important my job is. It’s a means for me to grab a part of the NASCAR media bandwagon, right?


The fact is as a NASCAR media member since the mid-1980’s, I’ve been able to ‘toot my own horn’ anytime I want. This isn’t one of them. In reality, I have resisted writing this story for years – no matter how pissed off I am when I see the pit crew getting all the props and having all the fun during the All Star race intros while the spotters get no recognition at all from the media types. They don’t even get a name mention and are never included in the graphic with the rest of the team member names.

This isn’t about me, or any of the spotters grabbing the media spotlight. It’s about respect.

If you total up all the spotters who work the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Craftsman Truck Series events, there’s probably less than 100 of us who are lucky enough to have the best seat in the house every week. Who needs media attention? That in itself is satisfaction enough.

On the other hand, spotters a small fraternity of high-wire walkers who are willing to take the lives of the competitors and the livelihood of the team members and their families into their hands for a few hours each week.

There is no other job in all of sports like it. If the wrong pitch is called in baseball, it might get hit out of the park. If a football player misses a tackle, the result can be a touchdown for the other team. In basketball, a missed assignment can leave somebody open for a three-pointer.

If a spotter screws up, their driver – or another competitor – can lose their life. There are very few jobs in sports, or anywhere else in the employment community for that matter, that says if you make a mistake at work, the results can be fatal. Police, fire responders and millitary come to mind, but that’s about it.

As such, and given the impact and responsibility the spotters impart on the race each week, they deserve more than a rare occasional mention by the media. Frankly, it would be nice if our families and friends back home could hear our names once and awhile. It actually might lend some new story lines to the broadcasts instead of constantly showing the pit crew members skipping around and high-fiving each other.

Remember that the next time a driver climbs out of his mangled racer and states ‘my spotter didn’t tell me I was clear.” Right now, that’s about the only time spotters get any recognition from the media and that’s a damn shame.

Still Single File –

While Sunday’s race from Pocono wasn’t the debacle of the Badyear fiasco at Indy the week before, it wasn’t a barnburner either.

Gas mileage races like Sunday’s event are usually kind of snoozers anyway and the Pocono event, with little side-by-side racing throughout, fit the bill. If ever the division needed a barnburner, Sunday was it. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

Still, the race was entertaining enough to not switch over to Senior’s Golf or Women’s Tennis as was the case at Indy a week ago. Edwards’ and Osborne’s gas strategy had the right stuff to get the team their fourth win of the season and that proved to have enough drama to keep most viewers engaged.

Hopefully, next weekend’s race at Watkins Glen will have more racing and less riding. Take heart race fans – Bristol is just two weeks away.

Sloshfest –

If the NASCAR Nationwide race at Montreal this weekend proved anything, it was that NASCAR races should never be held in the rain.

Nuff’ said.

Final Thought –

We loaded up the RAV 4 with friends and snacks and headed 60 miles up the road to Hickory Motor Speedway for the USAR Hooters Pro Cup race Saturday night. It’s not often this writer gets to watch a race as a fan and we were treated to a great show.

We can’t ever remember seeing more three-wide racing on the tiny Hickory oval. It was short-track racing at its finest and despite the constant battle for real estate, there were few cautions due to contact in the 250-lap event.

At $15 advance and $25 at the gate (kids free), it was also a huge bargain (there was also a 50-lap Allison Legacy Series race). The grandstand showed it as the place was packed. All this, despite thunderstorms throughout the area and a 30-minute rain shower at the track less than two hours prior to the green flag.

In an era when NASCAR rules the airwaves and most people get their weekly racing fix through the tube, it was good to see that the old ‘Saturday Night Special’ is alive and well. Next time you’re looking for something to do on the weekend, consider visiting your local short track for a weekly show or special event. The price is right and you won’t be disappointed with the level of entertainment.

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