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NASCAR-WCUP: Bristol: A Spotter's Most Difficult Challenge

18 August 1998

Ty Norris grabs a radio and headset and climbs a top the grandstand on Sundays to watch Steve Park drive the #1 Pennzoil Monte Carlo on the Winston Cup circuit. Norris doesn't have the best seat in the house each weekend just to watch the race. Instead, Norris, general manager of Dale Earnhardt Inc., works as Park's "spotter" -- an extra set of eyes for the rookie driver. While it may look like a fun job, few can imagine the mental strain spotters go through safely guiding drivers through 500 miles of often fender-to-fender racing. On Saturday at the half-mile high-banked track in Bristol, Norris and fellow spotters face perhaps their most difficult challenge of the year. With a 43-car starting field, drivers are rarely out of traffic and the high speeds usually mean a race with at least a dozen or so incidents.

Spotting At Bristol:

"Bristol is absolutely the hardest place to spot, bar none. I mainly do two things. I watch our Pennzoil car as well as try to watch ahead to warn Steve (Park) in case of trouble. The problem at Bristol is both of those things are usually happening at the same time. At Bristol, you almost have to have one eye looking in one direction and one eye looking in the other direction.

"At Bristol you can't use more than one spotter. Things happen way too fast there and the spotters would be talking over each other. Bristol is the most nerve-wracking place. When I spot there I sometimes feel like I'm doing the radio broadcast. All I do is talk, talk, and talk. I'm sure it bothers the driver but you have no choice. When I climb up in the stands before the race I always take two or three extra batteries. That is how much spotters talk there."

Why Do We Have Spotters? "Spotters are like paid backseat drivers, but a spotter's main reason for being is safety. He let's the driver know what is going on the racetrack where the driver can't see. Cars get in a driver's blind spot or he doesn't know another car is under him going into a corner. There also might be an accident or there might be oil on the track. A spotter is also an information person. He tells the driver what position he is in, what his lap times are, or who's running in what groove on the track. Sometimes you are even a cheerleader when the driver needs motivation or you keep the driver calm when things don't go so well."

Value Of A Spotter:

"A spotter cannot win you the race, or make the car, motor or driver better. But, he can lose you the race and he can cost you a racecar. It's not a job for the feint of heart. It takes all your attention and you have to be on your toes over a 4-hour race. When the race is over the spotter is often as exhausted as the driver. It's not like turning the wheel, but the mental exhaustion is incredible. There have been times when the race ended, I didn't know who won. That is how much you are mentally focused on your car on every single lap. If you get caught up watching Earnhardt, Martin and Gordon battling for the lead you are going to miss a wreck or not see someone get up under your driver. The pressure is knowing that if you screw up its going to cost 20 people and that's hard to take.

"A good spotter is like a good referee. You don't even know that he is there. A bad spotter you know he is there. You don't want to become a factor. If you are non-factor then you are a perfect spotter."

  • Saturday, August 22, 1998 in Bristol, TN for the Goody's Headache Powder 500
  • Track/Race Length: 0.533 miles, 500 laps, 266.5 miles
  • TV: 7:30pm/et on ESPN
  • First Round Qualifying - 2 laps, Friday, August 21, 1998 at pm/et, TV-ESPN2 Live
  • Second-Round Qualifying: 2 laps, Saturday, August 22th at 12:30pm/et Radio Coverage by the Performance Racing Network