Spotter Tony Arnold’s Excellent Day at the 102nd Running of ARCA at Salem Speedway

19 Sep

Zane Smith and Austin Theriault have at it

The Rat Race Behind the Race: Episode Three

This installment of ‘The Rat Race Behind the Race’ is a throwback to the days when small, local tracks not only hosted but also made the future stars of auto racing. What I found was the perfect place to explore this topic; the historic Salem Speedway in Salem, Indiana on a gorgeous early fall afternoon. This is the track that has hosted future champions in many forms of motorsport, from Open Wheel to Grand Touring to Cup. If you consider a particular driver to be beyond great, most likely they plied their craft at Salem. But how does this all tie into the Rat Race Behind the Race you may ask? Well little sparrow, come take a seat and I will share with you how this came to pass.


Cuck Walden, personal racing historian (L) and GForcePaul (R) attending the driver’s meeting


I enjoy writing about motorsport and in particular, open wheel racing. Living in Indianapolis, it is almost like you have to enjoy motorsports or they will not sell you a house. Typically, I enjoy writing this blog during the off season as I have less competition from the true professional word scribes as they enjoy vacations in sunny locations. It was under these circumstances that I decided to put together a series on those that toil in the background of motor sport to bring you the “show”. One of my favorite people to engage in conversations at different tracks are the team spotters, since my background in this sport was as a television camera spotter. Consequently, I hit on the idea of interviewing a driver’s spotter. My preference was to grab time with one of the spotters working the various “Road To” series across the motorsports landscape.

This particular opportunity was presented to my be Mr. Jay Alley, Alleygroup Associates photography. (Full disclosure: Jay has been the subject of a previous article in this series. You can find his great stuff here:


The right hand of the law:

ALL images in this article from Salem Speedway are solely his or the property of the ARCA Racing Series, presented by Menards ( ). They may not be reused in any manner without permission. Jay is the chief photographer for ARCA and had invited me to several races in the past, so I decided to take him up on his kind offer. When Jay asked me if I would consider writing about the day I thought it would be fascinating to get some face time with one of the race team’s spotters. Coming from a TV camera spotter’s perspective, I love spotters as much as a really good driver. Darn if Jay ended up hooking me up with the Arca series’ points leading driver and team, owned and operated by Ken Schrader. Their spotter, Tony Arnold agreed to spend some quality time answering my questions and putting up with my unsolicited comments. What ensued was a fascinating deep dive into the nuts and bolts of a guy trying to help his driver win a race, as well as giving perspective of the long road to the BIG SHOW.

So, having said all of that, allow me to present 10 questions with Mr. Tony Arnold.

ARCA Racing Series Marketing Manager: Tom Legeman
Car Owner: Kenny Schrader, Schrader Racing
Director of Competition: Donnie Richeson
Car Chief: Phil Drye
Spotter: Tony Arnold
Driver: Austin Theriault
Car No. 52


Tony Arnold (R) being interviewed for this article



1. What is your day job?

I actually run a race car parts business. I sell race car parts for a friend of mine. We have been friends for like 30 years and have been working for him for four years in Danville Virginia.  I live there during the week and get to see my wife once or twice a week because I am on the road all the time. Luckily my wife is very VERY supportive. I have been married 15 years. She basically, she knows I am going to race and allows me to go and have fun and travel the county and live my dream while she stays at home and works. (Which is another point I’d like you to speak to. People go “This is such a glamorous business”, but talk about some of the 18 hour days.)


Tony Arnold (L) GForcePaul (R)



2. About those 18 hour days…

Yeah, it’s tough, man, especially it’s tough for the guys in the race car. Because mainly they take a lot of the pressure. I don’t consider what I do a hard job. I don’t even consider this a job because this is what I want to do. But those guys, that are up on these roofs 18 hours a day, it’s a tough deal because we’re in the weather, the elements and rarely ever get breaks. Especially you go to a Cup track where you end up going to work for two or three series in one day. That’s a tough week.


Theriault leads Eckes


3. How did you get in the glamorous racing business?

I started out with my dad since he’s a big race fan. This is my 27th year of racing. I’m 40 years old, I’ll be 41 in November. I’ve done everything from lay up under them race cars to crew chief to spotting, I’ve done it all. (you’ve know the business end of the broom?). Yes sir. My dad got me started. He had a friend of his that worked on race cars, my dad got started sponsoring that race car and basically did it just for me to get started (what a nice gift) and at that point in time you had to be 16 years old to have a NASCAR license. (Right) So I was 16 for 4 years ‘cause I was only like 13 when I got my first NASCAR license. So it’s all I’ve ever known. It’s all I know to do you know; my dad builds houses for a living and has for 50 years and ultimately he would have loved for me to take over his business. He also knew racing was where my heart was at and he was behind me 100%. It’s all I have ever wanted to do.


Small track, small town, a Saturday night spent with friends



4. What is it really like to work with/for this crew chief? How did you come to cross paths?

Like I was telling you earlier I got to spot in front of Austin Theriault last year at the Oxford 250. I met him when I went to work for BKR and starting spotting for him. It was right after he had drove for them a lot, he was still running with them so I met Austin and then when he got the deal with Ken Schrader there, I was like “Hey, you know, I’d like to come do some of your non companion stuff”. So he got me in touch with Donnie Richeson, the crew chief there and I guess they say the rest is history.

