By BILL FOLEY
This is the second and final installment of the Dirt Track Digest look at the next generation of announcers. In part 1 the series got thoughts from Tim Baltz, Adam Buchanan, Dave Buchanan and Paul Harkenrider.
Now the series shifts attention to Dan Kapuscinski, Steve Ovens, Rich Vleck and finally Mike Warren.
Dan Kapuscinski: Weedsport Speedway and Television
One of the true young talents in Central New York, the 33-year-old Skaneateles Central School District School Information Officer, has numerous experiences in racing.
In getting started he said, “I can’t point out any one thing that drove me toward announcing other than my love for the sport. I was an only child growing up and was constantly at race tracks with my parents, particularly Oswego. As an only child I typically had to find ways to entertain myself and more times than not I was racing cars around a plywood track my father built for me and I would call the races as I did. My dad would comment that I actually sounded pretty good and so I just carried it on from there. When I wasn’t racing myself, I would take opportunities to call races whenever I could. I seemed to have the voice and pace to do it.”
Influences are part of every announcer, and Dan explained, “Anyone who listens to me announce a race will likely pick up some Roy Sova tendencies in what I do. Being at Oswego a lot as a kid Roy’s voice and unique call of races was burning into my memory. To me there was nothing better than hearing Roy call a starting line up. If I couldn’t race I wanted to do that. So from the announcing perspective I would say early on Roy was by biggest influence. As I’ve grown and branched out more you are hard pressed to find someone better than Shane Andrews. I often tell people I could never be Shane, but to be able to entertain a crowd like he does is something special.”
His career behind the mic started early as he said, “Early on I announced Microd races at the New York State Fairgrounds. I was probably 15. That was sort of my first real job in announcing. When I was 17 when Roy gave me an opportunity to announce a Bud Light B Main at Oswego and then in my senior year of high school Joe Marotta called me to announce a race at Weedsport. That night at Weedsport in 2003 was my first real night as an announcer. It was pretty daunting sitting between Joe and Glenn Donnelly, but Glenn commented that the kid sounded pretty good. From that point on Joe would call me occasionally to sub here and there and the rest is sort of history. Ironically I have only announced one full season and that was Canandaigua in 2008. Other than that I am sort of a traveler where needed.”
Kapuscinski has driven cars on asphalt and dirt, done PR for the World Racing Group and continues to be involved. He explained, “These days I sub at Weedsport on the PA when needed in between my PR duties. I am mostly working with Weedsport Productions now for their online content as host of Off Track TV as well as color commentator for our shows on SPEED SPORT and MAV TV alongside Shane Andrews.”
Even though he hasn’t been full time announcing in his career there are some specific memories he carries. Looking back Dan said, “One thing I will always take with me is the number of amazing people I’ve met while being an announcer. Those interaction and relationship are what stick with me the most. Although around 2003 when Weedsport was on live television I got a call to fill in for Shane one night while he was doing TV. I had the opportunity in victory lane the night that Bob and Tim McCreadie finished one-two. Being shoulder to shoulder with those greats will be something I will never forget, especially at 18 years of age. In 2003 I was racing full time and Joe Gosek won his first Supermodified championship driving for Mike Muldoon. Romey Caruso knew that I was a big Joe fan while I was growing up and they called me down to do the track championships interview from the infield. That was awesome.”
The challenges are always there and he said, “I am constantly being dropped in different situations. I have not done much weekly announcing at one place with the same drivers. So I am constantly having to adapt to different series and drivers.”
In preparing for any show he said, “Being that I am typically at a different venue, quite often, I do my best to watch as many videos as I can online to familiarize myself with the drivers and the racing. Then, always make sure to be in the pit area to try to get to know some of the players beforehand. At the same time, marketing has become probably the biggest role of an announcer these days, so I always try to arrive as early as possible to be sure that I am up to date with the night’s sponsors thus making sure that we do all the promotion necessary to keep fans and sponsors happy and entertained.”
Steve Ovens: Woodhull and IRacing League
The 31-year-old Steve Ovens is entering his third year at announcer at Woodhull Speedway and had worked for Black Rock/Outlaw Speedway for two years. He is also announcing for IRacing League live broadcasts in the off-season.
