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Breaker 1-9 ... Breaker 1-9!

September 18, 2012, Rick Houston, Special to NASCAR.COM,

Spotters, team communications have come a long way in 40 years

Bobby Allison was on the kind of hot streak in the summer of 1971 that most NASCAR drivers could only dream of.

Held winless through the first half of the season, Allison finally broke into the win column on May 30 in the World 600 at Charlotte. Next came a victory on a hot and humid day at Dover, and then another the week after that at Michigan. Afterward, it was time for the long haul out to southern California, where the road course at Riverside awaited.

UPS... Game Changing Moments

The track was full of turns and hill crests that made it impossible to know what was coming, and if he could figure out some sort of early-warning system, well, heck, why not? Allison's first attempt was to outfit his car with a regular CB radio, with a crew member standing by at the top of the grandstands across from the start-finish line.

"Breaker 1-9 ... breaker 1-9! This is ol' B.A. coming at you loud and proud from Turn 12. Y'all got your ears on?!?"

It didn't work, even with the volume turned up full blast. Still, the CB was better than nothing. The concept could work, if he could only find the right rig to use at Riverside. Enter Chuck Santorre, a Motorola employee, who told Allison that he could set him up for a couple hundred bucks or so. The role of spotter in NASCAR was about to take a giant leap forward.

"The radio had a hookup with a set of earplugs so I could hear," Allison said. "I went out there and ran some laps, and man, I could hear him just like we're talking now. I could talk into the mic, and he could hear me. We thought it was great."

Though Allison remembers a few skeptics commenting on "another one of your wild and crazy ideas," he says he simply responded with a smile. Santorre made his way up to the grandstands for the start of the race, and it wasn't long before he proved the radio's value to Allison. Coming out of the bottom turn and headed toward the esses, a wreck had the track blocked.

"Bobby! Go out in the dirt! Go out in the dirt right now!" Santorre commanded, and that's exactly what Allison did.

"I went out through the dirt and the cloud of dust and missed everything," Allison said. "I won the race so easy that day, I didn't have to race anybody. About three races later, Richard Petty walked over to me and asked, 'How do I get some of them there things?'"

The Riverside victory was Allison's fourth in a row, and he would extend the streak to five consecutive wins just three days later on a half-mile track in Houston, Texas. Not long afterward, more and more teams began to use radio hookups supplied by Santorre, who continued to serve as Allison's spotter on a part-time basis.

"Chuck came to a lot of races, and he spotted for me when he was there," Allison said. "It would be a crew member that I had a lot of confidence in who would take over the duties whenever he wasn't there. Bob Spangler, the first guy who did my souvenir stuff, he became the interim spotter. He was really good at it, too."

" I'm just proud that I got to do some of those things that appear to still be going on in the racing world. The radios were probably the most lasting and most widely appreciated thing that came along."


Some of the old-guard drivers had trouble manhandling a car around the track with somebody else's voice ringing in their ears, trying to tell them what to do. Allison, however, had no such issues. He was already accustomed to receiving instructions from control towers at any of the hundreds of airports that he had flown into while piloting his private airplane.

"Flying the airplane, I could take my little radio and talk to a guy a thousand miles away," the NASCAR Hall of Famer said. "I was so tuned into radio communications, it made it really easy for me. As the spotters got better and better, they could say so-and-so's weak getting into the corner or so-and-so's weak getting off the corner. They could feed the driver the right kind of information to help them advance, and they could warn the driver of an unseen problem so often."

Along with the advent of spotters, the use of radios also advanced communications between driver and crew by light years. If a car was loose before radios, the driver was supposed to pat the roof of the car. If the car was tight, the driver patted the door. If the crew needed to get a message to the driver, out came what was more often than not an old and tattered chalk board.

Sometimes, the crew didn't see the hand signal. On top of that, it was understandably difficult for a driver even pick out, much less focus on, a small pit board while flying past at 100 mph and more.

"Well, sometimes they didn't see your arm out of the window," Allison remembered. "It was easier to see the pat on the roof, but it was just part of the challenge of going out there and trying to be as competitive as you could be."

Without a doubt, Allison is proud of his contribution to the evolution of the sport through the use of spotters.

"I have always felt it was one of the neat things that came along, and that maybe I helped develop to at least an extent," he concluded. "I did a lot of things, I think, to help racing grow to what it became. I'm just proud that I got to do some of those things that appear to still be going on in the racing world. The radios were probably the most lasting and most widely appreciated thing that came along."