I have always had the gift of gab but I can remember being terrified every time I had to say a speech in school. All those years getting that warm sweaty feeling as I stood in front of my class and did my best to recite whatever garbage I had scribbled on a scrap of paper the night before. Not quite sure when I overcame my fear of speaking in front of other people but over the past decade or so I have sure enjoyed my time working behind the microphone at flat track events in Canada. While I still don’t think I am ready to hit the public speaking circuit, I have come a long way since those scary days of public school. While some of this improvement could be credited to me coming out of my shell, watching and working with some of the best in the business hasn’t hurt either.
After witnessing a tragedy on the track in 2000, former AMA Pro racer Scottie Deubler saw his career take a bit of a shift from rider to spectator. Along comes a local indoor race in 2002 and as luck would have it the announcer was a no-show. Deubler volunteered to fill in and although he likely didn’t know it at the time, a star was born. That season, Deubler answered an ad on the flat track forum by Mike Kidd, who was working for Clear Channel Entertainment at the time, while simultaneously getting hired by Monster Jam which would turn into a six year gig. The turning point for Deubler came in 2008 when he was hired by the AMA to be the interview guy at an AMA event in Topeka Kansas. After doing interviews and opening ceremonies for AMA Flat Track for a few years, Deubler switched to play by play and the microphone has been his ever since. Best known for his work in flat track, Deubler has also done arenacross, sprint cars, X-games and whatever comes up. Equally comfortable working solo or with a partner, Deubler is currently part of a dream announcing tandem with former AMA Champ Brad Baker.
Deubler loves his time behind the mic but admits he was nervous at the start, “I love the microphone in my hand. It is amazing to talk to so many people at once. It is a rush! Not the same as racing, but pretty damn close. When I first started my hand would shake as I was holding the microphone and my stomach would get butterflies. Hard to explain but I don’t get that nervous anymore. I try to have fun when I am announcing and I think that carries on to the crowd as well.”
Much like Deubler, Frank Wood got his start by accident as he was asked to fill in at a drag race he was attending. Instantly finding a mutual attraction with the microphone, Wood saw his career take off after that first gig. Wood has announced enduro races, AMA Pro roadraces, flat track events and has been the voice of the Canadian Superbike Series for well over a decade.
I have had the utmost respect for Wood for years and about six years ago I got to work with him for the first time. Always a consummate professional, I’m not sure what Wood’s first impression of me was when we first started working together. As we worked together more I found that we formed a pretty good team, me the younger, new generation guy, while Frank took care of the old school side of things. As we teamed up more and more, the back and forth between us on the microphone seemed effortless and I am thrilled every time I get to share the booth with him. Wood has taught me a bunch even if he doesn’t know it. I have picked up subtle tips he didn’t even know he was giving me and for that I am forever grateful. Years ago at Flamboro Downs, the main event came along and my voice was done after a few laps leaving Wood to finish the race by himself. After that one he passed on the importance of pacing myself over the course of six or seven hours in the booth.
Like the rest of us in the business, Wood considers himself very fortunate and once summed it up like this. “I’m just a racing fan, who happens to be holding a microphone, that gets to watch the race from the best seat in the house.” Truer words have never been spoken.
The same as Wood and Deubler, I got my start by accident when I was asked to fill in at Paris Speedway one Friday night. That night the attraction to the job was instantaneous, and now I absolutely love every time I get a microphone in my hand. The announcer’s booth is my happy place, and I try to portray that emotion to the crowd the best I can. I take pride in trying to retain as much info on riders as I can, but believe me, it is a challenge. With over a dozen classes at every race it is impossible to remember everything but I do my best to remember what bike riders are on, hometowns, what races or championships they have won, some of their sponsors, and maybe even their dogs names. I do my best to try to watch all the action (the race within the race as Wood would say) but sadly sometimes I miss something big. A couple of years back at Welland, I felt horrible after failing to notice a remarkable charge from the back of the pack by Brandon Seguin as I was preoccupied by a fifteen lap fist fight between Seguin’s brother Tyler and the legendary Chris Evans. Although I apologized profusely, I understand if Seguin wasn’t buying it.
I love interaction with the racers and I try to interview as many as I can. As much as I love talking to racers, the interaction with fans is just as fun and in fact sometimes more rewarding. My job is to keep the fans interested and entertained so when fans tell me I did a good job, it means more than words can say. Doug Lawrence Senior gave a compliment to the team of Wood and I a few years ago that I found quite satisfying. During a long delay Wood and I were babbling and Lawrence told us that not only did he find himself listening to us (not the norm for him apparently), but he was actually enjoying and interested in what we were saying. Thanks Doug.
Speaking of Lawrence, I have had the pleasure of working with Doug Junior a few times and it is a real pleasure. Despite his nerves the first time and me having to feed him nine cough drops before we started, he caught on quick and did an amazing job. It felt nice to pass on some of the knowledge that has been shared with me and I had a blast with him not only in the booth but when we were filming our little TV time fillers as well. I look forward to working with him again soon.
It has been almost two years since I have been behind the mic and I am itching to get going. I am always open to some constructive criticism but please remember it is not as easy as you think. Hopefully I get to work with Wood again soon and maybe if all the stars align someday I will get a chance to work with Deubler as well. I can’t thank my idols enough, and if Deubler and Wood have taught me anything it is that I really need to step up my nickname game. Riders beware!
- By Todd Vallee