Being on a NASCAR team is hard work, no matter your job. However, one role fans may underappreciate is the spotter. This person can make or break your day because they’re in your ear from the green flag until the checkered flag.
In this article, we’ll explore the job of a NASCAR spotter from the first moments on track to packing up for the next race. We’ll also run through famous spotters and related questions to this critical job.
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Spotting is hectic because so many things are going on during the race. Imagine trying to tell your driver what to do when they’re nearly a mile away from you on the other side of the track. Here are 10 responsibilities for NASCAR spotters.
The primary job of spotters is to be the eyes and ears of the driver while they’re on the track. Your driver can see through their windshield and rearview mirror, but the remaining space becomes a blind spot for them. Spotters must tell the driver what cars are near them and just how close they are. This job is especially vital at superspeedways like Daytona, Talladega and Atlanta, where the cars drive nearly 200 miles per hour in packs.
Forty cars zoom around the track and may drop small pieces of debris. Blown tires, bodywork or mechanical failures lead to dangerous parts sitting in the racing groove. Drivers can spot these objects, but it’s up to the spotters to find hazards on the track. They’ll notify NASCAR officials, who decide whether to throw a caution flag. If the debris is out of the groove, NASCAR may wait until the next caution to pick it up.
Driving nearly 200 miles per hour for 200 to 400 laps means crashes can and will happen. The last caution-free race was the 2002 EA Sports 500 at Talladega, so this phenomenon is something you’ll never see again due to stage racing.
When a crash happens, the drivers have difficulty seeing due to smoke and other cars spinning on the track. The spotter quickly tells the driver what’s happening around them and how to navigate their machine to avoid damage. Sometimes, the driver can’t do anything about the wreck happening in front of them. However, the spotter can save the day and help their driver get a terrific finish.
The leader of a NASCAR race has a significant advantage because they’re getting clean air in the engine. This aerodynamic advantage lets them stay out in front even if their tires aren’t as good as the second-place driver. However, this advantage dwindles when the leader hits lapped traffic.
Lapped traffic tends to be slower, but the leader must find their way around these back-of-the-pack cars. Some fight to stay on the lead lap and won’t let the first-place car by easily. If you come across your rival, you’ll have an even harder time. Spotters help the driver determine the best lane to pass their competitors. They may ask the other spotters to let their driver have the preferred groove and stay out of the leader’s way.
The superspeedway tracks require drafting to get to the front and stay there. Your teammates are your best friends to get drafting help, but what if they’ve crashed out of the race? Spotters help negotiate driver alliances. Your spotter may work a deal with a driver from another team to work together and race to the front.
These alliances are crucial when another manufacturer severely outnumbers you. For example, imagine there are two laps left in the Daytona 500 and Fords constitute six of the top eight positions. The other two drive Chevrolets and agree to work together despite being from different teams. This alliance is crucial to ensure these cars stay near the front.
Drivers and their teams decide who wins most races, but Mother Nature can interfere and mess up everyone’s plans. The spotters sit high above the track and have a broad view of the surrounding clouds. They watch the weather to see how close the possible storms are.
Weather can stop the race and give fans surprise winners. For example, Aric Almirola at Daytona in 2014, Justin Haley at Daytona in 2019 and Chris Buescher at Pocono in 2016 got their first wins due to rain-shortened races.
Spotters help with pit strategy by watching what other teams do, and relaying this information to the driver and crew chief. For example, the lead driver’s spotter may see other cars in the top five head to pit road for fresh tires. Knowing this information, the lead driver can pit for new tires and avoid losing time to their competitors.
Conversely, a driver a few spots down the leaderboard may pit for two tires or only get fuel to save time. Keeping the same tires is risky, but it has paid off for drivers before. Spotters are crucial in determining what pit strategy is the best.
You want to be the fastest car on the track during the race. Spotters notify their drivers of lap times and how they change as the tires wear. They’ll tell drivers where their car is fastest and what lanes the other racers use to gain speed. If one driver tests the high groove and gains momentum, others will likely follow.
Pit road is a busy place when the caution comes out. Nearly all of the 40 cars may come for fuel and tires, with each team taking 12 seconds or fewer on each pit stop. This narrow stretch gets chaotic, especially when drivers vary with their strategies. Cars coming in their pit stalls as others come out creates a recipe for disaster, making the spotter your best friend in this situation.
The spotter guides you down the pit lane to find your stall while notifying you what cars are exiting their stalls. When you finish your pit stop, the spotter tells you if it’s safe to leave because another driver could be entering their pit. Spotter communication is crucial on pit road because the last thing you want is to damage your vehicle and compromise your performance.
During the race, drivers focus on winning the race and nothing else. However, caution laps give racers time to contemplate what’s happening elsewhere. Sometimes, they’re concerned about other sports.
When he was racing, Dale Earnhardt Jr. asked his spotter for Washington Commanders scores under the caution laps. Sunday afternoon races often clash with NFL games in the fall, causing many drivers to miss their favorite teams playing. However, Earnhardt Jr. figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask spotter T.J. Majors for score updates occasionally.
Winning a NASCAR race is a special occasion because it’s one of the most challenging tasks in motorsports. Getting to victory lane requires a complete team effort from the driver, pit crew, crew chief and spotter. The spotter isn’t hands-on with the car, but their communication with the team makes or breaks a race.
NASCAR lets you listen to team radios, so check it out next time you watch a race. You’ll better understand what the spotters tell their drivers to maximize their speed and safety.
Q: Where are the spotters at the racetrack?
A: Spotters stand above the grandstands to reach the highest point possible at the racetrack. Here, they can see their drivers race around the ovals and accurately tell them information.
Q: What do spotters use to see their drivers?
A: Seeing your driver can be challenging at the largest racetracks, so spotters use binoculars to enhance their vision. Some spotters have a video monitor to watch the race’s live broadcast, assisting their spotting.
Q: How do spotters see at road courses?
A: Road courses are spread out, requiring two spotters for the track. The spotters can only see so much, so the driver may be alone for a section.
Q: How much does a NASCAR spotter get paid?
A: NASCAR Cup Series spotters make about $2,500 per race and often receive bonuses if their driver wins.
Q: How do you become a spotter in racing?
A: Luckily, you don’t need first-hand experience racing cars — although it helps. Many spotters start at local short tracks to gain experience and work their way up the ladder.
With an extensive background in automotive journalism, Jack Shaw brings a wealth of knowledge and enthusiasm to the table. As a contributing writer for Offroad Xtreme, Ford Muscle, Engine Labs and other leading publications, his articles provide readers with expert insights and captivating stories from the world of racing.