TALLADEGA, AL. -- The biggest dilemna Dave Blaney faced entering the 2000 NASCAR Winston Cup season-opener at Daytona had nothing to do with quality of equipment, on-track inexperience or team personnel. He enjoyed unconditional career patience...
TALLADEGA, AL. -- The biggest dilemna Dave Blaney faced entering the 2000 NASCAR Winston Cup season-opener at Daytona had nothing to do with quality of equipment, on-track inexperience or team personnel. He enjoyed unconditional career patience from car owner (Bill Davis), sponsors (Amoco and Siemens) as well as a loyal fan base from the first segment of his motorsports career in sprint cars.
For the most important event of the NASCAR season -- the Daytona 500 -- Blaney would be breaking in a new spotter. In his first two NASCAR Busch Series seasons with the #93 Amoco Ultimate Team, Blaney trusted the voice of Mike Brown in his ear as he made the difficult transition from the very different competition with the World of Outlaws.
From the crowded short-track melees to the chess-board politics of superspeedway drafting, Blaney acclimated quickly to the NASCAR way with even-tempered perspective from Brown, General Manager at Bill Davis Racing but an experienced spotter who started with fellow Georgia native Bill Elliott during his late 1980's championship years.
The partnership worked well and Blaney's confidence grew as he grew more familiar with stock cars, their response and their reactions in race traffic. The fact that Brown was only available on Saturdays when the Busch Series race preceded Winston Cup events at the same facility during the 1998-99 seasons became problematic with made pending graduation of the #93 Amoco/Siemens team to Winston Cup for the 2000 season. Brown, a key strategic and over-the-wall crew member for the #22 Caterpillar/Polaris team, would be available to Blaney only for pre-race moral support.
"Developing confidence in a spotter like Mike who knew the tracks and the driver's personalities was probably more valuable to me than some of the other guys just coming into the sport," said Blaney, 30th in the NASCAR Winston Cup team point standings entering this weekend's Diehard 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. "In my previous experience in sprint cars, races are never longer than 15 minutes, on-track decisions are made almost as an instinctive reaction and radios were rarely used by drivers. Learning how to trust and best use a spotter was a new thing for me."
Many replacement names were considered during the days leading up to the Daytona 500 -- an event like this weekend's race at Talladega -- demands unfailing trust by drivers in their spotters. The resolution, as it turned out, was right before Davis, Blaney and Brown.
Steve Jarrell, soft-spoken transporter driver for the #22 Cat team and one of the sport's "good guys", stepped forward and filled the void just prior to the Gatorade Twin-125 qualifying races. A former crew member and spotter for two-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion Terry Labonte, Jarrell had served the past six seasons as the race-day gasman for Ward Burton's team but had spent Speedweeks on the injured-reserve list with chronic shoulder problems.
"To tell the truth, we never thought about 'Buckshot' because he'd been going over the wall for us for so long," said Brown. "So much of what teams and drivers look for these days in spotters has to do with finding the right temperament and personality to match the driver's mood when he's behind the wheel. "For a guy like Dave who's got a lot of racing experience but only a couple of years in NASCAR, finding the right guy for him to trust as he got started in Winston Cup was maybe as important as any of the crew positions. Turns out the right guy was right here in our group."
Few tracks demand more broad perspective from a spotter than does Talladega, where drafting is tighter and on-track partners are at a premium. Add to that the fact that Blaney's superspeedway qualifying efforts have been brilliant (all four BGN starts at Daytona and Talladega in top-ten; tenth-fastest at Daytona in February) but his race experiences have been eventful.
In his first visit to NASCAR's fastest track, Blaney qualified eighth but was slowed from the start with a broken spark-plug wire. When the two-wide draft reached Blaney to lap him in the tri-oval and he moved to the track apron, the #93 Amoco Pontiac was neverthless sent flying roof-first and in flames into the frontstretch wall. In his first Daytona 500 in February, Blaney finished 27th and said his choice of the "slow lane of traffic almost every time for 500 miles" was one of the most frustrating things I've experienced in a race-car."
"Without a spotter you trust, I don't know how you would survive from race-to-race at the superspeedways," said Blaney. "Until I get more comfortable in drafting situations, I'm sure I'll lean pretty heavily on Steve's perspective. Your never want to make a mistake in traffic at any track but at Talladega, the outcome is much worse when there's a problem. We just want to run all day."