A spot of calmness in a chaotic realm

Published October 2, 2005

The eye in the sky, the radio-linked lifeline for a driver, helps identify racing space and wrecks and plots the safe and fast path around a racetrack. Nowhere is the job more important or difficult than at Talladega, where huge, fast-moving packs can dissolve into careening metal in an instant. Dale Cagle, Jeremy Mayfield's spotter for 12 years, discusses this difficult job and venue:

How do you manage a race at Talladega?

"The cars are about three wide just about all day. Daytona is a little bit better than here because Daytona is a little bit more of a handling track, so they get spread out a little better. At Talladega, they're all just jammed together and there's no getting away from it. You'll see a line moving and you work your driver into that line. Your crew chief is hollering for you to get him in the line that's moving and there's a wall of cars coming. You can't just move him up. By the time you key the mike to move him up, sometimes the hole is already closed. It closes that quick. It might be a two car-length hole when the guy is easing by him and he can't just stand on the brake and get in there."

How do you manage a driver during the race?

"The biggest thing is you want to give him information and you want the communication to be concise and to the point, and you want to be calm. The drivers are already jacked up. You don't need to jack 'em up more. You've got to be the calming voice. The wrecks happen and you can't start screaming."

Do you have to know who will or won't cut you a break?

"We know some of the drivers that won't or some of the drivers that are trying to be heroes or whatever. We know some of the drivers you won't put your driver around or clear him. Maybe they're just starting out, proving they should be here or whatever."

Do you have to stay in constant touch, as opposed to some other tracks?

"All the time. You wear out a thumb keying the mike. I'll have no tread on the end of my thumb at the end of the day."

What's a spotter's biggest fear?

"My biggest fear has always been not to drive them into somebody who has been sitting there awhile. You don't get a big separation like you used to because the cars are so close right now. Used to be you could get strung out pretty good. Now, you're trying to get him through traffic and watch ahead and make sure there are no wrecks. It's almost like you've got to split your eyes, but you can't."