Spectator vs. Spotter: Kansas Edition with AJ Allmendinger's Lookout Man

Rebecca SpenceCorrespondent ISeptember 30, 2009

Fifteen miles west of downtown Kansas City sits the Kansas Speedway. A 1.5-mile D-shaped oval that captures the true love of the Midwest race fan.

From the entry and exit routes named after race tracks to the exciting fan-friendly activities, Kansas is a spectator's dream.

Fans can be found in the Blue Ox campground, or the Blue Ox RV/motor home lot grilling up a batch of beer brat race-day chili (recipe can be found in the back of the guest guide), waiting to see hometown favorites and the best in the business dual it out in race No. 3 of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

For this week’s edition of SVS, I turn outside the Chase racers to a noteworthy team who has come alive.

The No. 44 Richard Petty Motorsports team of driver AJ Allmendinger has had a banner year. After a scary finish in New Hampshire, they bounced back to a strong seventh-place finish last week in Dover.

This Sunday is Allmendinger’s second start at the facility, and you would think his chances at a good run would be slim. However, last season he surprised most by finishing a solid ninth.

So for a look at Kansas from a different viewpoint, I turn to the man keeping Allmendinger clear of trouble on track, Keith Barnwell, spotter for the No. 44.

“It’s a new track still in our eyes, because we haven’t been going there for 10 to 20 years,” said Barnwell, as he began to describe the track from a team standpoint.

“It’s eerily similar to Chicago. It’s a really good race track, because there’s lots of room to race on, and tremendous barbecue, and that’s really a very important thing to get there in time for dinner."

“It’s a neat place, with a very good facility. It’s one we definitely do need on the schedule. It’s one I think we could run twice, not that I’m saying we need too. But it is a really, really nice facility and they take good care of us. They have the things that really matter most to us spotters, the food and a really big nice spotter’s stand.”

On the unique challenges that face a spotter and the team at Kansas, Barnwell said, “It’s not a lot different from other places we go.”

“But it has, and you don’t realize this until you go to a spotter’s stand and hang out there, bad angles.

“When they come off turn four they are coming right at you, and when they go down into turn one they are going away from you. To put that into perspective, you probably need to ride down the interstate about a half a mile behind two cars in front of you that are in each lane and see if you can try to determine when which car is in front of the other one. Then you might begin to understand what it’s like for us when the cars are going into turn one or coming off of turn four side by side.

“If you have a good driver, like I do with AJ, you just tell him ‘Hey, it’s hard to see you there coming forward just be sure your clear,’ and he is really good with his mirrors checking all around and clearing other cars. Some guys are good at it and some guys aren’t, fortunately for me he’s one of the good ones.”

On his favorite and least favorite aspects on coming to Kansas Speedway, he really didn’t have much negatively to say.

"I really don’t have a least favorite," he said. "If there is a downfall at all it would be, could we be running North Wilkesboro which is 45 minutes from my house, as opposed to that we are going approximately half way across the country. So it’s another weekend away from home."

Barnwell, like most people in this business, recognizes the double-edged sword that is the amount of travel needed.

“Probably my most favorite thing,” Barnwell continued, “is, like I said, it’s a wonderful facility. It’s new. It’s not one of those places you go to, that the second you walk through the gate, you think ‘they have got to do something to get this place up to standard’. It is already up to standard and it is a great facility. They take excellent care of us and it’s a good track for the competitors.”

Barnwell will be guiding Allmendinger through his second start on this speedway this weekend in hopes of getting the No. 44 Dodge its second consecutive top-10 finish.

Featured Spotter Bio

Full Name: Keith Robert Barnwell

Hometown: Hudson, NC currently residing in Granite Falls, NC

Spotter Since: AJ’s spotter this season, but have been a spotter for 15-plus years

Favorite Music/song: "I like absolutely all music. Especially '70s."

Favorite Movie: Remember the Titans

Favorite Off-Track Activity: "I’m a News junkie, I never make it through a day without reading two or three newspapers, and yard work—I love to mow!"

Keep an eye here next week when SVS takes on Fontana with Joey “The Pilot” Meier, spotter for the Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing No. 1 car of Martin Truex Jr.


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