Blaney'S Alter-Ego Spotter Provides Energy, Comic Relief From Above After Sharing Transition From Sprint-Cars And Dirt To The Winston Cup Series HIGH POINT, NC -- Eric Slade is Tommy Lasorda to Dave Blaney's Clint Eastwood. That's why he was a...
Blaney'S Alter-Ego Spotter Provides Energy, Comic Relief From Above After Sharing Transition From Sprint-Cars And Dirt To The Winston Cup Series
HIGH POINT, NC -- Eric Slade is Tommy Lasorda to Dave Blaney's Clint Eastwood. That's why he was a perfect choice to become the full-time spotter for Blaney midway through his rookie season in 2000 as Car Owner Bill Davis juggled the chemistry on Blaney's first-year Amoco Ultimate Team 93.
Slade, who moved into the shock specialist's role for the #93 Amoco/Siemens team last spring from a similar position on the #22 Caterpillar team at Bill Davis Racing, is the ideal alter-personality for Blaney -- outgoing, positive and energetic. For the sometimes stoic Blaney, Slade's style from above helped Blaney through the darkest on-track periods of a rookie NASCAR Winston Cup experience that was equal parts excruciating and exhilarating.
The pair learned together. Each a former sprint-car driver, Slade had never spotted before on any level until assuming the critical responsibility for a Winston Cup rookie prior to the Brickyard 400 in Indianapolis Motor Speedway race last August. The mid-year crew transition was already in full motion, with new crew chief Doug Randolph -- also a transfer from the #22 Cat team of BDR teammate Ward Burton -- taking charge in mid-July.
Traditional theory would have Davis go in search of a battle-tested spotter for Blaney, who struggled through the first half of his rookie season after graduating to NASCAR's top competitive level with only two total seasons of stock-car experience on any level. A veteran view from the top of the grandstands each weekend would have seemed an essential factor to Blaney's eventual maturation amidst the tough weekly WC fields.
But Slade proved a natural, a quick study and the necessary cheerleader for Blaney -- who often slumped in the seat from blistering self-criticism -- as the #93 Amoco/Siemens team blossomed late with three top-ten finishes and dramatic improvement.
At no track this spring will Slade's value be more evident than this weekend at Martinsville, where Blaney had two of the most frustrating races of his rookie year.
Solidly qualified for both Martinsville events (20th, 21st) despite having never seen the track until he arrived for race weekend last March, Blaney spun wildly after progressing early in the first race, when crew members failed to secure a tire. In the fall, Blaney was spun out on three separate occasions by overzealous veterans, twice while running in the low teens on the treacherous bullring layout. Slade, like Blaney, has matured in his role since his first spotter's duty at Martinsville last fall invoked his frustration from above each time Blaney went spinning toward the wall.
"From a distance, I always thought I could be a good spotter and when Doug asked me to be the second spotter at Indy, I was comfortable with it and I moved into the job full-time the next week at Michigan," said Slade. "The only thing I've found to be a little tougher than expected was looking ahead on the track and anticipating potential problems while focusing on our car, especially at the smaller, crowded tracks like Martinsville and Bristol.
"It's pretty cool to be working with Dave after following his career through his sprint car days. I've followed him since he couldn't get out of the "B" Main at the local tracks around where we grew up. I feel just like most sprint-car fans about Dave's progress and wanting so badly to see him make this transition successfully. Some great World of Outlaws drivers tried to break through in NASCAR and didn't. He's going to get a lot better."
In many ways, Slade was an obvious choice to team with Blaney's NASCAR effort. A native of Hillsdale, MI. near Blaney's Hartford, Ohio birthplace, Slade was surrounded by racing from an early age, helping with his father Dick's Super Dirt Modified race team. The youngest of five brothers, Slade drove sprint cars himself for 17 years, winning track championships at Butler Speedway and I-96 Speedway in his home state and Fremont (OH) Speedway.
For 10 seasons, Penske Shock Absorbers provided support for his regional race team. When he decided to retire to the sidelines prior to the 1999 season, Slade went to work for the sponsor, learning the specifics that have made shock-specialists increasingly more vital to NASCAR Winston Cup Series programs. In March, 2000, Slade made the move from Penske to Bill Davis Racing, first working work the #22 Caterpillar team before moving in mid-spring to the #93 Amoco/Siemens team and his evolving roles with Blaney.
"Dave can be so hard on himself when things aren't going well and that sort of drive can be a good thing if it doesn't get in the way of what you're trying to do on the track on a given day," said Slade. "Most spotters are very efficient with what they choose to say but I rarely ever think about what I'm going to say before I say it on the radio. That might not be the norm in NASCAR but it seems to work with us.
"When I hear Dave getting a little down, I do have to think about what to say to keep him in the game. I'm sure every driver has a little of that in him. In my role building shocks and doing chassis work, it is gratifying to put an idea into a place that's bolted on our car, something that makes a big difference in how it performs. But I get a whole lot more from what I'm doing from the spotter's stand. It's almost like having the greatest remote-control race-car in the world. I'm really proud to be helping Dave be the first WoO guy to have this kind of success in NASCAR. "