OK, we all have complaints. One of mine is that I never seem to have
enough time to write new stuff for DragList!
Lately though, I've been very disturbed by television announcers
that overuse certain words and phrases. If you listen at all, you
certainly have your own list.
For example, one that we all have seen and heard way too much over
the last 10-15 years is "Awesome." This poor word that once
meant "something that causes great awe" has now gone the way
of words like "quality" and "unbelievable." It
carries very little of its original value.
I have been spoiled over the years by superb announcers.
Oh sure, I've heard the worst of the worst over the years too, folk
that honestly couldn't pronounce their own home towns let alone some
of the tongue-twisting last names of drivers. Announcers that were
certainly looking out the wrong side of the tower. I've also spent
time in the south where I couldn't understand more than one in five
words coming out of the tower. But those are stories to share some other
I was privileged to hear Jon Lundberg back in the heyday. He was one
of the most believable and trustworthy announcers I'd heard to that
point. Plus, he had previously been mythologized as much as the hero
drivers and cars of the 60s. Magazines heralded him as "The Voice
of Drag Racing." Ads for important events mentioned "Jungle
Jim," Chi-Town Hustler, "Big Daddy," and that Jon
Lundberg would announce. Heady stuff. Jon toured the circuit. He not
only knew the ins and outs of the cars and their performances but what
these folk had done the night before and what they'd had for
breakfast. During downtime, he joked over the PA with drivers, owners
and crew people. He was really and truly part of the traveling show.
In the northwest, I enjoyed guys named Harold Zeek and Gary Johnson.
Harold worked Puyallup Dragway exclusively, as far as I know, and
early in the evenings he was spot on. Later, after twelve too many
beers, he was a comical blithering idiot imagine Foster Brooks
trying to inform you about what a jet car had just run at 2:30am. On the
hot August and September nights when all the tower windows were slid
open, I figured he'd tumble to the ground and go right on announcing.
Gary was always funny, and possibly the best I ever heard when it
came to knowing the differences between models -- say a 150 vs. a 210 57
Chevy sedan -- back when all that was very important to Stock
eliminator. He lived and breathed what he spoke. I never heard the term
"crotch rocket" before Johnson called the motorcycles to the
lanes long ago. When some errant bracketeer went a little nutso in the
staging lanes at Kent one day, he suggested there must be a fire in he
woods, "because all the squirrels were down here." Simple?
Yes, but funny and human and extremely sharp on the PA. Gary was at
Puyallup, Kent and Portland during the late 60s and through the 70s.
Between racing gigs, Richard Schroeder was one of the great
announcers too. At some places, he'd jump out of his racecar and head
directly for the tower, sometimes describing the remaining pairs in a
round he just won. At Puyallup one night Rich was announcing when Art
Morrison hopped in Schroeder's "Dare to be Great" AMX
wheelstander. He remained professional as he watched in certain horror
as the little car went off the track at speed, flipped and tumbled into
a rather small ball. It was Art's last (wheel)stand, and he headed for
the world of superb suspension pieces. Richard has gone on to a number
of publishing gigs and continues to keep a wheelstander close.
The biggest shows in the northwest were announced by inimitable Bill
Doner, promoter extraordinaire, and though not as mechanically savvy as
some other race announcers, he had the carnival barker portion mastered.
As far as dragracing goes, he owned the west coast for a number of
years. Had he gone into the circus business, he would certainly have
been another P.T. Barnum. He did virtually everything, booked cars,
wrote ad copy, swabbed the decks, chilled the wine (or whatever), pushed
the name drivers to hurry their maintenance in order to beat the
always-tight SIR curfew, and of course, worked the crowd. Some of his
traits disgusted me, but love him or hate him, he was one hell of a
promoter and at the time one of the most powerful men in drag racing.
Steve Evans was among the best at this whole promotion game, and his
voice and style in announcing made a strong impression on me. He took
the "Sunday, Sunday, SUNDAY!" radio spots to another level,
and that style was carried with him to the announcing platforms of many
a drag strip.
