Friday, February 18, 2011

Fast cars and stale hot dogs

Everyone has experienced first day job jitters and as I continue to reflect on some of the "odd" jobs” I picked up along my journey to middle age I have yet another piece of personal trivia. It was the summer of 1976; I was still with WTVN Radio and a regular spectator at the Columbus Motor Speedway, one of my favorite hangouts since I was about eight years old.
I had established a friendship with Bill Ashworth, aka Foggy Goggles the previous year. Bill was the track announcer and a sports writer for the Columbus Dispatch. He wrote motor sports stories for the paper and for the speedway’s program. At the close of the ‘75 season he approached me to replace him in the track announcers’ booth the following year. He had suffered a heart attack and was retiring.
I met with the track owners, the Nuckles family and was given the job and in some ways it was kind of cool sitting up there in the best seat in the house but it meant a night of working as opposed to an evening of enjoying the action as a spectator. Prior to taking that job Sunday nights had been a special time to sit with my kids and my closest friends on turn four to relax and take in those mouth watering aromas of exhaust, beer and gray hot dogs.
After the first night in the booth I knew that I would not be back in 1977. Somehow I managed to struggle through the season and when it was over I realized that although I had the best seat in the house I missed what was happening on the track. A track announcer at a venue like that has no time to cheer his favorite drivers or watch the track officials clean up debris following spectacular crashes.
Between trying to keep up with drivers positions, track speeds, paging visitors to the foot of the tower and announcing winning numbers from the programs, not to mention the chaos that comes from the seven or eight others helping out in the booth. The announcer becomes too busy to spectate. This job paid $50.00 a night and came with first day jitters every night.
When the 1977 season rolled around I was more than happy to hand the chair over to Jerry Beck. The same Jerry Beck who worked for a number of years at what was then known as (WLWC) channel 4. He was a unique personality. Those who remember the days when the three local TV channels signed off at midnight might remember that it was Jerry who first hosted an overnight television program.
Saturday nights, a program called "The All-Night Theatre.” Crummy movies with Jerry's relaxed-I'm-not here attitude. During commercial breaks he demonstrated his usual slapstick corny humor like stretching a rubber chicken as he would ask “Wanna see chickie a little longer?” But hey it was all-night TV, something new in Columbus.
When he took over the announcing booth duties I found myself again sitting on turn four on Sunday nights but still unable to pay close attention to the action on the track.
I found myself listening to Jerry. He had brought that familiar dry, witty personality to the speedway. He was a true comedian, making fun of the fans, the race cars and everything else that goes along with driving fast, turning left and those who enjoy that sort of thing.
And as I listened I wondered, why didn't I think of that? Beck had turned Sunday nights at the speedway into "The Jerry Beck Show.”Just on a day later, but moving up to prime time.

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