One decade ago, Drew Herring was a young race car driver looking to make it big with Joe Gibbs Racing. He now finds himself in pressure-filled situations every week, but it’s not as a driver. Herring is now spotting for Martin Truex Jr. at the NASCAR Cup Series level.
Ahead of the 2021 Cup season, the No. 19 team made a change on the spotter’s stand. Since joining Furniture Row Racing in 2014, Clayton Hughes was the primary spotter for Truex, going on to win 25 races together and the 2017 championship. But it was time for a change.
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“It was something that we were talking about, throwing around, looking at some options,” Truex recently told NASCAR.com of the spotter change. “They thought [Herring] would fit well and if he wanted to be a spotter, I thought we could give him a shot, and he’s doing a great job.”
But losing Hughes was tough for Truex. After all, Truex has had a surge late in his career that’s atypical from most drivers.
“It was a team decision more than anything,” Truex said. “As a team, the feeling was we could do better there. I have a great relationship with Clayton. He’s an awesome guy and I love him to death. That was the hardest part of making the change. Those are sometimes hard decisions to make, but we did and I feel like we’ve improved in that area.”
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Crew chief James Small picked up the phone at some point over the offseason to call Herring. For the past six years, the once real-life race car driver was tuning in hard on the Toyota Racing Development simulator, preparing it for the manufacturer’s drivers. He was also the organization’s test driver on its wheelforce car.
But when this opportunity came up, it was difficult to turn down.
“[Small] asked me if I ever wanted to be a spotter,” Herring recalled. “My initial response was no. I asked him to give me a few days to think about it. After sitting down and looking at the schedule right now, still dealing with the pandemic, we only have eight weekends that are multiple-day shows, which helped make my decision.
“I was humbled that James and that caliber of team, knowing that I have zero spotting background, felt like I could get the job done and be an efficient spotter for them.”
Herring admitted he enjoys new challenges, and this felt like the right one. However, he’d never been a primary spotter in his lifetime, only serving as a secondary spotter at select road course events in previous roles.
After learning he would become the No. 19 spotter, Herring went to work, replaying past races, listening to scanner audio and, most importantly, watching SportMedia Technology (SMT). But that can only help to an extent when it comes to getting your eyes and voice on the actual product.
No pressure, Herring’s first race as a Cup spotter: The 2021 Daytona 500. And boy, his stomach was in knots.
“I was more nervous than probably any race I’ve ever ran before,” Herring said. “Even my one-off Cup start during the Championship Weekend in 2019 was probably not as nerve-wracking as that. When I’m behind the wheel, I feel like I’m completely in control of my destiny and what’s going on. Being a spotter now, I have to make sure that I do a great job so that I don’t put Martin in a bad situation to wreck.”
Truex, a lofty veteran, could tell Herring was anxious heading into Daytona.
“We went to Daytona and I felt like he was pretty nervous, which I could totally understand,” Truex said. “Talk about spotting at your first big race being the Daytona 500. That’s pretty crazy.”
Since the Great American Race, Herring has spotted nine Cup races and three Xfinity Series races with Ty Dillon as the driver (he also spotted for Dillon at Daytona). He’s beginning to feel more comfortable atop the spotter’s stand, growing with confidence each week.
Some of that he credits to a motto of, “Anything I do, I’m not OK with just being average.” More of it stems from being a past driver and knowing Truex’s position.
“For me, I think it makes a big difference because when I’m up there spotting for Martin, I understand a lot of situations he’s in from his standpoint,” Herring said. “ I think it gives me a different perspective of the things that he’s feeling and things that he’s seeing, so that I can give a little more personal information to a certain extent.”
Truex agreed, confirming the belief that having a former driver as a spotter has helped.
“[He has] the experience of being behind the wheel and understanding what that’s like,” Truex added. “It’s not something that’s easy to explain to someone. I think you’ve either done it or you haven’t.”
Through 10 races this season, Truex is the only repeat winner in the Cup Series, having won at Phoenix Raceway and Martinsville Speedway. The series heads this weekend to Kansas Speedway, where he has won twice before. Truex credits some of the early success so far to the improvements Herring has made as a spotter, noting that he’s doing everything he can to be at his best.
“You can hear the confidence, that’s really the biggest thing,” Truex said. “Giving me good information, not too much, not too little, just things that really matter.”
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Aside from enjoying the one-day shows, Herring also likes to win. A lot. Long term, he’s got his eyes set on the big prize at the end of the season, hoping to guide Truex to his second championship.
“One of the things that made it easy for me was knowing that we had the opportunity to go win every week,” he said. “And not knowing that we could just go win every week, but that we have the chance if we go out and do our jobs all year long, we could be one of the final ones and compete for the championship at Phoenix.”
As far as Herring’s primary goal as a spotter, he wants to continue to improve. He’s leaned on a plethora of other spotters, including Freddie Kraft, Coleman Pressley, Tim Fedewa, TJ Majors and all of his Toyota teammates.
And though he knows there are plenty of talented spotters on the stand, Herring wants to be the best.
“Even if we get to that point of, ‘You’re doing good,’ I still want to work to be even better because it’s not good enough,” he said. “You never become complacent, you always try to grow to become better and that’s the mentality I’ve had across life. No matter the role I put myself into I try to dive myself into headfirst and be the best person at that job.”
On top of being a full-time spotter, Herring is still doing as much work as he had in the past on the TRD simulator and wheelforce car. The spotter gig was just an add-on.
Though his attention is on spotting for the No. 19 Toyota, Herring hasn’t given up on being a competitive race car driver just yet.
Herring said, “I definitely want to get back out there. I love racing and still want to be a driver. But at the time I don’t have that opportunity. I knew there wasn’t going to be any opportunities on Sundays, but there’s still chances of maybe I could get out there on a Friday or Saturday.”