Friday, November 9, 2012

Joey Meier: Eyes in the Sky

Joey Meier before the Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway. Credit: Katy Lindamood
Teamwork is the key to success in any sport and NASCAR is no different. From the engine builders and fabricators to the crew chief and driver, all the pieces have to fall into place in order to have a successful season.

One of the most important members of any racing team is the spotter - a driver’s eyes in the sky. For Brad Keselowski and the No. 2 Miller Lite team, this job falls to Joey Meier. A longtime member of the NASCAR community who got his start with Dale Earnhardt Inc. as a pilot, Meier spends his weekends making sure the championship contender is all clear and aware of his surroundings.

Taking time from his duties to chat at Martinsville Speedway, Meier shared his thoughts on the 2012 season, spotting for Keselowski and newcomer Ryan Blaney, and one of the most invaluable assets in the spotter arsenal - the NASCAR FanVision controller.

Tools of the Trade

When a driver climbs behind the wheel, in a sense he's putting his life in the hands of his spotter. As a spotter, one has to be hyper-vigilant, ensuring that his driver is able to navigate traffic without causing an accident. It’s the spotter’s duty to guide his driver through the melee of cars and determine if the opening is large enough to fit the car. A spotter is both cheerleader and co-pilot to the driver and at times the source of comic relief or steady calmness, reminding an irate driver of the bigger picture.   
 When Joey Meier climbs to the spotter’s stand, he takes his tools of the trade with him - binoculars and a radio for communicating with crew chief Paul Wolfe and his driver. Also in his bag is the NASCAR FanVision Controller. A handheld device rented by fans at the track, the FanVision controller allows Meier and his fellow spotters to see a larger picture of the action than what they see through the lenses of their binoculars.

As a member of the DEI staff, Meier was one of the first to use the device as part of the pilot program before it was officially launched. Although not used by all teams, Meier says a large number of teams consider the device to be an invaluable asset to their job.

“If we have 43 spotters in a given race, there are probably 35 or 40 guys using it,” Meier said.

Meier says he lives off the FanVision because it lets him paint a much larger picture of what’s going on and allows him to take on some of the duties that used to fall to the crew chief (such as calling lap times). In turn, the crew chief is able to focus on other important aspects of the race, such as fuel mileage and upcoming pit stops.

“There are two main pages that I use," Meier said. "One is the leaderboard. It shows the whole field in increments of 11. The other one we use in practice is the lap-by-lap, which gives our lap in groups of six. During the race, I use the 'who's around' screen, which gives you five different readouts. Leader, fastest car, your car, guy in front of you, guy behind you. So armed with that kind of information, you can pretty much paint a pretty good picture with those five under green how you're doing relative to the guy in front of you and if you're the leader, how fast the guy is catching you, and then if you're changing lanes or lines around the track it allows you to see if your lines were more successful before that or after that. If you have a track that is taking rubber, or the lines are moving and other guys are moving, then you have it right there in front of you to see if that works or not."

Meier also spots for Ryan Blaney. Blaney won his first NCWTS race this season at Iowa Speedway.
Credit: Skirts and Scuffs
Spotting for Ryan Blaney

In addition to his duties as Team Penske pilot and spotter for Brad Keselowski, Meier also calls the race for up-and-coming driver Ryan Blaney. In 2012 Blaney joined Penske Racing part-time in the Nationwide Series, piloting the No. 22 Discount Tires Dodge when Keselowski isn’t running. Blaney also took up duties driving the No. 29 for Brad Keselowski Racing halfway through the season.

Just three weeks into his tenure with BKR, Blaney visited victory lane at Iowa Speedway and Meier was there to experience the young driver’s first career NASCAR victory.

“First wins are really cool," Meier said. "I was fortunate enough to have been a part of Martin Truex's team in Bristol in his first Nationwide win, and with Ryan with his first win. So, first wins, regardless of how successful the driver is, you know, I had Paul Menard's first win. The first wins you remember for the rest of your life. Not that the guys forget the other ones, but first wins are really special.”

Spotting for two different drivers with two different levels of experience might sound like a difficult task. But for Meier, there’s not much that changes between the way he calls the races for his two competitors. Keselowski and Blaney have similar driving styles, which makes things easier for Meier. But the biggest obstacle is learning how to communicate with each driver and understanding each other.

“Ryan is so young that I don't want to intimidate him," Meier said. "Not that I have a lot of experience, but I don't want the experience I do have to intimidate him, so I have to make sure that I remain open to any suggestions that he has; whereas Brad and I have been together well over three year, so I don't have to ask him what he means or what he's thinking.”

The Lighter Side of Spotting

Earlier this season, Trackside on SPEED unveiled a new segment featuring Meier, Mike Calinoff (spotter for Matt Kenseth, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Nelson Piquet Jr.) and Chris Lambert (spotter for Denny Hamlin). The premise behind the segments are to show life through the eyes of a spotter. In the three segments that have aired thus far, the three have done a spotter carpool, visited a Japanese steakhouse and most recently relaxed at a spa. The segments have received a lot of support from fans with the possibility of one more spot yet to air at the conclusion of the season. According to Meier, the ideas for the segments come from him and his cohorts.




Like the driver he spots for on Sunday, Meier’s also a big fan of social media. As @2Spotter on Twitter, he provides lighthearted comments, a bit of sarcasm and the occasional rant.

Phoenix and the Title

Meier will be busy this weekend as Phoenix plays host to all three series. From a spotter’s perspective, Phoenix is a bit of a challenge.

At Martinsville, Meier said, “Phoenix has always been the nemesis of any spotter. The spotter’s stand is located in Turns 1 and 2, so the viewing angle is really difficult for us. They have supposedly added on a little bit to the spotter’s stand so we can get around the corner a little more." (A tweet from Meier revealed they did not add on to the area, but just fenced in where they were already standing.)

With only two races left on the Sprint Cup schedule, the No. 2 team is second in points - Keselowski sits just seven markers behind leader Jimmie Johnson. But the team isn’t giving up just because they are a little behind.

Parked in the garage near last year’s champion Tony Stewart and Johnson, they are in good company. If the No. 2 team has shown anything this season, it’s that they never give up. But Meier isn’t making predictions other than to say, “Ask me after the last race.”

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A fan of NASCAR since the 1993 Daytona 500, Katy Lindamood is the founder of Skirts and Scuffs.com. Katy resides in Ashland, Ky., with her husband of eight years and their three dogs. Katy picked Brad Keselowski as her 2012 Sprint Cup Series Champion and covers Penske Racing for Skirts and Scuffs. Follow @NASCARKaty on Twitter or email her at katylindamood@skirtsandscuffs.com. 

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