The final article of the series is a little different than normal. Instead of featuring one of NASCAR’s spotters, it features one of the ARCA Re/Max Series spotters.
Two weeks ago, the ARCA Re/Max Series ran at the Toledo Speedway, which turns three and four are pictured in the image as taken from the spotter’s stand. Dakoda Armstrong, driver of the No. 22 Dodge for Cunningham Motorsports, started the race in fourth and finished seventh, with a little help from his spotter Jon Bell.
Bell has been spotting for seven years, dating back to the short tracks, and is now in his third year of spotting in the ARCA Series. He spent the last two years spotting for veteran Frank Kimmel and now spots for rookie Dakoda Armstrong.
He took some time out of his schedule to answer some questions.
Ashley McCubbin: How’d you get your start spotting?
Jon Bell: I have always been a huge fan of auto racing and I began racing at my hometown racetrack in Senoia, GA in 1996. In 2003 my son Phillip was old enough to begin racing and it was time for me to hang up the helmet.
From that point on I worked with my son in Legend Cars and my nephew, Bubba Pollard, racing Late Model stock cars around GA, AL and FL. One night, probably in ’03 or ’04, my nephew handed me the radio and said, “I need you to spot.” It just seemed to work.
In 2005, my son, then 15, got the opportunity to go to work for Frank Kimmel’s ARCA team as a mechanic. That meant of course, Dad had to travel as well. Heck, I was in heaven being at the “big tracks” and helping out where I could.
Then just prior to the end of the ’07 season Frank and his brother/Crew Chief Bill pulled me aside at dinner one night and told me, “We’re gonna need a Spotter next year.”
What an honor, to be called on by the nine-time ARCA champ!
Frank and his family and team remain some of my very closest friends.
Last year brought a new opportunity—in a familiar way. Again just hanging out with my son at a race (he now works for Ken Schrader Racing in NC), I “got the call.”
Schrader was running two cars in a NASCAR East Series event and I was handed a radio: “Hey—Phillip’s dad, go spot for Dakoda.”
When Dakoda signed with Penske in the offseason, I started knocking on doors. The chance to work for Dakoda, crew chief Paul Andrews, and the Cunningham team was not to be missed!
AM: What do you do during the race and during pit stops?
JB: Like the others have said in this series, my primary job is communicating to the driver what is going on around the racetrack; things he needs to be aware of both for safety as well as for competitive advantage.
On the track, the spotter tries to be constantly aware of anything that can affect our car. This can be anything from a crash around the corner to debris falling off another car to blinding sunshine in one corner.
Since we do have the best seat in the house, we watch for situations developing with other cars—be it a “personality conflict” ala Brad and Carl that my driver needs to watch out for, or possibly a change in the racing “line” around the track that the driver and/or crew chief might want to adjust for.
During caution laps we make sure the driver is aware of track safety workers and equipment that might pose a hazard. Remember, the cleanup and safety personnel don’t have a roll cage to protect them!
Another important duty of the spotter is monitoring race control radio. Yep—we have to listen to two radios at the same time. We are the most direct means of communication from race control to both the driver and the crew chief and vice-versa.
That’s how they control the “lucky dog” as well as line up prior to restarts.
My work during pitting depends on what the crew chief wants. Bill Kimmel let me count the car into the pit stall as well as clear the driver out and away down pit road. Paul Andrews on the other hand wants only a quick pit road speed reminder, and “10 away!” warning. He counts down the car into the stall and clears it back out into traffic at which point I take over.
Equally effective, but a very different style.
So it’s not just a different driver that a spotter must adjust for.
AM: What’s the hardest part of the job?
JB: Preparation! What time do I have to be up top? Did I get spare batteries? Radio? Snacks, drinks, coat, sunscreen?
Earlier this year at Salem, IN, I forgot to take my hat during practice and got roasted; except for the wonderful white stripe across the top of my head from the radio.
That looked great the next week at work!
Travel is tough as well.
