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Meet Jason Hedlesky, Carl Edwards' spotter
RELATED: Meet Denny Hamlin's spotter, Chris Lambert Editor's note: This is the fourth in a series of interviews with NASCAR Sprint Cup Series spotters. Jason Hedlesky, Spotter for Carl Edwards , No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota How and when did you get started as a spotter? I grew up (in Clinton, Michigan) and my dad brought me to Michigan Speedway for the first time when I was 8 years old. Before that, I knew I wanted to be a race car driver. When he brought me here … I walked up to the fence at the start/finish line and I want to say it was Neil Bonnett in the Wood Brothers car, he just came flying by me. I stepped back about five feet, it scared me at first, but it was the most awesome thing in the world. That just confirmed it. I stayed focused on my goals and tried to eventually make it as a driver. I succeeded to some extent -- getting my start with Mr. (Junie) Donlavey and had raced locally at Flat Rock and Toledo. Getting my start with Mr. Donlavey in 1998, I drove for him, did a little bit of everything, team manager and spotted for the team as well. In '04, Mr. Donlavey was retiring and I wanted to keep driving. I didn't really want another management job or a real job. I wanted to concentrate on driving. Carl needed a spotter. He was driving a truck for Jack (Roush, team owner) and I started spotting for him. We just became ... he's like one of my brothers. What, if any, other duties do you have with the team? That's it. For the last 13 years with Carl, I've just been the spotter. At Roush I did some test driving, a little bit. I filled in for him on the XFINITY side in I want to say '08. I did a couple of practice sessions when he was off with the Cup car. Do you spot only in Sprint Cup or other series as well? I work with Matt Crafton in the Truck Series. I've been with him probably five years now. We've won the two championships together. I've got a great relationship with him as well; he's a great friend of mine. It's just a great team to work with. Junior Joiner, the crew chief, Duke (Thorson, team owner), they're awesome. As much as this is home with Carl and everything else and being with them for 13 years, I feel the same way over there at ThorSport. How long have you been working with Carl? Since 2004 with Carl, I think that was his second year in Trucks, and then that year he started (at Michigan) in the Cup car, the '99 car. There was a timeframe when Bobby Hudson would come in just for Sunday only and do the races with Carl because he was already doing that 99 car. So I would do the Truck full-time and the Cup practice. Bobby would be here just to do the Sunday stuff. Then it gradually evolved into me doing everything Carl did. We ran seven straight years of XFINTY Series and Sprint Cup full-time. Do you remember the first race you worked as spotter? It goes way back to Toledo Speedway. I helped a guy with a Super Late Model. Toledo is a half-mile race track with a quarter-mile track on the inside. Chuck Roumell, I grew up working on his cars. He gave me a shot to help with the race cars and his brother was spotting. ... For some reason, one 100-lap Iceman feature at Toledo, he couldn't do it, so they just threw the radio at me. At that time, you'd stand on top of the tool box and just spin around in a circle; you really didn't do the inside/outside type of stuff that we do today. You'd let them know if there was a wreck; you'd give them information but that was about it. I think it might have been about '97. Chuck ran some ARCA races at Michigan and places like that and I spotted for him there. What is the most bizarre thing you've ever seen on the spotters' stand? I've been doing it now almost 20 years just in NASCAR, and every time you think you've seen it all ... something else crazy happens. ... There have been so many things, like Daytona when Juan Pablo Montoya broke that part and hit that jet dryer. That was crazy from our vantage point. We're watching the race track burn in Turn 3 and thinking we're never going to go back racing. The race track has to be destroyed. And we ended up going back to racing. I'd say the jet dryer thing and thankfully everyone was OK. What has been your most memorable experience as a spotter? We've had a lot with Carl. He's such a special driver. ... It stunk how it turned out, but one of the coolest things we were a part of was that championship run at Homestead with Tony (Stewart). That was a heck of a race. You just saw two spectacular race car drivers and they were right on the edge. They were an inch from the wall down there. I talked to Carl afterward; obviously we were all so disappointed. We thought that was our championship. To this day we still think we should have won that championship. But Tony just got us. I called Carl after that and said I was worried about him scraping the