Put It Out... One Last Time ~ David Hoots
Sunday was the 61st running if the “Great American Race”, the Daytona 500. It was the start of hopefully a very successful 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. 40 drivers competing for 200 laps on the 2.5-mile high-banks for fame, fortune, a pass into the Chase, valuable MENCS points and the coveted Harley J. Earles Trophy.
Sunday was the start of a new Cup season.
Sunday was the end of an era.
I’m not talking about restrictor plates, although Sunday’s Race is said to be the last we’ll ever see of the crude device designed to choke a race engine’s horsepower down to a level that would hopefully prevent the car from taking flight if the car gets turned in an unexpected direction.
No, Sunday was the last race called by long-time Race Director, David Hoots.
David Hoots has been Cup’s Race Director since 1988, the year Restrictor Plates came onto the NASCAR scene. NASCAR’s Vice President of Competition, Les Richter saw his work at a modified race at North Wilkesboro and asked him to take the Cup Control Tower at the October 23rd Rockingham race. Hoots had a busy debut in his Cup career uttering his signature phase “Put it (the caution flag) out!” eleven times before Rusty Wallace took the Checkered Flag that day. Next week found him in Phoenix and he closed the season in Atlanta.
Hoots was on his way.
He returned for his first full Cup season at the 1989 Daytona 500. Before the 29 race season was over and Rusty Wallace was crowned Cup Champion, Hoots would give the order to “Put it out!” 228 times.
The Race Director is responsible for controlling the chaos known as a NASCAR Cup race. Think of them as cat herders – except these are 40 3500 pound cats that are traveling at 200 miles per hour. Or a flight controller landing 40 fighters on the same runway at the same time.
Race Directors have a heck of a job!
The Race Director is the person who is in full control of the event. They make the call when the green flag drops to start the race, when the caution flag flies to slow the race and the red flag displays to stop the race. Track equipment, such as air dryers and wreckers can’t move until they say go. Likewise with the medical and fire crews.
Throughout the race day, information is sent to the Director from inspectors and spotters around the track. The track is watched from a variety of monitors on countless monitors. Competitions communications are monitored as well. The Race Director has to process it, make decisions on it and disseminate it in a matter of seconds to keep things as orderly and safe as possible for the competitors, teams and fans.
With the official title of Managing Events Director his responsibilities go well beyond the race track as shown in this UPS Race Logistics video.
David Hoots has been that person at nearly every Cup race since 1988.
David began in Cup as a part-time employee. His full-time gig was driving a UPS truck in his hometown of Winston-Salem, NC. He would work this arrangement for ten years before retiring from UPS and going full-time in NASCAR in 1999.
He’s seen a lot over his 30+ year career. 1992 has often been referred to as the best season ever as Davey Allison, Bill Elliott, Alan Kulwicki, Harry Gant, Kyle Petty and Mark Martin were all competing for the Championship that year. Going into Atlanta, David had asked for the caution flag 147 times. That November day he’d say “Put it out!” another seven times. Once was for 7-time Cup Champion and all-time Cup win Leader, Richard Petty’s flaming crash on the frontstretch. The final time being for the wreck between Ernie Irvan and points leader Davey Allison that eliminated Davey from contention and vaulted Alan Kulwicki to the title.
At the Daytona Race in 2001, he controlled a fast race, only calling to “Put it out” three times with the final one being for the “Big One” on the backstretch on lap 175 that took out 19 cars. The final lap saw another wreck in turn three. The caution was not displayed for that one as the field was coming down to the Checkered Flag. David had to send the emergency crews to the infield of turn four to attend to the wrecked vehicles only to find they were too late to save Dale Earnhardt.
Race Control and those who do it have always been an interest of mine. When I got my scanner, 461.2, Race Control’s frequency was one of the first ones entered. And it was always a priority channel. When David spoke I wanted to make sure I heard it over everything else. When he came on the air I never had to look down to check the display to hear who it was. There was no other voice like it in NASCAR-either in accent or authority.
Listening, I got a glimpse behind the scenes, and a greater appreciation of what went on in the Control Center high above the track. I gained a better understanding of how difficult a job the Race Director had and the command of it that David had. Over the years, I may not agree with every call that he made (heck there were races, I’m not sure I agreed with any call he made) but I always respected the job that he did. There was a “comfort” hearing his voice and knowing he was in the Tower and in control.
