The attitude of the spotters I know seems to fall into one of two categories. First, the ones that feed their driver valuable information so he or she can make the best possible decisions while on-track. Or second, the ones who feel they need to drive the car through their radio like a remote controlled toy.
Guess which one is doing the job properly?
If you said the first person, you are correct.
Some drivers are simply not ready for the upper rungs of the motorsports ladder. They are driving a car with a spotter in their ear feeding them braking and acceleration instructions like a marionette. This paired with a spotter who does not know his proper role is a dangerous combination.
This becomes apparent during some post-crash driver interviews where spotter blame comes out within the first few sentences. At this point someone needs to put a stop to the interview.
The spotter is a valuable tool in a driver’s arsenal. The extra set of eyes and ears is a great booster to the safety factor. But every aspect of driving the racecar falls on the shoulders of one person. The driver.
It is up to the driver to make sure a pass is clear, to calculate the closing rate of a car behind him, or see a crash up ahead. The spotter is a wonderful assistant in informing about all of these. But the person holding the steering wheel is ultimately, without excuse, responsible for the car’s actions.
“You have 10 on the five. P3. Last lap was a 30,” a spotter could tell his driver as he roars down the backstretch.
This is racing language that just informed the driver of quite a bit. Translated this means he has a 10 car-length lead over Mark Martin. He is running in position number three. Lap times are called out in tenths of a second because a car will mostly run in the same lap time in terms of seconds for a majority of the weekend. The second count is not wasted as part of the radio traffic. So that lap was, for instance, 29.30 seconds, or “a 30.” Since most weekends have teams on the track on Friday, by Sunday the driver already knows he is in the 29 second range nearly every time. Telling him the “29” part is a waste of time.
That is the kind of useful information that helps drivers.
Notices of crashes up ahead, being clear on passes, and suggesting a line around the track a faster car is using are invaluable to a race team. The safety aspect is huge and the entire sport embraces the value of spotting. Just do not forget the bottom line falls with the driver, not the person on the spotter perch.
If the driver needs a voice in his ear telling him how to drive, then he needs to rethink his qualifications of competing in racing’s upper levels.
The spotter needs to grasp his proper role too. That is to relay the most information and not drive the car.
(Patrick Reynolds is a former NASCAR team mechanic who hosts "Motorweek Live" Mondays at 7pm ET/4pm PT. Listen at www.racersreunionradio.com.)