Posted: 10:40 am Monday, September 25th, 2017
By Doug "Fireball" Turnbull
This weekend marked the final September NASCAR races for both New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Kentucky Speedway. Speedway Motorsports Inc. (the parent company of those tracks and several others…and Performance Racing Network, of course) got a big break in gaining the financial support of the city of Las Vegas to move the events to a second NASCAR date in 2018. The news is even bigger for Las Vegas Motor Speedway, because that weekend opens the 2018 NASCAR playoffs for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
But there’s a twinge of sadness and a sea of gratitude for me. When NASCAR and SMI announced this schedule realignment in March, I realized that the cozy and groundbreaking weekends I enjoyed at that September Kentucky Xfinity Series standalone weekend would be no more.
You may understand why I call the weekend cozy. With the MENCS and NCWTS teams in New Hampshire, the garage is reserved for NASCAR’s AAA-series – they get the top bill. The ARCA Series also occupies the other half of giant W-shaped garage inside the D-shaped oval track (no coincidence at all that Darrell Waltrip helped design his hometrack). With so much of the NASCAR traveling media devoted to New Hampshire, a smaller press corps covers these developmental series. This means that drivers and crew members are more available, the few fans in attendance can almost certainly snag some autographs, and the staff at the track can afford to be much more laid back and attentive. It’s a breath of fresh air in the oft-frenzied racing world.
This division of labor amongst NASCAR’s series also opens opportunities for people like me, thus my calling it groundbreaking. PRN covers about a dozen race weekends per year with its normal fantastic crew. I get to join them on pit road for one or two races, most often Atlanta Motor Speedway. But with most of the main PRN crew covering the New Hampshire action, I’ve gotten to join PRN lead announcer and president Doug Rice in the booth since 2014. PRN’s marketing and social media guru and wearer of many hats, Alexis Perkins, makes the trip to make sure we read our copy and are coordinated. The IMS Radio Network (they cover the Verizon IndyCar Series) is the backbone of the team. With Mark Jaynes and Nick Yeoman in the turns and Michael Young, Katie Hargitt, and Jake Query on pit road, and Wally Leavitt, Rick Evans, and Mike Rapp engineering the broadcast, our team doesn’t miss a beat.
Even though I only work a couple of races a year and the IMS radio gang covers a totally different racing series, we study, show up, and relish our different roles. Doug and Alexis do a superb job coaching us and making us feel at home. And with several years now under our belt, this weekend has become a welcome change in scenery.
For me, just being on PRN is a dream. I’m full-time traffic reporter with America’s best News/Talk station and do not have designs on leaving it. The adrenaline and sense of duty keep me “grounded” in the WSB Skycopter every Atlanta PM drive. NASCAR has always been a passion project for me, with radio and TV work always at the zenith. When Doug called me five years ago to work the pits, I about died and went to heaven. Doug then recommended me to fill-in for Ken Squier as Ozzie Altman’s mic-mate on the P.A. system during the NASCAR race weekend at SMI’s Charlotte Motor Speedway that October. Then my opportunity both there and as a track announcer at the now-closed Gresham Motorsports Park helped lay the ground for a major opportunity in 2014.
Doug asked me then if I would join him in the booth, doing play-by-play for the September Xfinity race at Kentucky Speedway. Following his lead, I just tried to settle in and have done decent enough to come back now four years in a row. No matter what, I’ll always be able to tell my grandkids (well, kids first) that I got to call Brendan Gaughan’s first oval-track win in the NXS, the first-ever NXS playoff race, and, now, Tyler Reddick’s dominating first win in the series. If I never work pit road or the booth again (I’m sure I will, of course), no one can take those moments away. And the IMS radio crew can say the same thing.
I’ve also enjoyed the down time I’ve gotten to spend with Doug and Alexis, learning more about both the inner workings of the sport and the company. During a normal Cup weekend, we are usually much too busy to stop and download like that.
Do not take the title or the tone wrong – this is not a eulogy or Dear John letter! There is much more PRN in my future. God has blessed me with so much both inside and even moreso outside of NASCAR. I always got emotional on the last day of school, knowing that this exact setup of classmates and teachers would never, no matter what, fall together again. Sure, I was going to the next, bigger grade level and into a lazy summer, but there is something final about the end of the school year. I have the exact same feeling about bidding adieu to the September Kentucky race. I enjoyed visiting Downtown Cincinnati’s riverfront, doing play-by-play for a NASCAR national series, and especially hanging with my superiors, Doug and Alexis, and the entire IMS Radio crew. I’m a bit sad, certainly sentimental, and eternally thankful.
**Check out our new racing podcast, “Five to Go”, with WSB Radio “Von Haessler Doctrine” host Eric Von Haessler, champion mechanic “Dawsonville Dan” Elliott, and me. We go longform on five stories in NASCAR or racing each Monday. Expert. Analysis. Unfiltered.**