Spotters play a key role in both safety and competitiveness. (Richard S. James photos)
They are the driver's second pair of eyes, relaying useful information about things happening both on track and off. They help keep the driver safe, and sometimes give him or her an edge.
Each driver in the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series is required to have a spotter in the stands. The spotter must have a radio capable of talking to the driver, and a radio tuned to the series officials. They are there to give the driver information. What information they give is entirely dependent on what the driver wants to hear.
“Everybody has their own ideas of what they're looking for from a spotter,” says Kyle LeDuc, driver of the No. 99 Monster Energy Ford Pro 4. “I'm looking for consistency, to have them keep me consistent on what I'm doing. Sometime you'll get out of the element or you'll get into a different thing, you're thinking about something else. They kind of keep you on your toes so you're doing the same thing every lap.
“You kind of use it for being aggressive and calming yourself down at the same time,” LeDuc continues. “It's more about focusing – we know how to go fast, so it's just keeping me squared up and knowing what I want to hear and knowing what I need to know to keep the car going straight and fast.”
Some drivers want to hear what the other drivers are doing around them. But the more experienced are attuned to what's going on in their immediate vicinity. They want to know about stuff they can't see or sense.
“They can let you know instantly when something occurs over a jump,” says Marty Hart, driver of the ReadyLift Pro 2 (RIGHT). “With us going as fast as we are and stuff is happening so fast, they can let you know instantly. Yes, how much room you've got is useful because it dictates which lines you take, based on how much distance you have to the guy behind you. But for me, it's much more about the safety aspect. He's watching my truck only, or the guy in front of me, the track right in front of me.”
Hart says he doesn't need any coaching, but that changes as you move to drivers with less experience. When Marty's son Kyle is out on track in his Modified Kart, Marty is giving him much more than just the basics.
“Sometimes I'll tell him where I want him to be on the racetrack, move him around the take the best line and make the car carry the most speed it can around corners. I'll tell him to be more aggressive or tell him to slow it down because he's being too aggressive, pushing too hard. That's the cool thing about being able to work with him and watch him develop,” Hart says.
There are exceptions to wanting coaching, he notes. “If a certain driver is doing something better than I am, [my spotter] will tell me to open this corner up or try a different line to see how it feels.”
It's not just fathers spotting for sons, and often the spotter isn't someone on the crew, but another driver. Indeed, some will say that drivers make the best spotters, which certainly seems backed by common sense. But it's not just any driver.
“The drivers have to drive a similar vehicle or a similar class,” says Dave Clark, Stronghold Motorsports' crew chief who has been a spotter for a variety of drivers. “The Pro 4 is totally different. You can drive the Pro 4 almost like a bike. All their turns, 90 percent of the motion is in one instant, then 10 percent is a correction. Pro 4 drivers have the traction to go in there, too inside, too slow, then get off the corner really fast. You can't do that in a Pro 2 or a Pro Lite, so you need a spotter that understands that.”