STAFFORD – As a host of SK Modified division drivers rolled off the half-mile Stafford Motor Speedway oval during a practice session Friday, SK Light Modified division driver Tony Membrino Jr. looked over and shook his head.
“We’re not even a half a second [a lap] slower than them but we don’t have spotters?” Membrino said. “It’s not right.”
It’s been a topic of debate since the SK Light Modified division was introduced at Stafford Motor Speedway in 2006.
Should the division have spotters, the eyes in the skies watchers at the top of the grandstands communicating with individual drivers about what is going on around them on the track?
At Stafford the division has never had spotters. Stafford allows spotters for its SK Modified and Late Model divisions and does not have spotters for its SK Light Modified, Limited Late Model and DARE Stock divisions. Stafford has one-way communication with drivers in the cars in the divisions without spotters. Track officials are in the ears of drivers on the track offering directives during the event.
“There’s pros and cons to having spotters,” Stafford Motor Speedway director of racing operations and competition Tom Fox said. “It may enhance certain situations on the racetrack, but my opinion is they do a pretty good job without them and certainly teaching the rookies or the new kids how to race without somebody driving the car for you is a positive thing for anybody’s racing career.”
Though, of late there’s been a loud outcry from drivers in the SK Modified division that the time has come for spotters to be allowed for the division.
“Every division should have spotters,” said SK Light Modified division driver Glenn Griswold, who also competes in the division at the Waterford Speedbowl and Thompson International Speedway, two tracks where spotters are allowed in the division. “It’s a safety factor. I know the track complains that the spotters drive the racecars, but that’s something that the driver has to sit with his spotter and discuss that and make sure it doesn’t happen. Here, safety-wise, we have full containment seats, full-face helmets and stuff, it’s hard to see each other. It’s nice to have a spotter to be able to tell you what’s happening behind you, what’s happening in front of you.”
Stafford SK Light Modified driver Joey Ferrigno is one competitor who sees both side of the argument.
“A bad spotter is far worse than no spotter,” Ferrigno said.
Ferrigno thinks not having spotters can actually be an advantage for some drivers.
“As much as spotters would help safety-wise they take away from drivers,” Ferrigno said. “I have a feeling when someone’s working me on the high or low side and a spotter takes that element away from it. Also being clear into a turn, some drivers can feel it, others can’t. … When I have a wheel in on someone they will know I’m there, or their spotter could tell them I’m coming and they’ll take my lane away before I get there. It’s a real tough call. It takes away from the split second decision making a driver has to do.”
But taking the other side of the argument, Ferrigno believes that for the sake of safety and cost containment, spotters are needed. Ferrigno points to a recent crash he had where he hit Nicholas Salva broadside in the door as a wreck that could have been avoided with a spotter talking him through the crash instead of someone just telling him the caution was out.
“The last two wrecks I’ve been in, which were significant for this car, one I was three wide in the middle with two wide in front of me and I had no clue what was in front of that. When the two wide split there was a car driver’s door toward me and I hit him right in his driver’s door because I had no idea he was there. A spotter could have told me that. Last week I checked up for a wreck and someone ran over the back of me and pinched me into the wall. He said he didn’t see me. I wasn’t stopped, but I was pretty close to it. A spotter could have told him about that.
“There’s plenty of times when I’ve gone into turn one not knowing if a car is really still inside of me or if I’ve cleared him or not. We’re going as fast as some of the SK [Modifieds] out there. We’re running high [19 second laps]. Going that fast, it’s good to have a second set of eyes.”
Said Membrino: “We’ve got to have [spotters]. You can’t go two laps in a Modified Tour car without a spotter, why should we go 20 laps door-to-door, nerf bar to nerf bar as hard as we do without a spotter? It’s a safety issue more than anything. You see a guy sitting there, sitting there, sitting there after the yellow comes and gets plowed by Ferrigno. It’s a shear miracle of luck that nobody got hurt there.”
Fox said he doesn’t think any of the wrecks recently would have been avoided with spotters.
“As soon as something happens on the racetrack I say ‘Caution, caution’ on the radio,” Fox said. “They hear that as fast as they’re ever going to hear a spotter. And if they choose to continue racing and drive into the accident I’m not so sure how that’s going to be changed positive or negative with a spotter.”
Said Stafford SK Light Modified division driver Payton Henry: “I guess Stafford from the beginning never wanted [spotters] here and tried to say the spotters would driving the cars if they were in the ears of the drivers trying to learn. I guess that’s the way they look at it. But you can see the last couple weeks there’s been a few big wrecks here the last few weeks that you know if there was spotters you probably wouldn’t see that kind of stuff. I started out at Thompson so I started with spotters. I had to get used to running without a spotter, and now I’m used to it, but I know there’s a lot of cases it would definitely help out.”
Fox said no matter the calls for change from competitors, he doesn’t see it happening any time soon.
“The racing has been good, sans the wrecks,” Fox said. “But if you look at the Late Models and the SK [Modifieds] we pile a ton of those guys up and they have all kinds of communication. I think you’ve really got to take the wrecks out of the whole deal and say ‘What kind of product are we getting and what are we looking to achieve?’ Not everybody has the ability to spend $1,000 on radios. It would be a hardship on some of the guys in the back. …. There is no easy answer. … It is what it is when you buy into that division. You don’t have them and that’s the way it is right now. We talk about it, we actively talk about it several times during the year, [Stafford Motor Speedway chief operating officer and general manager Mark Arute] and I do. And many of the competitors call and voice their opinion as well. But as it stands right now we don’t have them and I don’t think that’s going to change for next year.”
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