ARCA is very much a blue collar series. The majority of us don’t work in racing as a primary job. Living in Georgia adds a little to the commute since I’m not able to travel with the team, based in Mooresville NC.
AM: What are the requirements for a good spotter?
JB: I’d say empathy is a good start. You really need to try to understand and feel what your driver is experiencing in that car.
The spotter is the calming voice when circumstances aren’t great. You also may have to be a calming influence when things are going really great!
AM: What are the best and worst tracks for spotting at?
JB: There ain’t no such thing as a bad racetrack! Every track has advantages and challenges. I’ve read the comments about Phoenix; maybe one day I’ll get to make my own opinion about that one.
Favorites: I really love the history at the older tracks; Milwaukee is such a tragic loss. Daytona—well, it’s Daytona (even though the sight lines are tough).
The Illinois State Fair races at DuQuoin and Springfield are special. You don’t earn your Fan Badge until you’ve seen them sling a big ol' ex-Cup car around a dirt track!
Michigan and Rockingham are a blast to spot because of the speed and different racing lines the drivers will use in the race.
AM: What do you think about the criticism spotters receive?
JB: My attitude regarding that is pretty much the same as with anything I hear TV racing commentators say.
Until you have done what I do, who are you to critique my decisions and actions/reactions? If you are overly sensitive to other’s opinions of your calls, you won’t last long.
Every person, whether fan, commentator, or competitor is entitled to their opinion, but unless you are my driver or crew chief—you’ll just get shrug from me.
AM: If you have worked with different drivers, what are some certain things that one driver prefers over another?
JB: I’ve worked with a lot of excellent drivers in the past seven or eight years I’ve been doing this. As has been said before you tailor your approach to what your driver wants to hear (i.e.: less/more), but also you have to adapt to what your driver needs to hear.
Even though the veteran driver may have tons of experience, occasionally the spotter has to communicate the appropriate sense of urgency.
The rookie may need encouragement or caution. And this can change over the race or over the season.
AM: What do you do if you have to go to the bathroom during a race?
JB: I always take care of that prior to Driver Intro. I might sneak off during a red flag, but only if it’s urgent.
And yes—I’m still on the radio. Just in case race control gives some important information that needs to be passed along.
AM: What do you do about food and drinks during the race?
JB: We have lots of good food in our trailer and I always eat at the trailer before heading up. Evelyn (Paul’s wife and our team mom) also fixes a bag of snacks for me and the spotter of our team car.
I personally take two bottles of water with me for every race. It can get hot up there!
AM: What is your recommendation to someone who wants to work on a race team and possibly be a spotter?
JB: Get involved! Go to your local racetrack, get your behind down in the pits after the races, and meet the people down there.
I guarantee before long you will meet someone who would love to have your help—whatever help you can provide.
Find what you’re good at and what you love and pursue it.
Getting to the top of our sport is no easier, quicker, or less demanding than in football, baseball, or golf. Just as NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers are some of the best racing drivers in the world, their mechanics, pit crews, fabricators, and spotters are that good in their respective positions.
I never pass up an opportunity to spot a race. Besides ARCA, this year I have worked for a team in the Pro Cup series, I have worked for Kimmel’s son and nephew, and when schedules permit I still love to follow my nephew to the track and spot for him.
Every bit of practice I can get!
Whenever the opportunity presents, I will unashamedly scan the Cup guys to learn their styles, timing, phrasings, anything I can try to adapt to improve my game.
My goal is to rise as far in the sport as opportunity and ability allow me. God has given me a fantastic opportunity!
I’ve been able to travel the country (and even to Canada once) to participate in my absolute favorite sport—while watching and assisting as my son matures in his own NASCAR career. I intend to ride it as long and as far as possible so that when I pull off the headset for the last time, I can be satisfied that I gave it my very best!
In concluding the series, I have to say that it’s been a learning experience for me with finding out new information about the spotters and also a good chance to see some of these guys beyond the surface of their jobs. I hope in reading the series, you, the readers, also had this same type of experience.
Racing’s Unsung Heroes: Spotter Series
Photo Credit: Ashley McCubbin