Every time you go to Atlanta the weather is a concern and it was no different this time. You just worry about how the track will change. Everyone really wanted to get that race in. With the trip out to Vegas the next week, time was not a luxury.
When I spoke with Michael (McDowell, driver) and Wally (Rogers, crew chief) in the morning, they were happy. They had a good starting spot for the race and as a spotter that is key. You want to start up front. That rhythm of being up front is good.
The spotters go up an hour before the race and there’s a good camaraderie among the group. We all tell jokes and chat with each other as we wait for the race to start. I feel like we’re on our own island – by ourselves all day long. The drivers and crew don’t see us that much – they just hear our voice.
Before the race gets started, I get my equipment out – which primarily consists of four radios and a set of binoculars. One radio is to talk to Wally and the driver – this is what you hear when you listen to our team frequency. The second radio is used to scan NASCAR competition channel where they will give competition instructions or tell us when cautions come out. The third radio is my channel to Wally directly. Only he and I use that channel and I can fill him in on what I’m seeing other teams do. The fourth is the FanVision, which I use to get data such as the driver line-up or lap speed.
In addition to the radios, I also have binoculars with me, hanging around my neck. I use them all the time on the superspeedways and road courses. For Atlanta, I would use the binoculars to check out any damage on the car. And I always have a few bottles of water and a snack – especially for the longer races.
It was cold, windy and wet up there but once that race starts you get in your mode and it’s game time. When the national anthem is being played – I feel like an athlete. I have my part that I need to do in this race. I feel like at that point the car has been handed over to me and Michael for the day. The pit crew and Wally will make changes and have a big part of it, but I feel like the day is in our hands. I say a prayer like Michael does on the radio to keep us safe and out of trouble.
During the race, Wally kept taking swings at it – making changes to get the car handling better and better. This team never gives up and I like that. Michael was trying multiple lines on the race track to get faster lap times. We missed a couple of wrecks and didn’t tear up the race car and got a pretty solid finish.
Having Atlanta under our belt will help Wally and the crew learn some things about the car for Vegas this weekend. Atlanta was the first test of the new rules package and for smaller teams we need that time on the track to see what the car would do. If all goes well, we’ll look to get a Top-25 finish at Vegas this weekend.
Note: Steve Barkdoll is the spotter for the No. 95 Thrivent Financial Ford driven by Michael McDowell in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Barkdoll is a new member of the Leavine Family Racing team but certainly not new to NASCAR. He was a jackman for nine years and has been spotting for 14 years for drivers including Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart, Regan Smith, Sterling Marlin and Bill Elliott. Below is his perspective on the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.