NASCAR Cup Series
28 Drivers Set to Double-Dip in Historic Week of Racing at North Wilkesboro
May 17, 2023
The excitement for NASCAR’s return to North Wilkesboro Speedway is something that nearly everyone in the sport got behind and was thrilled about. Improvements around the track and the facility brought a modern touch to one of the most historic facilities in NASCAR.
As soon as pictures and videos of the renovations circulated social media in the months and weeks ahead of the NASCAR All-Star week, something stood out among a very specific group of people.
The spotter stand for this week’s events at North Wilkesboro is a multi-level stand built atop a scaffolding at the entrance of Turn 1 between the main grandstands and those wrapping Turn 1 and 2. While the spotters are separated from the crowd, visibility was a major concern right away.
Built in the hills of North Carolina, the 0.625-mile track has some of the most unique topography of any track on the NASCAR schedule. A downhill fronstretch wraps around and sends competitors uphill down the backstrech before they dive low in the final corner and wrap back around onto the frontstretch.
The spotter stand as it was built is located in one of the lowest parts of the track, and is lower than the grandstands that wrap the corner in Turn 1 and 2. As a result, spotters found out very quickly on Tuesday’s opening practice day that visibility was not just a concern, it was a major issue.
“There was some concern as far as about a month ago when we talked about the placement of it,” veteran spotter Freddie Kraft told Racing America. “Last week they had an open house here and some of the spotters came to take pictures and I noticed from the pictures that it would be too low once the infield filled in. We reached out to NASCAR at that point, and they’ve been working with the racetrack since that point to find a different location - and it’s not easy.”
“It’s pretty obvious to see the difference in heights,” said another NASCAR Cup Series spotter who wished to remain anonymous. “I mean, 99 percent of the time we’re at the highest point at every racetrack. I knew once people started getting here for the open house and started taking pictures without anything in the infield, I knew it was going to be an issue.
“There’s a path of about three to four seconds that you can’t see,” he said. “Going into Turn 3 on the last lap I’d like to at least be able to say, ‘Hey, you’re about to get run over,’ but I can’t even see that.”
After Tuesday’s practice sessions, Kraft took to Twitter to see if he could find a spot in the grandstands for Sunday’s NASCAR All-Star Race. The spotter for Bubba Wallace and co-host of DirtyMo Media’s ‘Door Bumper Clear’ podcast has been communicating with NASCAR and sending pictures and videos of their vantage point to try and hammer home the situation.
With grandstands sold out for the event, the situation is one that is not easy to fix. The suite and race control boxes on the frontstretch have limited space and are occupied by television cameras and pit road cameras. The suites in Turn 4 have a rooftop hospitality area, where fans and guests have paid for a unique experience - not one surrounded by spotters jockeying for the best view throughout the entire event.
The backstretch grandstands were not being utilized for the ASA STARS National Tour and CARS Tour events on Tuesday and Wednesday, so the series agreed to move the spotters to the top rows of that section of temporary stands. Those seats, however, have been sold for the NASCAR All-Star Race weekend events on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
“We’re still working with NASCAR and hoping they can find us a place,” Kraft said on Wednesday.
Stewart-Haas Racing driver Chase Briscoe did not think the stand was much of a concern for the NASCAR Cup Series race because of the digital rearview mirror that is part of the Gen 7 car. He was concerned, however, for the CARS Tour event on Wednesday night.
“In the Cup car we have the camera mirror and most of the time I feel like I could spot myself,” Briscoe said. “In this thing (CARS Tour late model), I can’t see anything. There was one point (in practice) my spotter told me there was a car one car-length back and I never could see him. They could have been five car-lengths back and I would have never seen them.”
For the spotters, the situation is not one in which they are trying to gain a competitive advantage or complain for the sake of complaining, the major concern is the safety of the competitors on the track.
“He doesn’t need me to get around the racetrack, what he needs me for is to know if there is a car parked down there or a wreck that’s happening in front of him that he can’t see,” said Kraft. “My concerns are strictly safety-related. I have no doubt Bubba can get around (Turn) 3 and 4 without me telling him what to do every lap. If you get in a heated battle with someone - especially in the Truck Series without the digital mirror - it’s going to be tough.”
While Briscoe may feel comfortable spotting himself with the digital rearview mirror, veteran spotter Tim Fedewa pointed out that most of the spotting he does throughout a race is ahead of the driver, not behind him.
“A mirror doesn’t do you a damn bit of good if you run into someone because you couldn’t see them because you’re so tight behind someone,” said Fedewa. “Chase could say that, but I also do more spotting out front than I do out back, and that’s because of safety.”
“Most of the guys that do this on this level can race without us as spotters,but I still have to do my job,” said the anonymous spotter. “There’s little things. When someone spins out the front, you’re not going to be able to call them through that or help them through it … I hate it’s an issue. I feel like the spotters are more worried about it than the drivers but I just know if come Sunday you can’t see 100 percent you’re not going to do your job effectively. I don’t want something that could have been avoided to be the thing that costs you one million bucks.”
Kraft and Fedewa praised the ASA STARS National Tour and CARS Tour for adjusting on the fly and allowing the spotters to move for Wednesday’s events, and he remained confident the issue would be resolved in time for the NASCAR All-Star Race weekend events.
“There were a lot of things they had to worry about here,” Fedewa pointed out. “The spotter stand, yes it’s important, you could make a big deal out of it, stomp your feet about it, but it will be fine.”
A NASCAR spokesperson told Racing America Wednesday night the sanctioning body plan to either utilize a new location around the track or adjust the one in place, but it is something they are still working on addressing before the weekend's events.
Images courtesy Will Bellamy, Racing America