Dave McClelland was another that I'll always remember for his deep
knowledge, plus his great pipes the timber of his voice was enough
to reverberate the already overdriven dragstrip speakers into
submission. Though opposite in styles both Evans and "Big Mac"
really had a handle on what was necessary in announcing drag races. Dave
is still is one of the best loved and highest respected figures in our
The best in the business at working a crowd has always been Bret
Kepner. I've been at tiny and obscure, and major national all over the
country, as well as monster truck events in Madison Square Garden, where
it was Kepner who put the meat in meet. When this cat gets goin' he is
virtually unbeatable from an announcing standpoint. Not only is he fully
up to speed on the happenings throughout the current world of dragracing,
he has a nearly photographic memory for records and dates and even match
races throughout dragrace history. When I see him do his TV spots, I am
always impressed because I know he is working without notes or net. He
was the second (other) dragrace stat freak I ever met. I thought I was
alone in that little world until I met Chris Martin. (Since, I've met
about a half-dozen others.) When I met Bret, it was a full swirl off
into a euphoric cosmos full of nobody-knows-nor-cares trivia exactly
the stuff on which I thrive! I'd pull an obscure fuel altered photo
out of my files and he would tell me the who-what-where-career best
numbers and whether the crew had eaten properly that day. We formed an
When a clever guy like longtime announcer and now TV personality Bob
Frey comes along, he naturally comes up with original lines and/or new
turns to known phrases. I admire his abilities. When I first heard him,
I was amused with his northeast accent that turned words like
"dragster" into an Elmer Fudd impression. I remember asking
Kenny Bernstein PR agent Susan Arnold one day, "What's a dwagstoo?"
Off the cuff, Frey comes up with a phrase such as "right down
Broadway" to describe a perfect run. The term is now synonymous
with "straight as a string" or "on a rail" and even
Bob knows it is overused. When he uses it, there is a very audible
grammatic pause then one of those comedic lines such as "you
guessed it" to show the audience he knows. He has however moved on
to a dozen other descriptive phrases for a run where a driver is able to
stay "in the groove," another overused phrase borrowed from
yet another venue.
Of course, by now everyone else has picked it up and apply it to both
announcing and writing. Ironically, and this fact was pointed out to me
by an ex long time resident of Manhattan, Broadway is not straight at
all and encompasses some rather obtuse twists on an island that is
otherwise laid out in perfect grids. It is Broadway that forces such
things as the famous triangular Flat Iron building we all see in the
pictures from Time Square.
Knowing Bob Frey just a little bit, I wonder if passing along an
ironic phrase has pleased him.
Then we come to the term that currently grates on me to the point of
hitting the mute button "driver's race!"
Bret Kepner once described something that bothered him a lot. As
color commentator during post race dubbing (Do you still think all that
stuff is done live?), Kepner would use a phrase or point out an
interesting tidbit. By "take 3 or 4", his cohorts either
Ted Jones or Bob Varsha at the time would steal his information and
use it as their own, usually spitting it out of context. More often than
not, that was the take that was used for broadcast.
I'm not sure who originally used the term "driver's
race" during a televised NHRA national event. I do know however it
was one of the many drivers that have sat in the expert's chair over
the last few years. It was used, tongue-in-cheek, to describe a race
where both nitro cars went up in smoke, putting the outcome totally in
the hands (and feet) of the two drivers. Today, with all the
techno-gadgetry strapped on NHRA professional entries, a driver rarely
gets the opportunity to influence actual outcome.
Reaction timers have given us another way to critique drivers, but
honestly, there are only three ways a driver can leave the starting line
early, on time and late. Of course, there are varying degrees of
early and late. But all we see are statistics that show one driver has
been closer to perfection more times over a race or a season than
another. Seldom do we hear the myriad mechanical intricacies that cause
a car to react once a driver pounds the loud pedal. Trust me, the number
Don't get me wrong, a driver of a nitro car, a Pro Stock, an
alcohol dragster or funny car, or any number of other drag race
machinery, is plenty busy during a run down a dragstrip. But Top Fuel
and Funny Car drivers, the ones that are considered heroes to us all,
have little more to do on a run than leave and hit the chutes on time.
