Mark Bennett: Onstage or atop Speedway, David Hunt enjoys delivering under pressure

·5 min read

May 14—Through a crisis when people needed the joy of live music most, those sounds have become scarce.

That's yet another harsh irony of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many musicians have shared performances online through social media platforms, or collaborated with other instrumentalists and singers via digital apps like Acapella to create new recordings. Those are good alternatives, but they're not the same as hearing the wail of an electric guitar and thumps of drums from a dance floor, or a smoky-voiced singer from a coffeehouse chair.

David Hunt, singer and front man for the popular MacDaddys band from Terre Haute, has seen the group's gigs dwindle from 80 to 100 in a typical year to a scattered dozen in 2020. "People were reluctant to plan anything," Hunt explained this week.

Now, after 14 months of life altered by the dangers of the coronavirus, bands and musicians are gradually plugging guitars and microphones into amplifiers again. Of course, more people need to get vaccinated to continue momentum toward more live performances and fewer hospitalizations and losses of life. Hope is emerging, though.

"I think people have more confidence going forward, though we're not out of the woods yet," Hunt said. Indeed, more of the MacDaddys' traditional bookings are popping up on the group's schedule, like the "Dancing with the Terre Haute Stars" event this October.

"People are really eager to get out," said Mark Wright, board member of the Wabash Valley Musicians Hall of Fame.

This spring, that nonprofit organization has announced its Class of 2021 inductees, a field of 21 musicians to be inducted at a live ceremony from noon to 6 p.m. Sept. 19 at the Zorah Shrine in downtown Terre Haute. Normally, the Hall stages its annual inductions — its primary fundraiser — in March, but chose to delay the 2021 event until fall, hoping the pandemic will have subsided by then.

"There's lots of different genres covered," Wright said of the inductee group. "We're hoping people show up. It's a worthy group. And, we have an extra large group, so we think we'll be all right," in terms of attendance. The Hall uses proceeds to donate funds to school music programs, museums and other nonprofits.

Hunt is among those inductees. He's joined by David L. Archer, Jeffrey D. Archer Sr., Thomas L. Bridgewater, Brian Butts, Jay Carpenter, John M. Ford, Jack Gibson, Cartha Gustafson, Richard Gustafson, Rob Hawkins Jr., Tim Huber, Phil Hutson, Phillip Ivy Sr., Don Keegan, Richard LeDune, Curtis Mitchell, Bill Pennell, Bill Smith, Ricki Sparks and Robert Wolff.

Hunt has seen the pandemic affect two of his passions — music and auto racing. Like the local music scene, the atmosphere on the IndyCar racing circuit, where Hunt serves as a spotter for Andretti Team driver Colton Herta, is regaining some normalcy.

The Indianapolis 500 is scheduled to unfold according to tradition on Sunday, May 30 — Memorial Day weekend — before a race day crowd of no more than 135,000 fans, 40% of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's capacity. Last year, Hunt served as Herta's spotter high above the nearly empty Brickyard when the 500 was postponed until August and rendered fan-less because of COVID-19 precautions.

The vastness of the famed 2 1/2-mile track hit Hunt as he looked upon the strange sight.

"It was still a little bit majestic in a sense, but I wouldn't want to do that again," Hunt said of the fan-free race. "Once is enough."

Spotters work from a perch above the racetracks, scanning the field of cars, particularly those just behind and ahead of their drivers to avoid collisions. Spotters radio their observations to the drivers.

Hunt is in his 13th season as an IndyCar spotter, including the past four with the Andretti Autosport team. The role stems from a lifelong fascination with the Indy 500. "I grew up going to that race, with my nose up against the fence," he said. Up on the spotters' stand, "I'm still taking in that pageantry and all the thrills."

Hunt serves as the extra set of eyes for Herta, the son of former Indy racer Bryan Herta. Just 21 years old now, Colton became the youngest winner in IndyCar history in 2019 and last month finished first at the St. Petersburg Grand Prix race.

Thanks to the alerts from spotters, drivers like Herta can spend less time looking in their rearview mirrors and more time anticipating upcoming turns, at speeds up to 240 mph. "I'm the guy up top with a headset, communicating with the driver and helping him navigate the track and what's going on," Hunt said.

A spotters' job has parallels with fronting a band, he figures. If the band is losing the crowd, Hunt gets a feel for songs audience members would rather hear, alters the setlist and leads them through that different number. Pressure motivates him. He was that kid who enjoyed having his name called to speak in high school speech class.

"I think my skill set fits being the guy in high-pressure situations who can deliver," said the 55-year-old Terre Haute South High School grad.

Whether it's the hum of 33 cars zipping toward the green flag at the Speedway on Memorial Day weekend, or a guitarist playing the riff on "Brown-Eyed Girl" at a street festival, the gradual return of normalcy sounds pretty good.

Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or

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