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  • JP Magazine
  • Dirt Sports + Off-Road
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  • Four Wheeler

May 2011 Column Shift

Posted in Features on May 1, 2011
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Nope, I am not talking about that odd English dessert in a can, I am talking about that one guy on the trail who refuses to take direction from his spotter, bashing his rig into one obstacle after another until the unfortunate machine can't take anymore and lets go of a bunch of parts. We all know who it is I'm writing about, and in your club or amongst your friends, he probably has a name. For this story, we'll call him Dick.

Usually it's Dick who won't make eye contact with his spotter, letting his ego pick the line, rather then the experience of a trusted trail guide. This typically results in, at best, some abuse of the vehicle, and at worst, a day-ending event or serious injury.

In my experience, it's Dick who hammers down until something breaks. Trail ride just get slow? Walk ahead and see if you find Dick with an immovable problem blocking the way and the enjoyment of anyone behind him. There isn't much worse than knowing disaster could have been avoided if Dick would have just followed some direction.

But I guess it isn't always Dick's fault. I have seen a number of spotters on the trail who clearly don't know what they are doing and whose directions are often full of confusion and conflicting commands. If a spotter isn't working out for you, don't become Dick-just ask for a different person. If I am in a situation where this isn't possible, I will let the rookie spotter know what I need and try to educate them about spotting in its simplest form.

For instance, the first rule of spotting: Never ever say "right" or "left," as it is often confusing to the driver. Instead, use the terms "driver's" and "passenger's" when giving direction. This way, there can be no misunderstanding as to what the spotter wants from the driver.

Another useful tip when spotting is to use hand signs. Palm faced out for "stop," fingers motioning to the spotter for the driver to move forward, two hands held at a distance and moving closer to each other to indicate how far a vehicle is from the obstacle. I also like to use a flat palm, parallel with the ground, changing in altitude to let the driver know when he has a tire about to drop off an obstacle or climbing up one with the words "coming down" or "going up." You may have some commands that you like, but all that is important is that the driver and spotter understand the language and are on the same page.

Good spotters are invaluable on the trail and frequently have to make an assessment on-the-fly based on trail conditions, vehicle, clearance, wheelbase, gearing, center of gravity, and driver skill. These spotters are never too proud to stop the action to consult with others or identify a more acceptable line. However, dueling spotters should never be tolerated, as it creates chaos and miscommunication. If you find yourself spotted by the peanut gallery, don't let it distract you and go with the person you trust. If you are a spectator, let the spotter have the stage and never offer unsolicited advice from the sidelines unless it pertains to safety or avoiding major damage.

Another bit of advice from your friends at Four Wheeler: Don't fear the winch. There is a reason most of us have one on the front of our rigs. If you feel uneasy, or a rollover or a flop is possible, there is no shame hooking onto another vehicle or obstacle for insurance. You may thank me for this little bit of advice later.

Always keep in mind that a good spotter can be the most important person on the trail. This person can be the difference-maker between a great trail day and a wadded-up tuna can on the trailer. Respect your spotter, and if you have gotten through a challenging obstacle because of the help, please let the spotter know they did a good job by tossing out a "nice spot" as you drive by. Trust me, they will appreciate the recognition.

With these thoughts in mind, maybe Dick will be more likely to pay attention to his spotter on the next trail ride, making the day a little more enjoyable for all of us.
-Sean P. Holman

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