- Auto racing remains one of the most dangerous sports around.
- Thankfully each driver has their own eye-in-the-sky known as the spotter looking out for upcoming crashes and debris on the racetrack.
- It’s these spotters that can help prevent mayhem amongst cars flying over 200 mph.
Following is a transcript of the video.
Bob Perona: Get low. Stop it, stop, stop, stop, stop, stop! Through the middle, through the middle, through the middle, through the middle. Right, right. There you go.
Narrator: That voice you hear over the radio belongs to Bob Perona, spotter for IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe. With his sole job being to watch James’ back, it’s thanks to spotters like him that drivers tearing down the track at 200 mph can avoid some of the biggest disasters.
Bobby Danzell: So the cars are so small and going so fast, that it’s helpful to have an eye in the sky. As a spotter you talk in car lengths typically. So if you hear a spotter say “clear by two”, “by two” or “two back”, that means they’re two car lengths back. You try and paint a picture for them. “Four back, five back, gonna be looking inside, gonna be looking outside”. These cars are not designed with a blind spot and visibility in mind, they’re designed to go fast.
Even though you’re the spotter, very rarely are you looking at his car directly. Most of the time is spent looking behind or ahead. You’re constantly scanning behind the driver to make sure there’s no threat coming. Then you mainly start scanning ahead. And you’re scanning ahead looking for things like crashes, potential debris on the racetrack, a car that’s way off the pace and going super slow, anything that looks out of the ordinary. So it’s this constant scan between behind the driver and ahead of the driver.
Narrator: But just like in any stressful job, mistakes are bound to happen no matter who you are.
Bobby: Now there’s a mistake that every spotter’s made. Happens especially when you have cars that look kind of the same colour. You inevitably talk to the wrong guy. I’ve heard stories of hopping on the radio and saying “Inside, inside”, and the guy comes back on the radio and says “I’m in pit lane”. They had the wrong car from far away.
Narrator: A prime example of just how important spotters can be to a driver’s safety came in 2019’s Indy 500. On Lap 176, driver James Hinchcliffe managed to barely avoid becoming a part of a massive crash thanks to veteran spotter Bob Perona.
Bobby: It’s late in the race, Turn 3. James sees the smoke. On the radio all you hear is:
Bob: Stop, stop, stop, stop, stop!
Bobby: And then this brilliant call from Bob, and I don’t know how he did it, but he goes:
Bob: Through the middle, through the middle, through the middle, through the middle. Right, right. There you go.
Bobby: The brakes on an oval car, they get really cool because you don’t need them. You’re cruising around trying to go as fast as you can. You don’t worry about a thing like brakes. After a few laps of green flag racing, there’s not a whole lot of brake grab there until they heat back up. So that’s why he’s like, stop it, just try to slow down as much as you can, there’s cars all over the track. And then he sees that window of daylight where he’s basically like, send it through the middle. And James and Bob were just on the same page there. I love watching that clip.
Narrator: However, there are plenty of times where a loud active spotter is the last thing a driver needs. For instance, a neck-and-neck situation during the final laps, like what Alex Rossi and Simon Pagenaud found themselves in during the 2019 Indy 500.
What do you say in the last two laps when you’re neck-and-neck with a guy like that? A Hail Mary? Nothing? Like at that point, he’s got it under control. I think biggest role you can play in this instance is just the calm demeanour. He’s already got enough stress. He doesn’t need you going, “Inside, Inside, Inside!” You have to be as professional, as calm as possible. That calming voice amidst times of chaos is only gonna help the situation.
The biggest takeaway that I think deserves to be said about spotters is that the spotters are just a tool for the driver, just like the weight jacker, steering wheel adjustments, and the anti-roll bars in the car. Those are tools the driver has in the cockpit. Well, the spotter is just a tool outside of the car. And each one will tailor that spotter to their needs.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.