High upon a hill overlooking the winding 1.99-mile asphalt racetrack, Valerie Inglebright took up her position shortly before noon on Saturday. Roughly about two-tenths of a mile away her husband Jim was below her about to push and test his skills behind the wheel of his yellow No. 1 Federated Auto Parts speed machine.
For nearly 20 years Valerie Inglebright has worked for the Inglebright race team as a spotter – perched above racetracks, talking via radio headset to Jimmy, guiding him through peril, alerting him to any of a potential myriad details that might shave seconds off his lap time and updating him about things beyond his line of sight as he hurtles around other racers toward the next turn.
“Fire it up.”
Spotting is more than just watching and talking to her husband during the race. The job starts the night before when last-minute race qualifiers are added to the lineup.
“I look for the rookies or the ones who are new to the track. I keep my eyes on them during the race,” Inglebright said over the steady roar of two dozen high-performance engines being pushed to their limits.
Before the race Inglebright goes to the lookout perch where other team spotters join NASCAR officials in watching the contest. Her spot on the overlook is closest to the edge and closest to the track below. While several spotters are sitting, Inglebright is standing throughout the race, leaning forward almost reflexively as Jimmy heads into certain tight turns in the course.
Inglebright has radios on each hip – one to Jimmy, the other listening to NASCAR officials. A cell phone also helps reach out to other team members during the race.
“Fire it up,” Inglebright instructs her husband after she hears the command from NASCAR officials. Minutes later the race is underway.
Race within the race
Within minutes, both Inglebrights are performing in the race within the race that plays out on the track. Jimmy may want to pass somebody or somebody may want to edge down beneath him in a corner to pass him.
Crashes spur a yellow caution flag and whatever lead another racer may have built up is erased as all racers are clustered and tailgating in order until the green flag is given. The yellow flag flew several times during Saturday’s race, including in the next-to-last lap of the 64-lap race.
The race came down to two final laps starting with all racers just a few feet or a few inches from each other heading into tight turns.
Inglebright, in the middle of the pack throughout the race, suddenly watches five cars in front of him careen out of control off the asphalt, kicking up a blinding cloud of dirt.
“There’s nothing I can say to him at that point in a race,” Inglebright says afterward. “It can go five different ways in a second.”
Inglebright went left and got the right front fender of his No. 1 whalloped by another car. But the crash did not slow him down nearly as much as several of his competitors. He went from the eleventh spot to finishing eighth. A solid race in their backyard.
Valerie Inglebright said the strong race might be a sign for their racing season. Team Inglebright of Fairfield was only looking at Sonoma Raceway for 2014. After the race she said NASCAR wants them to race for the rest of the season.
“We’ll probably decide that in the next few weeks after meeting with Federated and Jelly Belly,” Inglebright said.
Reach Jess Sullivan at 427-6919 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jsullivandr.