This is my shout out to all the good race announcers out there. The truly good ones, who make a night at the race track enjoyable.
I have announced at East Bay Raceway in Florida, the former Sunshine Speedway in Pinellas Park, Fla. (now Showtime Speedway) and Desoto Speedway in Bradenton, Fla. (a once-great banked asphalt track now owned by some YouTube guy – hopefully, he will eventually reopen the track for regular race events or sell it to someone who does).
I can tell you firsthand that being a good race announcer is not easy, so, I have a ton of respect for those that do it right.
I learned from one of the best: the late Jack Miller. Jack and I announced several East Bay Winternationals together, as well as a whole lot of weekly shows at that racy, historic track in Gibsonton.
An announcer will make or break your show, so I can also say that over the years I’ve been surprised that some track operators didn’t put more thought into who was on their microphone or what it was they were saying.
A good announcer gets to know the drivers and teams. Jack Miller used to sit at the pit gate and speak with every team and driver as they entered each week. That way, he not only got to know them, but also got to find out what was new and interesting to talk about that night – new driver? New sponsor? Just got married? New baby? Birthday? Someone significant in the audience to see them tonight? – without having to walk the whole pits.
I was not as smart as Jack and always walked the pits each afternoon.
A good announcer needs to think seriously about the things he or she is saying. Oftentimes, it becomes clear that the majority of the audience knows more than the guy who is supposed to be “informing” them, so an announcer needs to put in the work to make sure that’s not the case.
A good announcer also needs to learn when to shut up and give the audience a break – humans need to mentally regroup every so often between 800 horsepower engines roaring and someone babbling loudly over a P.A. system.
That also gives them a break to talk, and some quiet moments to establish who needs what when someone’s making a trip to spend money at the food stand.
Simply put, you don’t get to be at the level of John Gibson by magic. I’m sure if he listened back to a recording of some of his early work, he’d find some cringeworthy moments. There’s no substitute for the years of hard work and dedication Johnny’s put in to become the talented announcer he is today.
On the flipside, I’ve worked with people who – for years – mispronounced weekly racers’ names.
I worked with a local radio on-air personality who thought it was funny to insult the track’s paying customers by pointing out people who were entering the track and comparing them to celebrities – “Look down by the flagstand, Elton John is with us tonight.”
Some paying fans may be up for that and find it funny, but others might be annoyed enough to not come back.
I’ve worked with announcers that were unendingly amazed that they could hear their own voice loudly projected through speakers; one to the point that he would get on the microphone and start talking prior to the grandstands even being opened to any fans.
Aside from the banter and messaging required throughout the night, keeping track of the on-track action throughout the whole field takes focus and concentration.
It may seem stupid, but with everything going on around you – from scorer and race control conversations, monitoring what’s being said over the radio, people talking to you while you’re announcing, and trying to follow who’s working their way up throughout the field and who’s lapped traffic – it’s a lot easier than you might think to actually lose track of who the leader is.
That’s something I’ve seen some flagmen stumble with, as well, for some of the same reasons.
You may find it annoying to hear someone reading blurbs promoting the track or series sponsors. It’s much more annoying to be the one doing the reading.
Personally, I prefer the approach of Limaland Motorsports Park and a few others, who simply cut radio-style spots and play them instead. It’s a great alternative to risking your announcer’s voice becoming an annoying, monotonous droning sound.
And, of course, you want your announcers to be fun. They are, basically, the ring leaders of your circus.
So, having worked at it myself, I get annoyed at the lazy announcers who don’t put in the time, do the work, get to know the drivers, etc., and work on improving their performance, who just show up and start babbling.
I appreciate those announcers that work to be successful at their craft. Oftentimes, when someone is annoyed by someone, or something, they take notice of it and complain, but when someone is doing a great job it can go unnoticed and be taken for granted.
For those of you who work hard to be a better race announcer, you have my respect.