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NASCAR Spotter Derek Kneeland Is a Talent On The Track

Derek Kneeland keeps his sights on Kyle Busch during race weekends while on the path ahead when he’s in the driver’s seat. (Photo: Teresa Bennink | The Podium Finish)

MARNE, Mich. – Derek Kneeland has an exciting day job spotting for one of NASCAR’s most polarizing drivers, Kyle Busch, but his hobby is just as exciting.

Kneeland owns and drives the No. 90 Pro Late Model in several of the biggest races across the country.

Before Kneeland took to the track for 150 laps at one of the toughest short tracks there is for drivers to master, I had the opportunity to talk with Kneeland, one of the two drivers from Maine entered in The Money in the Bank at Berlin Raceway.

Teresa Bennink : How did you get into late model racing?

Derek Kneeland : I grew up around racing pretty much my whole life. I grew up racing go-karts back at Patrick Motor Speedway before that shut down from 8 till 15 or 16 years old.

My family and I don’t own a business and it got expensive. We didn’t have enough sponsorship to keep going so we sold our stuff. I did not have anything to hold me back in Maine at that point.

I was 19 or so, and I knew a guy that worked at a decal company in North Carolina, and I was like, “Hey, why not? I’ll give it a shot.”

So, they had me come down. I did an interview, and it was a really quick bang, bang, bang deal and two weeks later, I got the job and two weeks later, I moved down and there I stayed for about nine and a half years.

A buddy of mine, Corey Williams, is actually one of the head fabricators right now at Hendrick. He lived in Maine, and I was spotting for him the last year before I moved down. When he moved down a month after I did, I started to spot for him here, met a bunch of people and then that just kind of got me into the spotting world.

But then I always had the itch. Any driver that really enjoys doing this, they still have the itch, so I finally purchased my own car and kind of the rest of the history.

I try to pick what I can do for races. Obviously, my schedule is really hectic and all around you know, but thankful to at least strap in a few times a year.

Bennink : I find it interesting that two of your three or four races of the year are here (Berlin Raceway). So, what brings you over here?

Kneeland : It’s nice because in the Midwest here, you do a lot of midweek racing. That helps with my schedule because I’m off normally Monday, Tuesday, Wednesdays and then traveling either Thursday or Friday for the NASCAR stuff.

Jeff Striegle, one of the voices of MRN (and the track promoter at Berlin Raceway), reached out to me last year and said we should come try it and we did, and we love it here.

Obviously, we are still struggling with speed, but we’re good on the long run stuff.

The schedule works out good and I just love being here. I am glad. If he didn’t talk me into doing it, I still would probably never have come, but it’s very fortunate that we did, and hopefully we will be coming here for years to come.

Bennink : My next question is regarding another short track race. The TPF Team asked me if you’re going to beat Kyle when you go to Lee (USA Speedway, Lee, NH) in a couple of weeks.

Kneeland : I don’t know. We did not beat Tyler (Reddick) when we were there last year. I did get to sixth, and I was right behind him and then I got turned around.

We were really good at Lee last year so don’t let our times here hinder how well we ran at Lee last year.

Will I beat him? Honestly, probably not, but I am going to try.

Bennink : Has he (Kyle Busch) given you any advice for here because this is like his track?

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Kneeland thrives in his element as a late model racer. (Photo: Teresa Bennink | The Podium Finish)

Kneeland : He has given me a lot of advice. Obviously, I am not running a built motor like a lot of the guys here are and that is what he did run.

Some of that stuff is kind of a wash, but he has given me a lot of pointers on the lines and stuff and what to do as the race goes onto try to keep grip in it and the laps times.

It was cool. We won Sunday at St. Louis and as soon as we got down there, he said, “Alright, it’s your turn on Wednesday now.” And I said, “Let’s enjoy this first before we go do that.” He has been really helpful.

Bennink : The team asked how is it working with Kyle as opposed to other drivers? Is he easier to work with or harder? He can get a little fiery on the radio sometimes, so how do you talk him down?

Kneeland : Kyle and I get along great. We have had no issues and we have an open line of communication during the week if there is anything he needs different or things that I see or little notes that I have kind of put aside over years of my experience. I send that stuff to him, and we communicate well, but he has been great. He has been awesome to me and awesome to the team. I think he has obviously calmed down a little more from what everybody thinks he is.

But it has been great. The hardest part is he doesn’t talk very much on the radio, so that part is hard for me to get used to – alright is he listening to what I am saying, is he understanding what I am saying, but obviously we are off to a really great start with three wins about halfway through the year. We keep grinding and it has been a lot of fun and we have a good thing going fortunately.

Bennink : With the drivers that say they want to drive in other series, do you have the desire to spot in other series such as INDYCAR or other series that use spotters?

Kneeland : That is a good question. I definitely like where I am, and nothing against F1 or Indy Car or anything like that. I would like to do the Indy 500 someday before I retire. I would like to do the double, but that is really about it.

I like the racing. The actual moving around and racing stuff, and the fact that I am able to help a driver with the stuff that I see. So, I would just say probably the Indy 500, besides that I am very happy where I am at.

Author’s Notes

Kneeland finished the night in the 15th position in a strong field that included race winner Erik Jones, local standout Kyle Crump who finished second, and short track star Bubba Pollard finished third.

Other races on Kneeland’s schedule include Oxford Plains Speedway on June 17, Lee USA Speedway on July 14, and back in Michigan on Aug. 9 for the Battle at Berlin.

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