Saturday, September 8, 2012

On being a very lucky racefan

I've been fortunate.

 Since 1999, I've had the chance to make my living in the field I love. For as long as I can remember, racecars going around in circles has fascinated me and I am one of the lucky ones to have found a niche of my own in the sport. For the most part, it's been a part-time pursuit since my wife and I had twin sons in 2008, and with each passing year I often wonder what opportunities will present themselves.

 In 2011, I had the good fortune to be asked to be on ARCA's internet radio broadcasts for their non-televised races. I've done some radio in the past, but usually as a pit reporter or a turn accouncer. Being the voice - or one of the voices, alongside my friend Dave "DC Bash" Campbell - was a huge honor for me. My grandparents were ARCA officials dating back to the 1960s, and I spent many Saturday nights at an ARCA sanctioned track as a youth.

 Being the ARCA radio guy gave me a chance to go to places I never thought I would have a chance to see: the two dirt miles at Springfield and DuQuoin most notably, and I finally had the opportunity to go to Berlin Raceway on the west side of Michigan. The two dirt tracks are 7 hours from Toledo, but Berlin is just a 3 hour cruise over on I-96. It's really strange that I've never been there before 2011, but I finally got to cross that off the old bucket list. I also added Madison International Speedway and, this season, Elko Speedway to the list of new tracks, which wouldn't have happened if not for the ARCA radio gig.

 One opportunity I never even dreamed about popped up at the end of July. A direct message on Twitter led to a phone call which led to sitting in the announcer's booth at Michigan International Speedway. My first job in racing was as the PA announcer at my home track, Toledo Speedway, all the way back in 1998. I've been fortunate to have held the mic at Mansfield, and in recent years I've subbed at Toledo a few times and it's always a lot of fun to call the race and interact with racefans in that role. But I had never once thought about doing that at a venue like MIS. It was definitely an eye-opening experience.

To me, the best part of the whole weekend was a tie-in to the past. Back in 1982, when I was just 9 years old, my dad took us kids on a camping trip to Hayes State Park, just a stone's throw from MIS. On the final day of the camping trip, we went to the Champion Spark Plug 400. Since he worked for Champion, we sat in the bleachers off turn 4 with hundreds of other Champion employees and their families. The race was won by Bobby Allison, who was driving for DiGard Racing. My uncle Bill Gardner was the owner of DiGard and somehow my aunt Chris found us and brought us through the tunnel and into victory lane. She suggested I go stand next to Bobby during his victory lane interview but I was way too shy to do such a thing. Thirty years later I was holding the microphone speaking to tens of thousands of racefans at the same racetrack on the same weekend.

Working alongside MRN Radio veteran (and all-around good guy) Jason Toy, not only did we keep the fans up to date on practice and qualifying speeds, but there are sponsor scripts that must be read, and the Sprint Vision screen that often is coordinated with what's on the speakers. It's a big leap from being a solo voice at a short track to working alongside broadcast professionals with a couple of producers and coordinators alongside. And looking through the glass to see the MRN booth on one side and the SPEED booth to the other side was a real thrill too.

 Unfortunately I wasn't able to work the entire weekend at MIS. Friday and Saturday were all I could do, since as soon as the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race was over I had to point it to the southwest and head to the ARCA Racing Series race at Springfield. While it would have been great to be a part of the Sprint Cup raceday at MIS, it was a racefan's dream to head from MIS to a dirt mile for more ARCA racing. It was definitely a memorable weekend, one I will never forget.

 And hopefully one I can recreate again in 2013.