Derek Kneeland, spotter for Chip Ganassi Racing and driver Kyle Larson, was introduced to NASCAR through a trip to New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 1994 when he was only 7 years old. He was part of a contingent of family and friends that raced go-karts with him on tracks near his home in Windham, Maine.
“Going to that first race kept my itch for racing going,” Kneeland said. “That never stopped. I just kept pursuing every dream I had.”
When he turned 15, Kneeland began driving Late Models and still does a couple of times a year during off weekends. His small family team didn’t have strong sponsorship, prompting a move to the next best thing; spotting for other drivers in NASCAR in 2009 at age 22. He became Larson’s spotter in Cup competition in 2014.
“I started spotting for a good buddy of mine that I grew up with moved south about the same time and started working for a decal company,” Kneeland said. “I met Brian Scott and worked with him through the (Camping World) Truck Series (and ARCA) and then became a spotter in Cup racing.”
The job can be a bit nerve wracking, especially when Larson is in tight three-wide packs at Daytona and Talladega.
“There’s a lot to spotting for a race team,” Kneeland said. “It’s harder to do here in the Cup series. Any speedway can be difficult because you’re talking a lot and you want to let the driver know what’s going on behind them more than you are about what’s ahead of them. You just want to keep them in the right line and it’s harder to keep them out of trouble. There’s so much going on throughout a race.
“Most of us wear one radio know where we can hear ourselves talking. We can scan ourselves to see how loudly we’re speaking. We can control our voices and keep the driver calm so we can work on the task at hand.”
FACT: Kneeland enjoys ice fishing and snowmobiling during the winter months when he returns home to Maine during the off season.
QUOTE: “I like the challenge of trying to beat 42 other cars. I like being able to help the driver find speed. I just wanted to be in racing and spotting was the next best thing (to driving).”
EXTRA LAPS WITH KNEELAND
ENGAGED TO: Carly for December 2016 wedding
CHILDREN: Colby (12) Logan (5)
HOMETOWN: Windham, Maine
FAVORITE VACATION SPOT: Bora Bora
FAVORITE HOLIDAY: Christmas
FAVORITE SEASON: Fall
FAVORITE TV SHOW: Law and Order SVU
FAVORITE MOVIE: Step Brothers
FAVORITE MUSIC: Country