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Lifesavers: Why Spotters Are the Unsung Heroes Of NASCAR
High above the race track, spotters' watchful eyes and rapid-fire communication can be the difference between a victorious run or disaster.
Blazing fast cars, racing inches apart. An endless number of parts that could fail at any moment. Exposure to radically inclement weather. If that sounds like a recipe for disaster, you wouldn’t be too far off, but that same omnipresent danger is what fundamentally makes the world of NASCAR racing so exhilarating. Stemming from the 40 drivers pushing their bodies and cars to the brink, the intrinsic risks for both human and machine are arguably greater than those of any other professional sport, but it’s that same high-octane action that has the power to electrify legions of die-hard fans and, in a hundredth of a second, turn ordinary humans into timeless legends. It takes a special type of person to trade paint with 39 other drivers at blistering speeds, sometimes in excess of 200 miles per hour, but with so much at stake every, single race for every single wheelman, who’s watching their back? Enter the nail-biting role of the NASCAR spotter.
Perched atop an elevated platform called a "crow’s nest" with dizzyingly high-powered optics and an arsenal of radios, spotters’ importance cannot be overstated.
“The spotters have become more involved in every race,” noted Joey Logano on a recent episode of USA Network’s "Race for the Championship." “Having that relationship with somebody that you trust and can coach you along… That’s very valuable.”
Like a hungry raptor tracking its prey from above, a spotter is instrumental in relaying both strategic, in-race elements as well as crucial information concerning the safety of their driver. Because of that, spotters and drivers often forge a truly unique and unbreakable bond.
“For me and Joey, I feel like we lean on each other more so than any driver I’ve ever worked with,” stated Coleman Pressley, spotter for Logano’s No. 22 car on Penske Racing. “Joey’s my best friend, and I don’t want to be the reason he gets in a wreck.”
Since the inception of the NASCAR spotter in the late 1980s when there were no video monitors to relay satellite feeds of the race, constant verbal communication has always been the name of the game for these watchful eyes. As Brad Keselowski explained, spotters survey and assess the action on the track, then diagnose any potential risks for a driver in real time.
“I want my spotter to communicate at such a high level that I know what’s going on in a race without having to think about that,” Keselowski said, and his spotter TJ Majors couldn’t agree more.
“I think the spotter role has taken on a lot more in the last handful of years,” Majors said about his position on "Race for the Championship." “It’s not 1985 anymore when the cars are separated out by seven seconds. They can only see but so much in them cars. Brad’s safety is my number one concern, but a close second is the competitive side of things.”
Amidst the beautiful chaos down below on the track, the spotter is a reliable, calming force, condensing a wide gamut of information into easily digestible nuggets that span everything from how other rivals are performing to foreign objects on that track that might pose a threat to a driver and his vehicle. Considering how wrecks in NASCAR can develop in a blink of an eye, spotters have an immense amount of pressure on them to keep their drivers safe and in the race. In essence, they’re both invaluable and irreplaceable assets for any team, especially when it comes to super speedways like Talladega.
“Drivers rely on the eyes of the spotter,” says Kim Coon of NBC Sports on "Race for the Championship." “A lot of the time, drivers have no idea what’s going on around them. The spotters are so important – it’s literally the difference between life and death.”
That’s a heavy burden for any person, but that’s what they sign up for, and at a mere $2,500 per race, according to Sportskeeda, a spotter’s salary might just be the best bargain in any sport.
Can't get enough NASCAR action? Watch “Race For The Championship,” which follows the lives of NASCAR's biggest stars on and off the track, Thursdays at 10/9c on USA Network. And catch up on all race action on Peacock.