Over the years of listening to David, my favorite phase wasn’t his now famous “Put it out”, but it was the response from the inspectors when he told them to deliver a message to some crew chief who needed to hear from him. Some situation would come up and David would voice his concern over the radio knowing that all the crews monitored him. Then he would direct the NASCAR inspector closest to the crew chief of concern to deliver the message from him. After a short period, you’d hear these three words and these three words only – “Message delivered, Tower.” There was no relayed back-talking or protesting, no “well the crew chief said…”, just a nice, concise “Message delivered, Tower.” From that point on there was no doubt that crew chief had been served and was on notice.
As a race fan I had several dreams growing up. One was to actually see David in action and watch a race from Race Control. Of course that never happened but it wasn’t for the lack of trying. In 2005, my friend Jerry Wright had secured some “nice, really nice” seats for the October Charlotte race. These were up in a section that was definitely above my raising and I truly had no business being in. It was at a level that would allow us to get “behind the glass” to see how the other half raced.
Like two kids in a candy store we explored every nook and cranny we could get to or thought we could get into and not get thrown out. I’m not sure but let’s just say I think we found THE door that night, we just couldn’t get through it. Again, it wasn’t for a lack of trying.
It was just as well. That night was the “Great Charlotte Levigation Fiasco” that resulted in an event-record number of cautions, most from wrecks caused by blown tires. Fifteen times Hoots uttered “Put it out!” And by night’s end most drivers were ready to revolt. He was definitely too busy that night to have unexpected company from a couple of Kentucky boys.
Over the years, race procedures have changed and the interruptions for Stages creating an additional 73 cautions per season. His 2018 caution count rose to 258 before Joey Logano was crowned Cup Champion at Homestead in what would be David Hoots last full season as Race Director. In December, word was out that David had been “laid off” by NASCAR.
33 years in Cup. Over 1015 races. Over an estimated 6000 “Put it outs.” Over.
David Hoots came a long way from a high-schooler who scored races at Bowman Gray just so he could see the races for free.
For this race fan, the news of his “release” was quite troubling. Behind the scenes, David had been a big part of my fan “career”. Though I had never met him, had only heard his voice, it was like losing a friend… a close friend. I hoped he had been allowed to leave on his own terms. As I grow older and more of my career is behind me than ahead, leaving on your own terms become increasingly more important. The somber feeling lifted temporarily when word came out that that David would call one more race-the 2019 Daytona 500.
XFile345 posted on Reddit the following audio clip of Race Control going through pre-race radio checks in preparation for his final race.
As David personally checks in with each of his charges to personally make sure all is in order you can hear in voice after voice the respect each have for him. The finality of knowing that this would be their last race together often comes through.
After the checks have been completed at the 14:42 mark, David gives his thanks to everyone for their kind words. With the emotion behind, its back to business and the final instructions before going Green-“We’re going to focus on showing the world just how good we can have a race today.”
Then, at the 22:56 mark as Pace Truck driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is about to pull off the track to turn the field loose, David gives a shout out to Junior. Their exchange just seconds before the start of “The Great American Race” says a lot.
Junior pulls the pace truck off the track, the green flag drops. 207 laps, 12 cautions – 2 for debris, 2 for Stages, the rest for wrecks, often big wrecks, later, it’s over. David Hoots, and the restrictor plate that came onto the circuit with him are gone from NASCAR.
Like him or not, when it comes to any official in any sport, there will be discussions about calls made and not made, whether a flag should have been thrown here or not thrown there, but when it was over, David handled the day with the same confidence, assurance and professionalism he’d exhibited throughout his career as he signed off the last time.
Keith Waltz’s 2010 SpeedSport.com article closes with the following quotes from David Hoots:
“After 37 years as a NASCAR official, 55-year-old Hoots is one of the most respected people in the garage area and he says that respect is rooted in two basic philosophies.
’Something that has helped me over time is a very simple philosophy that a lot of people here at NASCAR have — if you make a mistake admit to it,’ Hoots said. ‘Go back and show them the data to say this is the mistake, or this is not the mistake, and whether or not it was a mistake, show them you did everything you could to try to make it right.’
‘Another important philosophy is that NASCAR is not the show. It’s the drivers’ race and our charge is to conduct their race,’ Hoots added. ‘Applying those philosophies has served me well.”
That was a few years ago and a lot has happened over that time. I’m not sure that NASCAR of late has always held to those philosophies or even been close, but it would serve them well to go back and revisit those and try to approach them as they go forward.
Daytona is behind us. Restrictor plates are gone from NASCAR as is David Hoots. Replacements going forward?
Restrictor plates, oh that will be tapered spacers.
David Hoots, oh that’s now going to take two people.
Thank you David! This race fan is sure going to miss you.