Spectator Vs. Spotter: Hallow-Dega Edition

Rebecca SpenceCorrespondent IOctober 30, 2009

TALLADEGA, AL - APRIL 26:  Ryan Newman, driver of the #39 Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet, leads a group of cars during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway on April 26, 2009 in Talladega, Alabama.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

As a race fan for nearly all my life, I can honestly say nothing beats a wild card fall race at Talladega Superspeedway.

With cars darting in and out of the draft, going three, four, even five wide around the high banks at breakneck speeds, it’s NASCAR at its most thrilling.

This year the thrill of Halloween and the excitement of Talladega merge into one giant Alabama block party.

Amongst the celebration of ghost goblins and fans dressed like drivers, there is another thrill ride in store for one team this week.

The No. 19 team of Elliott Sadler and RPM (as you may have heard) will be running Roush-Yates power under the hood of a Ford. The one-race “test run” for the team is in anticipation of the possible merger to take place before next season.

In light of the event, I asked my past SvS guest Brett Griffin (spotter for the No. 19 team) if he would like to return to feature in this week’s edition.

“I'm stoked,” Griffin said when asked about the team being in a Ford at Talladega.

“Elliott (Sadler) has always run well at restrictor plate races, but to be back in a Ford and have Yates horsepower under the hood is awesome.

“We have to race smart, stay out of trouble, and if we're there at the end, we'll be in contention to win. I don't know any current spotter/driver combination that has been together longer than we have. I've been spotting for him since 2001. I think we know what each other are thinking, and at Talladega, that trust can go a long way.”

So knowing how well Sadler and Griffin have worked together and the great runs the team has overall at superspeedways, I asked Griffin to share his “bird's-eye” view of the track and its racing.

“As is often the case at most tracks, the spotter's stand at Talladega offers the best view in the house,” Griffin said.

“We stand at the tip-top of the grandstands approximately 300 yards before the start finish line. There's one thing unique about this spotter's stand, though. The fans are literally one row under us and are also just to our left. So, when they start pointing and ‘ooh-ing’ and ‘aaah-ing,’ it can be a little bit of a distraction. And, what I mean by a distraction is, what do they see that I don't?”

Spotters and teams as a whole have to be on their guard this trip to Talladega. After the events on the last lap of the spring race, people have been wondering the true depth of challenges that face competitors and their teams at a track like Talladega.

“The toughest challenge we face as spotters are clearing the drivers as they exit turn four and enter turn one. They are coming at us and going away from us at those points, so depth perception can be a big challenge.

“The other major challenge is how far we are away from the backstretch in the event of a crash. It's a long ways to the backstretch, and if cars start wrecking, it can be tough to give the driver the information he needs to miss the wreck. The window for information at Talladega is much, much smaller,” says Griffin.

“There's up to 43 cars in one pack, running inches apart. It's a chess match at 200 mph.

“From the team's perspective we just want to have smooth pit stops all day, stay out of trouble, and not get the front end knocked in to where our temps get too hot.

“If you can do those things, stay in the lead draft, and be going forward in the last five laps, you'll have a chance to win, or at least a solid finish.”

A solid finish is exactly what the Stanley Ford team is looking for this weekend.

Now, Talladega is a love it or hate it kind of track among the drivers, isn’t that right? What are Griffin’s thoughts about it?

Well, he agreed.

“I know the drivers don't love Talladega. You can't ask for 43 individuals to be perfect all day when they are three and four wide and inches apart. But, for me as a spotter, I love it. This is my favorite track.”

Keep an eye on the No. 19 Stanley Ford Fusion this weekend as Sadler takes a déjà vu ride in a Yates-powered ford for the first time since August of 2006.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.