5. How long have you known Schrader?

I met Schrader at the spring race here is the first time I ever met him. (Really?) Yes sir. I knew of him all my life watching him race. He’s what I call the definition of a true racer. (Really? What sets him apart?) He is, uh, he’ll race anything, anytime, anywhere. A lot of people love round track racing, short track racing, whatever, I don’t care what it is. If it’s drag racing, moto cross racing, it don’t make a difference to me. If it’s racing, I love it. (Yeah, I love speed as well and I totally get that.)


L to R: Christian Eckes, Chase Purdy, Riley Herbst and Zane Smith


6. Speak to the topic of the ability to communicate with the driver. It’s kind of an open ended question so share your experiences with us please.

It is. And I have had the opportunity to work with a lot of kids and I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of veterans. With the veterans, like when you get to this level, say the ARCA level or the truck level, even the Xfinity level, those guys know how to drive cars. There’s not a lot of coaching involved. Well, I come from the short track stuff where all the guys I work with are kids, trying to come up in the sport and there’s a lot of coaching as well as spotting. I mean it’s even harder and I love that part of it. I like the bigger series just because it’s, I’m not going to say it’s easier but my job is a little easier when I get to the bigger series. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lot more information that you have to give the driver when you get to these bigger series, but as far as the coaching part of it, it’s pretty much academic.

Other series spotting work and Nuts n Bolts


Tony  Hessert

Tom Hessert wheeling it for car owner Cathy Venturini


7. Is ARCA your only spotting gig?

This year I spot for some late model teams back home when I can. I do this for a living, so I still have to make money at it. I can go to like a South Boston speedway on a regular Saturday night and spot 5 or 6 races a night because it’s fun to me. But I got where when I raced back in the mid to late 90’s, I raced by myself. I got way too big to do it, so I went to spotting because that’s where I could get my racing fix. Now it’s like being able to drive the race car! I have spotted for Austin Theriault this year, I spot for Chase Briscoe and Brad Keselowski’s truck stuff. I do his non companion stuff, I have done the 24 JGL car with Dylan Lupton 5 or 6 times this year. In Xfinity series, I did my first Cup race this year at Watkins Glen with Corey LaJoie. So, any time somebody calls I’m ready to go if I’ve got a free weekend.

8. How do they differ, or is the technique the same?

Like I said with Austin, he knows how to drive a race car. So basically I just feed him all the information I can feed him. He deciphers what he wants to decipher. He uses what he needs out of it,  you know. I go to Martinsville Speedway in a couple of weeks for the big late model show down there, I’ve got a kid there that I’ve worked with 4 or 5 years. Now he’s only been to Martinsville one time before and that was last year so that will be a lot of coaching. Teaching him lines and telling him where he needs to be on the race track and sending him out behind drivers that have been there a hundred times before. We are just trying to get him acclimated to where he needs to be. Like I said, you get to these series right and the coaching kind of goes out the window and it makes my job a little easier. But when I go and do a local race track, it’s a lot of coaching. It is also a lot of how do you say it, it’s just harder, I guess, because I drive the race car as much as he does.



Quintessential Small Track, USA


9. How do you calm down your shoe when hates his car set up?

We kind of had that in Springfield, and at Road America. These guys (Ken Schrader Racing) carried a brand new awesome piece to Road America. It was only Austin’s 4th road race and we were going to be happy to come out of there with the fenders on the car and stay on the asphalt all day. We made our pit stop early like Donnie had planned and we ended up running along there and we weren’t really good. We were just average to good and Austin was blabbing on the radio about “we need to do this and we need to do that” and Donnie was like “Hey bro we made our bed and we’re done pitting. We just gotta finish it out as best we can”. So, you just try to talk to him. Austin and Donnie have a really good relationship and I feel like the little bit of time I’ve been with them (this is my 5th race with these guys this year) I feel like Austin and I have a pretty good relationship also. I feel like Donnie and I have a really good relationship so, we’re all on the same page and that’s a lot of the key to it.

10. What affect does Post Qualifying Impound have?

It takes a lot of the money out of it and it puts it back into the racers’ hands in my opinion. If they didn’t have the Post Qualifying impound, you have these guys coming in here and spending a ton of money on just qualifying runs.  Then, they change everything back over to the race set up. This stuff right here, the impound deal, I like it because I’m a poor guy. I’ve always had to race on a shoestring budget with my own cars and stuff. It just takes a lot of money out of it and makes it so the little guys can compete with the big guys a little bit. You’re not working on qualifying set ups and making real fast speed. You come in, you go practice, you work on your race set ups and then you go race.
(So is that what they’ll do today?)
You can make a few adjustments after qualifying, you can make small adjustments and stuff like the track bar that you are allowed to do after qualifying. And at a place like this, it helps to be able to make adjustments. This is only my second time here, I was here for the spring race earlier and I love this race track.

(Is the high line still the fast way here at Salem?)

It is in three and four. One and two is about the middle line. It’s a lot of history here. I’d love to walk out of here today at Salem with a win, you know, but we’re also big picture racing. We’ve got a big points lead, so we are just trying to cap it off with a Championship. Hopefully we get ready to go to Indy for the big party.

The car chief and I went to dinner last night and I told him I’ve never worked with a kid (they’re all kids to me because I’m old) that thinks as much as Austin does; he thinks behind the wheel, he thinks about the race car, he’s a thinking driver and I like him.

Tony Arnold
Salem, Indiana


Austin Theriault wins




The number 52 Ken Schrader Racing Ford won the race after leading most of the laps. At one point with 10 laps to go, Austin had dropped to third place. He maintained contact with the leaders and picked off the leader when that car’s tires went off. Yes, Austin is a pretty smart kid!

Once again, thanks for stopping by and we will look for you next time.



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