From high atop Iowa Speedway, Tab Boyd keeps watch. Sporting three radios connected to his headset, he’s the eye in the sky guiding Sam Hornish Jr. out of the garage during a practice run.
“You got one coming out of turn four right now but after that you’re clear … C’mon … lotta room. You got one ten back but other that you’re good-ta-go … and clear .. clear-clear”
With a headset-sunglasses-cap combination that gives him the look of an NFL defensive coordinator, Tab Boyd works for Team Penske spotting for Joey Logano in NASCAR Sprint Cup and Hornish in NASCAR Nationwide.
“Yeah … c’mon on with it. Next car is in turn four … NOW. You’re good to gooooo … stand on it.”
Boyd has a folksy delivery, calmness and occasional levity that Hornish appreciates.
“I like Tab,” said Hornish. “He’s kind of, not playful, but funny at times. And really even-keeled. He doesn’t get too excited. He reminds me of Wooderson from Dazed and Confused.”
The easy-going Wooderson vibe (minus any weedy overtones) seems to fit Boyd, who was introduced to thousands as the spotter voice for Danica Patrick in 2012, thanks to fan access to driver communications through Nascar.com’s Race View services. Many fans warmed to Boyd’s easy-going banter delivered in a North Carolina/Alabama drawl and his catch phrases, including “C’mon” “mo-mentum” “you’re cool” and “clear… clear-clear” …
“C’mon …keep that MO-mentum … you’re cool … clear-clear, all clear … that’s a good corner right there.”
Boyd said that’s just him being him on the radio.
“A lot of it is my personality and a lot of it is some of the things I’ve heard whenever I was driving, and things I would want to hear,” said Boyd after practice at Iowa. “My kind of whole philosophy is let the driver hear what I would want to know if I was driving. I like to hear a lot of information. I like to know what’s going on around me. I can see what’s happening on the tack right in front of me (as a driver), but if you’re racing on a track that’s a mile long there’s a lot of stuff you can’t see.”
(During a restart spotting for Logano) Comin’ on down. Be ready. Be readdyyyyy ... GREEN … Stay in line. Stay in line … good. 29 is on ya. There ya go. Inside. Inside. Three-wide. Middle of three. Still out there. Still out there. Clear low. Still outside. Clear low. Still outside. After him come on up. Clear up. Clear up. 78 is with you 34 still down thereeeee. Clear low. Clear low. Clear low. Use some momentum on these there. Outside outside outside. 78.
Boyd’s journey to the spotter stand started off as a driver at Concord Speedway, a local track in North Carolina. Then he spent years as a tire changer in the Nationwide Series.
“I had the opportunity to spot one day for a practice and everything went well,” said Boyd. When everything was cool-cool, Boyd built up that MO-mentum that led to him spotting full-time. This year he’s an employee of Penske working in the fabrication shop during the week and spotting on the weekend.
“I really like (spotting),” said Boyd. “You’re really part of the game. From the second the green flag drops you’re engage with what’s going on with the race, whether it’s pit stops or even under caution it’s a very busy time of the race and you just have to be on it. You have to pay attention. You’re part of the game.”
Boyd said his experience in the pits and behind the wheel helps him understand what driver’s need from him.
“You’re communicating with your driver what’s going on around him, what he can’t see, and you’re communicating with your crew chief and your engineer telling them what you see visually outside what they can’t see,” Boyd said.
You’re also communicating information that may help a driver navigate NASCAR's unwritten rules of engagement.
“Maybe we’re really getting hammered back here and we might have to give up a few spots in order to prevent giving up a lot — in other words getting wrecked,” said Boyd. “You just have to let them know what the situation is around them and a lot of them do what they want to do with the information you give them.”
“16 about half off of you; ya got the good mo-mentum. 29 still inside two-wide. 16 still in line with you. Still down there, 29. Still down there … still down there … he’s barely still down there and clear. Clear-clear. All good. That was a good job there. Clear by one.”
Spotters, like drivers, have to change their game to fit the track, Boyd said.
“Every track is as different as is every driver,” said Boyd. “You have to get in the frame of mind of what the track is. Like at Pocono, it’s wide open and you can see a lot of stuff going on. At Iowa it’s real close knit, real tight. You just have to be in a different frame of mind of how close the quarters are in racing.”
There are also times when spotters become anger management coaches for drivers.
“I want a driver who gets fired up and gets mad and pissed off because they want it,” said Boyd. “You know that they want it, but you try to get them back focused and get on the wheel. So I try to go ahead and get on real quick. I’ve driven a little bit on the short tracks and things like that and when I was younger I did let emotions get to me and I raised Cain.
"I had a pretty big attitude whenever anyone bumped me or messed me up. I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older that it’s OK to get angry. It’s OK to get fired up and OK to get mad, but how you recover and get over it and get back to racing is pretty crucial. You can throw away your day if you start raising Cain and then wreck your car. Or even nowadays, knock the fender in and mess up your aero and you might spend 100 laps and three pit stops trying to get it fixed to where it’s even close to where you were.”
Hornish said he appreciates Boyd’s even-tempered approach.
“He’s a guy who is real ‘alright, we’re going to go do it’ and never gets too excited. It’s good. As a driver, he keeps you in the right frame of mind,” Hornish said.
“29 gained a little through the center there. Still clear by half. Keep an eye on him. Stayed the same there. Clear by one.”
That’s not to say there aren’t moments when things get tense among spotters, especially at the end of the race. Boyd said there are a lot of spotter-to-spotter communications.
“Sometimes it’s a courteous message, sometimes it’s a mad message,” Boyd said with a laugh. “We’re all up standing elbow to elbow every week so you have to get along. We have a really cool group of guys on the spotter stand in all the divisions up here. You just work together. Sometimes we yell at each and sometimes you’re mad but we’ll talk to each other after the race or send a message and we’re over it. You’re going to get angry at times but whenever you leave the track you have to start focusing on the next one.”
Any spotter brawls? Another Boyd laugh. “There’s not any brawls, but there are heated discussions.”
Boyd said he knows that people are listening in on this channel during the races — both at the track via scanners and at home though NASCAR.com — but when the green flag drops he just does his thing.
“My wife listens to it every week,” he said. “She puts on a big set of speakers and listens. She’ll turn the TV down and have NASCAR.com turned up. But, for me, when the green flag drops it could be just a Saturday night race at the local track to me, as far the crowd. If you say something bad then it gets brought to your attention pretty quickly, but you kind of focus that out and have at it.”
Follow Tab Boyd on Twitter: @Spotter_Tab