wall. He said, "I was never going to hit the wall; I knew I couldn't." But he was running a half-inch from it. Me driving and realizing how hard that is to do that at his speed, that's why those guys are the best. You realize that after you watch guys like him and Tony. To be a part of that, to watch the skill they had -- those guys were running as hard as any human being could ever drive a race car. ... That was pretty cool. ... That thing there was just a spectacular race, they put on a spectacular show. The cream rose to the top. What is the most difficult part of your job? As much as we like traveling, I think the toughest part is being away from my wife and kids. Getting through all the practices and trying to stay focused. The races are fun, that's what you're here for. Staying focused all day up on the spotters' stand ... when you've got Truck and XFINITY and Cup. That part is tough, but the travel, all the long days and being away from your family. Your favorite track to work and why? Michigan, of course, because it's home. But I love to spot a race at Bristol. Our vantage point, it's a half mile. You're looking down and you don't have to turn your head. You can see everything right there in front of you. And the action happens so quick. It's probably my favorite. I've enjoyed the racing at Michigan. It's a big, wide race track. ... I've enjoyed draft, the fact that you have to lift in the corners, the fact that a guy can still beat you down in the corners. What is one thing the average fan might not realize about your job or what it entails? Probably how difficult it can be. I think if I just took the average person up there ... they don't realize maybe sometimes how little you can see at some of these places. We have great, clear vantage points, but you're still a long way away. You're listening to NASCAR on one channel, you have the crew chief on another channel and you're talking to your driver. There's a lot going on. ... Just the ability to stay focused. It's not easy or Talladega or Daytona or (Michigan); They're three- and four-wide and you're looking through binoculars to make sure you're as precise as possible. Then wrecks are happening in front of that. ... They're kind of far away from you. If you do it for a season you just get used to it. ... I appreciate all the work all those guys do. It's not easy. Bristol is a fishbowl but there's a lot going on. So you have to keep your head in the game.
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As Daytona nears, Hamlin shows support for J.D. Gibbs
BUY TICKETS: See the Daytona 500 live! Defending Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin showed up Wednesday night to attend an Orlando Magic NBA game and help promote the upcoming Daytona Speedweeks, conceding there remains a lot of positive feedback about a special and sentimental move he made a day earlier for one of the sport's favorite sons. On Tuesday, Hamlin revealed on social media that he will carry his car owner J.D. Gibbs' first name above the driver door on his No. 11 FedEx Toyota Camry. Like Gibbs, Hamlin's initials are J.D. -- James Dennis. Gibbs' initials J.D. stand for Jason Dean. RELATED: Hamlin unveils tribute on No. 11 ride Gibbs, a popular and well-liked personality has been sidelined from his once-busy role running the Joe Gibbs Racing team because of health reasons. He has been treated for symptoms affecting his brain function and his welfare is always on the mind of team members. So for Hamlin, this was actually an easy way to send a strong message of support. And the positive response to the gesture has been immediate and strong. "It's very tough to figure out what is the right thing to do to pay tribute to J.D.," Hamlin said Wednesday while visiting the local Florida media. "That car is number 11 for a reason. Although people always think it's that number because it always has been throughout my career, that was J.D.'s number -- his college number -- when he played football (at the College of William and Mary)." Hamlin reminded that it was actually J.D. that persuaded his famous father, Joe Gibbs, to hire Hamlin and give him a chance in the big leagues. The result has been 29 wins and a championship runner-up finish (2010) in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings. "It's a very special thing for him and it's always been his car,'' Hamlin said. "He was there that very first time and made the call to sign me to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing so I tried to do the best I could to pay tribute to him as well and his family. "We're going to leave it on for the year. I think it's important to do that.'' After one more official off day (Thursday) before the 2017 season begins, Hamlin will arrive at Daytona International Speedway for the season kickoff non-points race, the Advance Auto Parts Clash on Saturday night. Front row qualifying for the Feb. 26 Daytona 500 will be Sunday.