When you hear people talking about the different teams, you hear of the drivers and their impact with their driving ability. You hear about the crew chief and car chief and their impact with strategy and setting up the car. You hear about the pit crews and the impact that they have on pit road. You hear about the car owners and how they put the perfect team together. You hear about the guys back in the shop who build the pieces to fit the puzzle. But how often do you hear about the spotters?
The only time that a spotter enters the discussion is strategy at the restrictor plate tracks, or when they get criticized for supposedly making the wrong call.
So to those who don’t know about spotters in racing, what is their job? Well instead of giving you my take, I’ll let Joey Meier explain.
“Primary job of a spotter is safety,” Meier, spotter for Brad Keselowski told me. “With the restricted vision out the cockpit these days, we are the extra set of eyes for the driver. When time permits we can fill in the holes of what the driver doesn't know as well.”
And when it comes to a pit stop?
“Depending on what the crew chief wants, some spotters talk the driver all the way to the pit box and other won't talk at all while on pit road,” Meier said. “At the very least, we will communicate to driver a reminder of pit road speed and when we are pitting.”
Spotters deserve their dues as they have an important job during the weekend. To help you in getting to know the spotters and how things are for them, I welcome you to a series of articles that’ll highlight different spotters.
Featured in this article is Joey Meier, Cup and Nationwide spotter for Brad Keselowski.
Meier started at Dale Earnhardt Incorporated in 1998 as a secondary spotter (a spotter who helps the main spotter at the road courses and super speedways). In 1999, he moved up to doing all the practices and then became the primary spotter in 2001.
In talking about the criticism, Meier said it’s something that generally comes with the job.
“Criticism comes with the job,” he told me. “If you are not going to have broad shoulders, you have picked the wrong job. You are gonna get yelled at occasionally. That's the way it works. That being said, most people realize we don't have the ability to take a 43rd place car and drag it to first (though some guys think they can) but we can take a first place car and through some poor communication allow it to be involved in an incident and end up 43rd.”
Meier said, for him, the hardest part of the job is making sure to have the right answer for the crew chief.
“Personally, the hardest for me is to try and have all the answers when asked by the driver or crew chief,” he said. “Whether it was a race situation or a football score. I try and immerse myself with as much info as I can to be the answer provider when called upon. Secondly, not having to use the restroom during a race.”
There are some tracks that make that decision harder than others.
The picture chosen for the article is a shot from the spotter’s stand at Phoenix, which is considered by both Meier and Rocky Ryan, spotter for Jeff Burton, as one of the worst spotter’s stands due to its positioning.
According to Brett Griffin, spotter for Elliott Sadler, it’s one of the worst stands due to the depth perception angle sucking from that vantage point.
Meier said if it was up to him with where the spotter’s stand would be located, he recommends that it be high and over towards the front stretch. He says for fans that want to find the best spot to spot, watch the races on TV closely and see where the cameras are located as that’s a good indication.
Other tracks that are tough to spot from would include Indy, Pocono, and Walkin’s Glen while Michigan, Bristol, and Atlanta rank on the other side of the spectrum.
In talking of key points about the job of a spotter, another key in being a spotter is being able to work with the specific driver you’re paired with.
“There is a large variance of what drivers want to hear, it's our job to listen and learn and then communicate in that way,” he explained. “Some drivers wants coaching, pep talks, cheerleading, others simply want a CLEAR HIGH, OR CAUTIONS OUT!”
So in talking of what makes a good spotter, he says you got to make your driver happy.
“A good spotter is strictly defined by doing whatever makes the driver happy,” he said. “He has to make nobody else happy. And what one driver may want another driver may despise. If a spotter works with more than one driver, he does need the ability to adapt to the different styles of each driver and NOT just do it HIS way.”
Also, when it comes to being up on the spotter’s stand, there’s a certain reason why everybody gets along for the most part. This comes to be key when it comes to strategy on the restrictor plate tracks.
“Most spotters would all hang out if time permitted,” he said. “We all respect each other, for the most part. We all know we are not driving the cars and only have so much input as to what our driver is doing. For the most part, it's a self-policing job. Those guys (or gals) that are good at spotting, will stay on the roof for a while…some come and go for a reason.”
Look for the next article to be posted as future spotters to be featured include Mike Calinoff (spotter for Matt Kenseth), Rocky Ryan (spotter for Jeff Burton), Lorin Ranier (spotter for David Ragan), Chris Lambert (spotter for Brian Vickers) and possible others.
Thanks to Sharon for this image.