His voice is iconic. His call of the 1979 Daytona 500 on CBS placed the sport of auto racing into the spotlight that has grown into what we see today.
Ken Squier is known as “The Dean of Motorsports Broadcasting” due to his role in helping start Motor Racing Network (MRN) with Bill France, Sr. and his play-by-play coverage of the first live flag-to-flag television broadcast of a NASCAR race in 1979.
His call during that race, which featured the historic fight between Cale Yarborough and the Allisons, continues to be heard by race fans around the world today.
His name is part of the Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence and last week, was announced as one of the 20 finalists for the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2016.
While the spotlight may be on what he has done on the national stage, he always returns to the roots of short track racing. He co-owns Thunder Road Speedbowl in Barre, VT with Tom Curley.
Recently, Squier was on the microphone to call last Sunday’s American-Canadian Tour (ACT) race at the 49th Annual World Series of Asphalt Short Track Racing at New Smyrna Speedway (FL).
Speed51.com powered by JEGS was able to talk to Squier at New Smyrna Speedway to get his thoughts on what is happening at today’s short tracks. To say that the conversation was intriguing would be a severe understatement.
With his broadcasting background, we asked him about the emergence of live updates, live video streaming and social media that is happening at short tracks today, such as Speed 51’s Trackside Now, 51TV and FansChoice.TV live broadcasts.
“Well, it’s a plus and there is no question about that. It’s an absolute necessity that there is more coverage in short track racing.” Squier explained. “Everybody forgets that the whole core of it, and we have lost track of that in this country, is that it was always about the short trackers.
“The real roots of NASCAR have always been in their short trackers and we have lost track of that in the modern era. We got all of these kids coming in from karting and so forth. We really don’t comprehend that because the promoters are their own enemy with trying to make it off of their back gate and not paying attention to who the stars are and they are those short trackers, because they are going to be the ones to come along and absolutely make a difference in the future.”
We shared with Squier some of the obstacles that media organizations run into with promoters when attempting to provide live coverage from events. Some promoters worry that the fans may stay home to watch instead of going to the race track. We couldn’t even finish our sentence before Squier interrupted.
“Wrong, totally wrong,” Squier emphatically said. “Everything that predicated Bill France Sr.’s construction to the success that he created with the Daytona International Speedway was based on getting the word out and he was very serious about it. Motor Racing Network was a creation of Bill France Sr. He believed so much that we have to tell the public and have access to so many people and we can do good missionary work.
“Sometimes, I think that in the network case, there is too much, but on the short track basis, they need that to make sure that people get acquainted with short track racing and how good these people are. Out of all of these short track drivers, just a very few, get one of the 43 chairs for the Daytona 500, that’s the best orchestra in the world. If you get there, you are so blessed and so fortunate, but they need to be talked about.”
When he is on the microphone at his home track of Thunder Road, Squier said that he assumes a large portion of fans at the race track are unfamiliar with the product. Because of that, he believes it’s important to be detailed and get those in the stands hooked onto the product.
“I always figure that 40% of fans at short tracks are new folks. You really have to make sure that they are chiming with you and understand what is going on, and if they don’t we could really lose potential fans.”
One of the most discussed topics in short track racing today includes the involvement of youth in the sport. How exactly do you get the next generation involved?
“I think you have to sell themselves about how important they are,” Squier suggested. “When you divvy up and a track runs six or seven divisions, nobody knows what to look for or look at. You have to bite the bullet and really hunker down and promote those are that are rising through the ranks and take over the dominant role on a short track, the ones that really count.”
To this day, Thunder Road continues to have one of the most entertaining and well-attended weekly programs in the Northeast region. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for some tracks throughout the country. So, how do you put together an entertaining weekly show that is going to keep fans coming back?
Squier believes that limiting the amount of divisions competing on a weekly basis is a major step in making sure that fans stay connected and entertained.
“When you have eight different features for a dozen or fifteen cars, it ain’t worth a damn,” the legendary broadcaster remarked. “I remember in the old days, we wouldn’t have more than 20-25 cars sometimes, it was a helluva show. I think if you want to have a special with different divisions over several weekends is one thing. But, to run them every single week and think people are going to care is a terrible mistake.”
One of the things that Squier feels passionate about in short track racing is the role of the public address announcer and his/her ability to entertain those paying to get through the gates.
“That has always been an argument of mine. The most important role is the public address,” Squier proclaimed. “The best public address announcer probably was Chris Economaki. I was blessed to have him as a sort of a surrogate dad. My dad was a good harness race announcer, but there was nobody like Economaki because he sold it.
“He made it a point to make sure the people understood what they were, who they were and where they came from. If they delivered ice or vegetables, or they were farmers, mechanics, whatever, he made them real people, and that was the big thing. That it was your next-door neighbor, who on a Saturday night, took on the role of a hero and pretty much, they didn’t let us down.
“Once in a while, somebody got into trouble. But, basically I have always said about a guy like Earnhardt. You could love him or hate him, and there were a lot of people that really disliked him. But, if families brought their kids to the racetrack, they never had to worry that he was going to get caught coming out of a ho-hum hotel and messing things up. He was a 100% racer and the heck with the rest of it.”
For those currently announcing at local short tracks, the long-time announcer has one piece of advice.
“Every local track announcer should go to the Big Apple Circus or any circus and listen to the ringmaster and their presentation,” Squier suggested. “It is critical to the growth of the sport. That is the conduit to the public after you set aside the new social media.
“They are in the presence, and their biggest responsibility is to tell me where to look, who to look for, and what their number is. You cannot be redundant about it. The more you say it, the better off the racing is. The folks in the crowd that know their numbers, like when you announce number 17, Eddie MacDonald, they kind of like it because it’s their guy.
“When you say the name of their hometown like Rowley, Massachusetts, Lee, New Hampshire, or Concord, North Carolina it is like in the pro’s when they always talk about what university most of those players come from, and in this case, those hometowns mean everything and you’ve got to keep repeating, repeating and repeating and its okay to do. Most people say they are a little embarrassed. No…no…no make sure that the new folks coming in know who the heroes are and they get that they are the hometown hero. Nothing makes me feel better than knowing that a driver is from my home hometown, and damn that driver looked real good.”
Squier is not afraid to share his thoughts or knowledge with anyone who asks. He has been in the front row watching the growth and expansion of this sport. He has mentored many who are successful in this sport today.
To say he is an icon in the sport of auto racing would be an understatement.
-By Kevin Ramsell, Speed51.com Midwest Editor – Twitter: @KevinRamsell
-Photo credit: Speed51.com