Eddie D’Hondt, Jeff Gordon’s Spotter, Sees a Team on the Verge
By Mary Jo Buchanan On Fri, Jul. 13, 2012
D’Hondt is firmly convinced that the No. 24 team is on the verge of taking the checkered flag and, once that occurs, that there will be other wins to follow.
“We’ve had some awful good races and we’re so close and on the verge of busting out,” D’Hondt said. “Working with Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) and getting to know Jeff (Gordon) more and more has been very rewarding.”
“Once we finally have our day, it will all come together.”
D’Hondt brings years of racing experience to the spotter’s stand for team 24. He has worked for drivers the likes of Tony Stewart, Kenny Wallace and Bill Elliott, as well as owning his own Nationwide team with Tommy Baldwin and working for Yates Racing.
“Since I left Yates, I’ve been pretty much spotting for teams,” D’Hondt said. “I’ve worked for Kyle Busch the last year and a half and now Jeff Gordon.”
“So, that’s my journey.”
Because of his diversified background, on and off the track, D’Hondt feels that he brings multiple characteristics to the spotter’s stand. But he credits his time behind the wheel as the key to effective spotting from the sky.
“I think having been a driver helps me understand a little bit of the driver’s aspect of it and understanding the cars,” D’Hondt said. “I stay on top of that as best I can.”
“A lot of spotters were drivers at one point so it helps.”
D’Hondt also acknowledges that his spotting style varies, depending both on the type of track and on the type of driver.
“It may vary for sure,” D’Hondt said. “At a speedway race, the driver and spotter talk a lot more.”
“Here at New Hampshire, it’s more the crew chief than me talking,” D’Hondt continued. “I also spot for Justin Allgaier in the Nationwide Series and Miguel Paludo in the Truck Series, so whatever feedback, like tire wear or other trends, I’ll bring it to their attention.”
In his career, D’Hondt has seen many changes in the role of the spotter. And that evolution has kept him constantly busy on the stand, with breaks in the action being few and far between.
“The evolution of the spotter has changed over the last few years,” D’Hondt said. “It used to be when a caution came out, you could take a drink or relax a little bit.”
“Now, there’s a lot more action,” D’Hondt continued. “We’re looking for cars coming around so we don’t hit them or looking for problems in the pit stalls. Pit road is tight and cars are coming at the last second.”
Because of all this action, D’Hondt advises preparation for each and every race is key. And once the race starts, focus is all important, especially with juggling multiple radios as well as seeing the activities on track.
“Two hours before a race, I’ll go up and start getting into my mental mode,” D’Hondt said. “Once the race starts, you could blow a bomb up next to me and I would never notice.”
“I have five radios on, so I’m listening to a tremendous amount of things,” D’Hondt continued. “I listen to the race broadcast, NASCAR, myself, and I have a digital radio when the crew chief talks to me.”
“So, it’s pretty dizzying,” D’Hondt said. “But that’s all just part of me being able to give information when it’s applicable or warranted.”
Of course, because spotters are human too, there are other preparations that have to occur before they came atop the stand.
“There’s a lot of goofy stuff we have to do to prepare for a race, like make sure we got to the bathroom before it starts,” D’Hondt said. “Like at the Charlotte 600, you’ve better have gone because there’s no time once you’re up there.”
“I generally won’t drink anything two hours before a race,” D’Hondt continued “Once the race starts, I’ll take a drink every once in awhile.”
“I also chew gum to keep my mouth going,” D’Hondt said. “The only time we’ll eat anything is in between practices because that’s a decent enough break.”
One of the more recent challenges that spotters like D’Hondt have had to face is the ever changing paint schemes on their drivers’ cars. This played special havoc for D’Hondt last weekend at Daytona when driver Jeff Gordon was in the black Pepsi Max race car.
“We had a black car at a dark race track last Saturday and when the wrecks started happening and there’s smoke, it’s really hard,” D’Hondt said. “You just have to feel your way through it.”
“It’s almost a sixth sense.”
“I come early and walk around the garages to make sure I know what the sponsors are and whose car number is whose because a lot of times, Jeff will ask,” D’Hondt continued. “So that’s part of my job.”
While many consider the role of spotter as glamorous and exciting, D’Hondt affirms the most serious aspect of the job.
“It’s got its glamorous side to it,” D’Hondt said. “But at times, it can be pretty intense.”
“It’s our job to keep the drivers safe first and foremost.”
While safety is supreme, spotters also play important roles as information givers, as well as cheerleaders and encouragers. And of course, that balance depends greatly on the driver, his tenure in the sport and his own expertise behind the wheel.
“Sometimes I feel like cheerleading might be a good thing, but there are other times when you just have to let them concentrate and do their jobs,” D’Hondt said. “So, there’s a little bit of a fine line there.”
“I think it depends on the driver,” D’Hondt said. “With Jeff, as a four-time champion, I don’t have to tell him much.”
“With a second year driver in the Truck Series, he still has a lot to learn,” D’Hondt continued. “I can say, in the right moment, a lot to help him.”
Of all the drivers he has worked with, D’Hondt expresses highest admiration for his current driver and four-time champion.
“Jeff has been there, done that and he knows,” D’Hondt said. “So, I talk a whole lot less when it comes to Jeff.”
“I’ve worked with a lot of drivers with tenure in our sport, but Jeff Gordon to me is the consummate professional,” D’Hondt continued. “He amazes me how he never gets rattled, never takes his anger out on his guys and is just very professional.”
“I like that and I like to carry myself the same way.”
With D’Hondt atop the spotters’ stand and Jeff Gordon behind the wheel, this spotter knows it is just a matter of time until he, his team and driver finally reach Victory Lane. And with one win will no doubt come others as well.
“We’ve had a pretty rough year, not because we haven’t had fast cars or cars capable of winning,” D’Hondt said. “I feel like once we win our first race, it won’t be our last.”
“I feel like now, we’re in a pretty good rhythm,” D’Hondt continued. “And having won in the past, I know I will never lose sight of what winning will mean.”