Are they violent? Do they get crossed up and out of shape? Do they
drop cylinders and veer in that direction from lack of equal thrust? Do
they wheelstand, explode, shred parts, shake and appear as
uncontrollable about 90% of the time? Are there only a few brave men and
women capable of handling these megapowerful machines? Yes, a thousand
But no longer do drivers shift early or late to counteract things, or
control shake or slip with throttle position. They are on runs of
predestination, controlled 100% by pre-settings of clearances, timers
and pressures. If one of a thousand ingredients misses or fails, the run
is less than what was planned, no matter what the driver does inside the
About half of those miscues cause one spectacular result
tumultuous tire smoke.
During qualifying, tire smoke is followed by an aborted run and
emotions from disappointment to disgust. On raceday, a winlite is
all-important and the art of pedaling, or more properly stated, back
pedaling, comes into play. Since the norm of side-by-side, no-smoke runs
where the crew chief and his underlings determine the outcome 100%, when
a pair of cars goes up in smoke, both drivers suddenly control their
individual destinies. Hence the term, "driver's race."
OK, I'll agree, and it was definitively cute the first time I heard
it. But now, it is Marty Reid that climbs on the phrase quicker than my
friend Whit Bazemore's mood swings.
As the two drivers fight desperately to regain some control and taste
a victory, all those preset controls are working hard against them.
Today's fuelers are set to go down a track with no wasted motion. When
tires spin, there is no way for a driver to circumvent the timers in the
way a Super category driver can switch his cross-overs and actually
change his strategy after his car is under way. Two controls are at his
disposal, the throttle pedal and the brake handle and, as likely as not,
due to the huge fuel volume, hitting the former will hydraulic the
engine and halt progress in a fashion just short of a mushroom cloud.
I suspect that in some way we become calloused watching those
thunderous runs. When two completed passes come up on the boards and
register in our cerebral cortex we are only mildly impressed unless one
of the statistics is momentous. Suddenly, in similar fashion to the way
NASCAR crowds leap to their feet when contact is made, a pair of fuelers
taken out of their timer-controlled environment becomes a far more
And, in a television booth not far away, Marty Reid screams,
Am I picking on Mr. Reid? Not really. In fact, I must congratulate
ESPN2 and the staff of the televised national event coverage over the
past couple seasons. Reid has improved and keeps learning, though he
continues to come off as slightly naive, especially when trying to tell
the audience which lane the car is in. His "near" and
"far" or "right" and "left" references
must be very hard for a TV viewer. Broadcasters must always remember to
suggest that the action is taking place "on the right side of the
I thought Cruz Pedregon did a good job on color during 2001, and Mike
Dunn has stepped that up a notch in 2002. Both are very knowledgeable
driver/tuners who give an extra bit of insight to the coverage. Dunn
comes across without even the remotest of
I give Parker Johnstone high marks for moving from road racing and
CART/IRL "circles" to looking like he's having a very good
time with dragracing. His sidebars have been refreshing, mostly I'd
say because he is a novice and finds fascinating the many facets of
Too, the many new camera angles tried during 2002 have added drama,
and have even stepped up the feel of the tremendous speeds achievable in
dragracing, long unobtainable across the airwaves.
I have been much happier since both lanes' timeslips have been
displayed. They are not presented always but a much higher percentage
now than ever before.
If there were something I would change about the television coverage
it would be to train the announcers to use more common language instead
of dragspeak. Fans of dragracing already know pretty well what is going
on so the announcing staff need to speak to the needs of the novice.
I'm not suggesting sending those to be interviewed to Public Speaking
101 can you imagine John Force after a semester of elocution
But back in the booth, the guys and gals need to choose carefully
their descriptive words in order to better educate the masses.
As a bottom line to all of this, I have an informal request. Dragrace
announcers of the world, whether television or tower staff, please, use
fewer idioms, less jargon and get some new material.
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