Often heard but seldom seen, spotters in the Winston Cup Series play a critical role on race day. As an extra pair of eyes located high above the racetrack, a spotter plays a role that focuses primarily on safety, but also on the competition.
Often heard but seldom seen, spotters in the Winston Cup Series play a critical role on race day. As an extra pair of eyes located high above the racetrack, a spotter plays a role that focuses primarily on safety, but also on the competition. Pontiac driver Stacy Compton relies on his spotter, Cal Lawson, for guidance throughout every Winston Cup race and has for the majority of his racing efforts since 1997.
THOUGHTS FROM CAL LAWSON, SPOTTER,
NO. 14 CONSECO PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:
HOW DID YOU GET YOUR START AS A WINSTON CUP SPOTTER?
"I actually started with Alan Kulwicki back in 1989 and have been doing it off-and-on since then. Back then, Alan would sit down with us every week before the race and tell us what he wanted to hear. Every track has some little, different things that the driver wants to hear and wants to know about. If we were at Martinsville, about every 10 laps Alan would want me to tell him to 'watch the wall and easy on the brakes.' At Daytona, he'd want me to tell him to 'be patient, be patient.' Alan was the one that really molded me. Then, when I started working with Stacy (in 1997), he just liked what I had to say.
"I'm always asking Stacy what he's wanting to hear and he just says, 'Cal, you know what to do. I'll follow your lead.'"
HOW MUCH DO YOU AND STACY TALK DURING A RACE?
"Stacy doesn't talk very much. But, if I go two or three laps without saying something, Stacy will come over the radio and say, 'Cal, you still there?' That tells me that he likes to hear something - not constant chatter, but just little things. More than anything else, it tells you that your radio is still working. If I know that he is kind of in a space where he is running all by himself, then I'll say, 'Stacy, I'm going to let you race for a while,' which means that basically 'I'm going to shut up for a while.'
"When you're with somebody that long and have done it so much, you just kind of click. I can stutter or whatever and he knows exactly what I mean. We've got a good rapport. We're both from the same part of the country. We're both Virginia boys."
HOW MUCH DO YOU 'DRIVE THE CAR' FOR STACY?
"I don't believe in that. I will tell him if the leaders are moving up the track some or if they're searching for a groove. But, I don't actually tell him, 'Hey, you need to move it up higher.' I just let him know what some of those other cats are up to.
"I always keep a stopwatch with me. When he is running all alone, you can give him some lap times and let him search for a groove a little bit to figure out where his car is best. But, I have never driven. When I hear a drivers working as spotters, I cringe when I listen to them on the radio because they do (try to drive the car). And, some of them get really, really hyper. The only time I get excited if he's about to get in a wreck. But, otherwise I really try to stay calm. He's got enough excitement sitting in that car.
"Stacy's driving style and the way that I talk to him mesh really well. A lot of people would probably like to see Stacy more aggressive. But, I firmly believe that Stacy is as good a driver as there is out here and there is no doubt in my mind that the way he drives is the way that I like to see a driver drive."
THOUGHTS FROM STACY COMPTON, NO. 14 CONSECO PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:
HOW MUCH DO YOU EXPECT TO HEAR FROM CAL DURING A RACE?
"Most of the time, just a little bit. I want him to watch the leaders, tell me where they're running, if the groove moves around - that kind of thing. But, most of the time, he just clears me or tells me I'm not clear or tells me somebody is looking and so on. You get to the point that you feel comfortable enough with what he is telling you that you don't even look a lot of times. Most of the time you take a glance, but if he says 'clear' and you need to get in a hole quick, then you turn. I think you develop that over time. If you have a spotter that you don't trust or don't feel quite as comfortable with, then you don't do that. You take a look before you do everything. But then, you might as well not have one.
"They really help. You can't do it these days without a spotter."
WHAT IF YOU WERE TOLD YOU COULDN'T USE A SPOTTER?
"There would be a lot more wrecks - no question. A spotter is just another pair of eyes. It's so competitive now and you're running so close to everyone else out there that you've got to have that extra set of eyes. At some places like Daytona, you've got to have two spotters. That gives you some idea how important they really are."
HOW MUCH OF A SPOTTER'S ROLE IS SAFETY AND HOW MUCH IS COMPETITIVE?
"I would say it's 75 percent safety and 25 percent competitive, but they kind of run hand-in-hand. There may be a hole you want to get into. Without a spotter, you're guessing a little bit. But, if he tells you tells you you're clear, then you turn left or you turn right, and you're in there."
HOW IMPORTANT IS THE TRUST FACTOR WITH A SPOTTER?
"It speeds up your learning curve with everything. When [Cal] came to our team here, it was one less thing I had to get used to. It took one variable out of the picture and allowed me to focus on other things.
"That relationship takes a while. It's no different that getting connected with a crew chief or anything. Once you've got that trust, you're freed up to concentrate on other things without giving it a second thought."