In The House With Frankie Kimmel, Trackhouse Spotter

May 19, 2023

Trackhouse is made up of a family, all with the love of racing and having a good time.

This house has plenty of interesting people and characters that have the common bond of pulling together to achieve success.

One of those is Frankie Kimmel, the spotter for Daniel Suarez and the No. 99 Chevrolet.

The 31-year-old Kimmel is the son of ARCA legend and National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Famer Frank Kimmel of Jeffersonville, Indiana.

“It’s a home environment,” Kimmel said of Trackhouse. “I haven’t worked on as many race teams as some people around the sport, but of the dynamics of the race teams I’ve been with, it is definitely the best.

“I remember my first year there, Justin Marks (Trackhouse owner) announced something before the purchase of Chip Ganassi Racing, Justin in his mind, ‘Let’s do some really cool things.’ If he gets a wild idea, he runs with it.

“LED boards on the back of the hauler. We’ve got a golfer. We’ve got Pitbull. He has built something that is not status quo.

“It’s home. If I text Justin Marks about something, I normally get a response that day. Same thing with Ty Norris. I don’t speak for every other team, but that’s pretty unique.

“It’s a home. It’s somewhere that myself and people that have seen what Justin and Ty Norris (Trackhouse president) have built here, they want to be here and want to be here for a long time.”

Frankie Kimmel is from Borden, Indiana, a small town in the Hoosier State about 31 miles from Louisville, Kentucky.

Born into a racing family, young Kimmel spent much of his formative years working on race cars and going to the race track to help support his father’s ARCA efforts.

“I raced fairly competitively until I was 21 or 22,” Kimmel recalled. “I raced less when I was in school and working more. I spent a lot of time at a race track. When our friends in high school were out partying and experiencing things as a teenager, I was at the race shop working or at a race track working.

“I didn’t have time for that.

“It was a different world.”

That different world, however, created a career path that has brought Kimmel to the top of the spotters stand at speedways around the NASCAR circuit.

“If you look at the makeup of everybody on the roof that is a spotter, for the most part a lot of us are old racers,” Kimmel said. “Brandon McReynolds (Ross Chastain’s spotter for the No. 1 Chevrolet at Trackhouse) raced a little more than I did.

“How it started for me, it was never a dream. My dad raced ARCA and a lot of times they used Cup Series spotters. They would have practice on Thursday or Friday or a test day or whatever and their regular guy couldn’t make it, so I got thrown up there.

“I was never really looking to do it, but I would spot practices or test days and then I spotted some local short track stuff. One thing led to another, and I ended up spotting a race for my dad back in 2013 or 2014 and it went really well. Then it grew from there.

“I graduated college in 2015. There was some local short track racing that people needed spotters. I started selling myself as someone who could do it and help drivers.

“My relationship with Travis Mack led to this job.”

Mack graduated from high school and started working for Kimmel’s father before Mack moved to Charlotte. Frankie knew the family and Mack did a great job working on the elder Kimmel’s ARCA team.

When Mack pursued a career in racing in Charlotte, North Carolina, he kept in contact with the Kimmel family.

“I went to Travis’ wedding long before I became a spotter,” Frankie recalled. “As I grew, and I’m sure my dad said in passing I was doing a really good job and said good things about what I was doing. One thing led to another, and Travis said they were looking to make a change. I had very limited experience on the NASCAR side of things, and they took a chance on me.

“I did three Truck races and one Xfinity race when I did my first race Cup race.”

Just as there are legendary drivers that are on the race track, there are also legendary spotters that have been calling races as the “eye in the sky” for NASCAR Cup Series drivers.

Kimmel and McReynolds are two of the younger spotters that call NASCAR Cup Series races and are bringing fresh eyes to their profession.

“What Daniel likes is completely different than what my Xfinity driver likes or my Truck Series driver,” Kimmel explained. “It’s very, very different from what we have to do.

“Being able to adapt is important. Racing and the history of racing and big cars on big tracks helps, but for myself, Brandon and some of the newer guys on the roof, we are willing to involve ourselves in more than just showing up to spot. Spending time, whether watching films or going to simulators, we’re able to devote our time to other duties. The guys who have been doing it for a long time may not want to jump in and find new ways to improve their craft.

“It’s the ability to adapt. Some days you are a spotter and some days you are a psychiatrist.”

Suarez is from Monterrey, Mexico and speaks very good English, but Spanish is his first language. There are a few times where certain terminology may be unfamiliar to this combination, but Suarez and Kimmel have created a tremendous communication bond.

“Travis and I a lot of times talk on our secondary channel if we don’t understand what he says,” Kimmel explained. “There are also times when Daniel says, ‘When you say this, I got confused.’ It may be something we easily understand but to him the wording changes.

“But that has only happened a few times.”

The role of the spotter has evolved because the NASCAR Cup Series cars have changed dramatically. The rearview mirrors are wider, and each car is equipped with television screens showing the view from the rear camera.

Cup drivers are now able to see directly behind them with the screens and that has changed areas the spotter is responsible for.

“What goes on that people don’t always hear is there are two channels,” Kimmel explained. “One channel has everybody – Travis, myself, Daniel and the crew. Then, there is a second channel that is me and Travis talking back and forth.

“It’s more than ‘inside, outside, inside, clear’ because they have more data and info than they have ever had. When they are wrecking, you are relaying that information, but pit cycles, restarts, the choose cone is a big deal now.

“There are a lot more little things that the new racing has brought versus old school racing of ‘Inside, outside, clear.’

“With the Choose Cone, now we have to focus on choose lines and who you are restarting behind and what they have done on previous restarts and the engineers are giving you data or what it what. It’s a lot more than just the ‘inside, outside, clear’ part.”

Kimmel also has to focus on what is happening in the “blind spot” of the race car for his driver.

From the A-post forward, it’s the driver’s responsibility to see out of the windshield. But anything from the B-post back, behind the driver’s seat and to his left and right, is the spotter’s responsibility.

Different tracks with different racing lanes also create unique challenges.

“The hardest part we do in Cup is at places like Kansas, California, Michigan, and Darlington where you run across the race track, every lane, that merge up off the turn is the hardest part,” Kimmel explained. “It’s out of angle of his camera. He doesn’t have a right-side mirror. He has a rear-view mirror, but the spoiler is in the way and everything in the back window is in the way.

“That’s the biggest part we can help him with. When somebody is running the fence and we are running the bottom, where that run is coming from, are they getting pushed or side drafted, which lane to block. That’s the best way I can say it.”

It's a great view from the spotters stand, but they aren’t there to enjoy the race. They have a very important duty that can help a driver get to victory lane.

But one bad call can also create calamity.

“I can be stressful,” Kimmel admitted. “If you make a bad call, it can end the race.

“There are several guys on a race team that can end a drivers race where it’s pit crew, crew chief, driver, or spotter. You are one of those, so it is high stress.

“But I feel lucky to be able to do it because we get to work with one of the top 35 or top 40 drivers in the country. That’s pretty cool. I’m working with the only Hispanic driver in NASCAR. That’s pretty cool. “I feel lucky about it.”

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