Spotter Guide importance at small tracks

NEWTON, Iowa – Michael Crawford grabs a muffin, sets his backpack on a folding chair and locates the bookmark in “The Fifth Witness” paperback.

There’s still an hour before Crawford makes his way up to the perch atop the main Milwaukee Mile grandstand for IZOD IndyCar Series practice, so the former Firestone Indy Lights team owner makes himself comfortable a few yards from the ebb and flow of preparing the twin KV Racing Technology cars.

Crawford is the spotter for Simona De Silvestro – overview eyes and calm voice amid the busyness of racing on ovals. The one-mile Milwaukee racetrack was hectic, and Crawford’s duties will be compounded this weekend in the Iowa Corn Indy 250 presented by DEKALB on the .875-mile Iowa Speedway.

Click it: Watch the heat races at 6:45 p.m. (ET) June 22

“Over the course of time, we’ve developed a rapport. I started working with her four years ago as her second spotter at Indy,” Crawford said. “There’s a chemistry and also a pattern. I know what she’s looking for so I can relay what’s happening on the track, take out the pieces I don’t think she’s worried about, tell her the few things I see and hopefully it’s helpful. It may not instantly leap to mind but I’m looking at three different spots on the racetrack – in front of her, at her and behind her.

“At Texas, where new tires were such an tremendous advantage, I had to be looking behind her to see who had just come out of the pits and would be 8-10 mph quicker on fresh tires, looking ahead to see if there is an accident, looking at her and the cars in her proximity, back to behind her to see if somebody is coming up.”

De Silvestro, who drives the No. 78 Nuclear Entergy Areva car, appreciates the assist. A spotter, with direct communication with the driver and an individual in the entrant’s pit, is required for each entrant on ovals. An added dimension June 22 will be three heat races to determine the Verizon P1 Award winner and set the starting grid for the 250-lap race. The lineup for the 50-lap heats will be set by single-lap qualifying two hours earlier.

“It’s usually hard to see what’s going on behind you so I like to know what’s going on,” De Silvestro said. “Being calm on the radio is important for me because you can’t get the driver too excited about someone who’s been behind you for 10-20 laps. Michael and I have the experience, especially  last year on the ovals we were slow so he was really busy, and this year it’s been much easier because we’re moving forward.

“If he sees me driving a different line and it’s working he can let me know about that, too. It’s good to have that feedback because the (Iowa) laps are so short that if you make little adjustments and somebody tells you ‘That was good’ or ‘That didn’t work’ that really helps.”

Added Crawford: “Iowa is crazy fast and busy. It’s nerve-racking at times and I try not to waste conversation. Some people are more comfortable listening to a spotter and using that information and others are ‘I’m busy here, driving a race car. Tell me when somebody crashes or when somebody’s next to me.’ ''