There are many short track drivers out there who dominated their local tracks and touring divisions but never got a chance to make it to the big time. There’s also some out there who did make it to NASCAR’s top levels, only to be phased out by younger, more funded drivers.
While they may have had to hang up their helmets for one reason or another, many of those drivers are still around the racetrack.
They’re not behind the wheel anymore. Instead, they’re up on the spotter’s stand.
Spotting wasn’t something that guys like Freddie Kraft, Mike Herman, Jr., Tim Fedewa and Eddie D’Hondt started out doing. It was something that they did on the side when they had free time.
“Towards the end of my career when things weren’t going the way I wanted them to… through some mutual friends I heard that Bill Elliott needed a spotter for a few races here and there so I said I’d do it,” said Tim Fedewa who now spots for Stewart-Haas Racing in the Sprint Cup Series. “I’d race Saturday in the Busch car and Sunday I’d stay over and help Bill occasionally.
“When I couldn’t drive anymore I needed to make a living,” said Fedewa. “I just kept spotting and it’s come to this.”
The 47-year-old Fedewa from Holt, Michigan scored four wins in what was then known as the NASCAR Busch Series. He said that his favorite moment behind the wheel was the day he won his first Busch race at Nazareth Speedway (PA) in 1995.
“They had a memorial service in Michigan that day for my grandmother so it was pretty surreal that they were burying her at the same time the race was going on and I couldn’t be there,” said Fedewa. “But I know she was there with me so it was pretty special.”
Mike Herman, Jr. was racing on the USAR Hooters Pro Cup circuit while at the same time spotting for Joe Gibbs Racing in the K&N Pro Series East. Herman is a two-time champion in Late Model Stock Cars at Concord Speedway (NC) and now spots for Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. in the Cup Series.
“It just so happened that the East schedule and the Pro Cup schedule didn’t overlap so it worked out well,” said the Kannapolis, NC native who also raced Modifieds at Bowman Gray Stadium (NC). “I basically worked through East, ARCA, Trucks, Nationwide. Basically like a driving career you’re just making the right moves and it led me to where I’m at today.”
Freddie Kraft spots for Michael Annett at the Cup level as well as for Darrell “Bubba” Wallace, Jr. in the Camping World Truck Series. He raced at Long Island’s Riverhead Raceway in the Figure 8 division for three full seasons and he’ll quickly admit that he wasn’t the best driver out there.
“In 1999 I spent most of my time parked on the backstretch trying to figure out what the hell was wrong with my car,” said the 32-year-old Kraft who grew up in Kings Park, New York. “I wasn’t into it like I needed to be. Didn’t put enough time into the cars. It was more about hanging out with my friends. More about spotting for my buddies.”
But Kraft has an interesting claim to Riverhead fame.
“I actually won Rookie of the Year twice (1999 and 2004) which is pretty impressive because it’s the same division,” said Kraft with a laugh. “I think it was a lack of options the second year. I don’t think there was anybody else. Maybe they kind of played some kind of joke on me, but that’s the story there. I think they kind of forgot.”
Kraft started spotting for Jarrod Hayes at Riverhead, then started spotting for Jimmy Blewett and others before making his way up the ladder to where he is now. Kraft has even won a couple of championships spotting for fellow long Islander George Brunnhoelzl, III on the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour.
“It came time to make a decision about whether I wanted to race or do what I do now,” said Kraft. “I picked spotting obviously.”
Kraft is accompanied by another Long Islander on the spotter’s stand. Eddie D’Hondt, from Levittown, NY, spots for Jeff Gordon. D’Hondt raced at Riverhead as well as Islip Speedway (NY) before running on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.
“In 1996 Tommy Baldwin, Steve Park, Bono (Kevin Manion) and myself all moved to Charlotte,” said D’Hondt. “We got a house together and just went to work. I started out as a mechanic and a pit crew guy. Then I started spotting for Bill Elliott back in 1999 so I just kept on doing it.”
The spotter is one of the most important pieces to the race team puzzle. Thanks to all the safety devices the drivers have now like the HANS device and containment seats their visibility is extremely limited. The spotter is a second set of eyes for the driver. But does being a former driver make for a better spotter?
“I feel it definitely helps but to be a good spotter you don’t have to have driving experience,” said Herman. “From my standpoint it definitely plays into what I say every time I key the mic to talk. Because I know I’ve seen the view. I know what he’s thinking. I know what he’s feeling.”
Fedewa said that being a former driver helps him deal with his current driver, Kevin Harvick, when he gets angry and goes on a rant over the radio because he’s been in that position before.
“I know when I was driving I blew up and cussed and threw a fit,” said Fedewa. “It wasn’t directed at anybody in particular. Besides all the outside pressures, your sponsors, owners, it’s the personal pressure you put on yourself as a driver. I try to say something that will make sense to him and calm him down instead of irritating him some more. Or I just say nothing and let him go. Usually five or 10 laps later they forget about it and it’s over with.”
They haven’t forgotten their roots either. Herman and Kraft still like to spot some short track races when they get the chance to. Herman will go spot for Ryan Preece on occasion like he did on Mother’s Day weekend this year at Lee USA Speedway (NH).
“I have an extreme love for short track racing to this day,” said Herman. “I love the venues. It’s rough and tumble. Short track racing is tough. Every lap is a battle. Sometimes at the big tracks it kind of gets spread out and it’s all about the speed.”
Kraft likes to spot for Timmy Solomito for NWMT races whenever there isn’t a conflict with his other responsibilities.
“Any time I get to do short track racing I jump right on it because I love it,” said Kraft.
They may not be behind the wheel anymore battling it out on the short tracks like they used to, but they’re still winning races and doing it at the highest levels of the sport.
“It never ever gets old to win,” said D’Hondt. “That’s why we make all the sacrifices we made our whole lives to stay in this business as hard as it is and as strenuous as it is at times.”
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Regional Editor (Long Island, CT, and NJ) -Twitter: @RobBlount
-Feature Photo Credit: Freddie Kraft Facebook.