Everybody hears about the drivers, the crew chiefs, the car chiefs, the car owners, the pit crew members and the guys in the shop - but do you ever hear about the spotters? Well, here I am to introduce you to some spotters and tell you about their job.
Lorin Ranier, current spotter for Jamie McMurray, has been spotting for 15 years now. Last year, he worked at Roush-Fenway Racing with David Ragan, though made the jump over to Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing for 2011 to work with McMurray.
For Ranier, a good spotter is someone who knows how to relay good information.
"The problem is you have to ask a driver that as it's the information you relay to him," he said. "Some drivers like certain guys. What makes a good spotter is relaying the information to the driver that the driver needs to hear. The thing is some drivers like certain things while other drivers may not like that information. No information is better than no information so if you're not certain, don't say anything."
A lot of people understand that the spotter's job is the relay information to their driver with people around them on track and tips on what line to run, and pretty much keeping them safe and out of trouble.
"Make no mistake about it," Brett Griffin, spotter for Elliott Sadler, said. "Our number one priority is to keep the driver safe. That's a pretty big statement when you think about it. 200-plus mph and our main priority is to keep them safe. The competition side of the sport has started to lean on us way more than it used to, especially at restrictor plate tracks."
When it comes to the pit stops, a whole new game of keeping drivers safe comes to the forefront as they also have to keep other pit crew members safe.
"You work with the crew chief on the pit stops as what that entails is you give him the pit road speed and when he gets a certain point, you give him a warning like 10 to go," Ranier said. "Then the crew chief will get him to his stall and out. Then I'll pick it up and help him get out. I don't have a lot of responsibility during the pit stops."
Meier says the job just comes to making sure you have a happy driver.
“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.”
To be ready to their job, the spotters have to prepare by making sure to have extra batteries for their radios, snacks, drinks and making sure to keep the bathroom schedule in check.
"We wait for a caution and then we can always shoot down to the bathroom if it's a long caution," Ranier said. "So what I do normally is I go to the bathroom during the national anthem so that way I'm good for the race. Also, before the race, I don't drink a lot."
With the variety of tracks they hit, its not wonder that there are some that don't set well with certain spotters.
"It's more of a preference," Ranier said. "I prefer Charlotte Motor Speedway as I like the style of racing. A lot of spotter's stands are the same so there's not really that anymore. So it more so goes back to the style of track you're at and what you like. The least—I really don't like Martinsville."
For Brett Griffin, Pocono and Phoenix both make tough places to spot at.
"Pocono is a huge track so the cars are always a long, long ways away from us and the angles are difficult to help the drivers," Griffin said. It's not a bad track just a tough place for us to really help the drivers. "Phoenix, on the other hand, there's not one good thing I can say about the spotters' stand or the view where we stand. We can't see the bottom of turns three and four and the cars are constantly coming directly at us or going away from us which makes the depth perception very difficult. You may or may not think it's a big deal but I'd be willing to bet you most of the "BIG" wrecks at Phoenix happen in turns three and four or on restarts. Does where the spotters' stand is located play a role in that? Possibly."
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.
With those wrecks, obvious criticim is seen for the spotters via members of the media, fans or other teams as they blame it on the spotter not being able to help them.
"I love it," Griffin said of the criticism. "Someone has to get the blame, right? If it wasn't for them throwing us under the bus no one would know we even exist. The problem is they never ask us about it during the broadcasts. What I think is even funnier is when TV says something about the spotters and whether or not we're doing a good job. "Then they show a video clip with a delayed audio clip which makes us look like a bunch of incompetent goons. Oh well, what can you do???"
Joey Meier, spotter for Brad Keselowski, says you better be able to take it as it 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.”
Like most people in the garage, the toughest part of the job is the travel. Though with the exact job, Ranier said its the speedways.
"Speedways are really hard as you've really got to be on your game so it's really difficult," he said.
Though also having the right answer to a question can be tough at times.
“Personally, the hardest for me is to try and have all the answers when asked by the driver or crew chief,” Meier 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.”
While some spotters just do their weekend job, other spotters have other jobs that they do. Some spotters work in the shop, well other spotters, like Ranier, work at their own company.
“I work for a company called MMI where I’m head of driver development so I work with a bunch of young up-and-coming drivers and try to create the next superstar of the sport.” Ranier said.
He speaks with up-and-coming drivers to check up on their progress, though he also provides them with a variety of things to help further their careers. One of the things being the simulator, which many Sprint Cup drivers—including Denny Hamlin—have used to help them learn the tracks.
“It’s not so much actually learning how you drive the car, but where the corners are, and understanding the breaking points and how you approach the corners,” Ranier said.
So next time you're watching a race, think about the role of your driver's spotter while thinking of the other crew members.