When asked what made him want to become a racing announcer he said, “I raced gokarts and Four-Cylinders for years. I took time away from racing to go to nursing school. Meanwhile the sport was becoming increasingly expensive. Announcing and working for the Thomas boys was my way of staying involved in the sport. You can’t quit this stuff cold turkey.”
In explaining his start in the sport Steve said, “I did radio with Don Dunham on 1240 WGVA at 10-years-old reading go kart results on his Trackside Highlight Show. I picked that back up in 2014 when we started the Turn 5 Live podcast on PMN. While doing Turn 5 Mike Jackson needed an announcer at Black Rock and it was my opportunity to get my foot in the door. Though the track didn’t work out with Mike, I always thank him for giving me my start behind the mic at my hope track. That was pretty special for me and my family as we all grew up there.”
He talked about influences and said, “I’ve learned from some well-respected guys. Gary Montgomery, Mel Thomas and Morgan Colegrove impacted me. Gary lived in the same town and shared countless conversations on his deck, by phone or email. I’ve been friends with Mel my entire life and have traveled many miles up and down the road to races together. Morgan taught me what it takes to be successful with Woodhull’s crowd.”
Preparation is part of the key for success and Steve said, “I keep a spreadsheet for my roster that has names, numbers, hometown, sponsors and little nuggets for each class to pull from during the night. However, the real work is done between the time the gates open and when hot laps start. One thing Gary taught me was the value of knowing your pit area. I pull on all of that when I’m announcing. Some overlook that, but I think that it helps connect the fan to the driver since the fans don’t often get to see the drivers in the pits anymore.”
Ovens noted, “The biggest challenge is making sure you’re appealing to each race fan in the crowd. The fan who wants to know every stat nugget you’ve got in the tank, the fan who wants to be entertained by your call of action and of course the fan who has never been at your track and is waiting for you to give him a reason to come back again. “
Memories are all part of the job and Steve said, “Being presented the Jack Christensen Memorial Media Award by Jack’s widow Chris and Steve Kellogg meant a lot to me. Victory lanes with first time winners are fun and sharing Gary’s final race at Woodhull with him and his family from North Carolina will long be remembered.”
The announcing booth is a far ride from his day to day job as he noted, “I work for the Guthrie Clinic as a documentation improvement educator helping physicians document efficiently and code their records accurately. Racing is the more exciting part.”
Rich Vleck: Genesee and Weedsport Speedway
It seems that the 33-year-old Rich Vleck has been around for quite some time, but he is still among the younger set of announcers.
He started young with his announcing ambitions. Rich explained, “Announcing was something I have gravitated towards since I was about three years old. I did football, basketball and some small gokart racing in high school, but in my senior year I met Mike Paz and he took me under his wing.”
Continuing he said, “He brought me to Black Rock as an internship. At the time, the only thing I could keep up with was a Four-Cylinder car. The next year I was doing Mini-Sprints and the year after that I was hired at Black Rock for their weekly Sprint program.
He enjoyed it as he noted, “I can tell you almost every detail about the 2004 season at Black Rock. For me it was larger than life and I had a microphone. The top memories includes each of the Canadian Sprint Nationals and Super DIRT Week events plus getting to call the NST Sprint race at Fonda.”
After 12 years with the Patriots traveling the highways and 10 at Black Rock his announcing booth is a bit different today. Weekly he’s at Genesee Speedway and he’s a regular member of the Weedsport staff.
He said, “Announcing a touring series compared to a weekly show is so vastly different, because on the road the information needs to be delivered more tightly. Regardless of the event, I am relentless when is come to statistical preparation. I like to organize as much of the research on my own as I can because that homework allows me to recall statistical nuggets when announcing.”
He admits there are some difficulties and said, “One of the more difficult things for me is keeping things exciting and interesting during late night cautions when it is a single car spin or something. That said, announcing has never felt like a job. As a 33 year old teacher and coach, I am very grateful to be able to get paid to announce during the summer and spend the rest of my time on the golf course.”
Mike Warren: Albany-Saratoga Speedway
Mike has come a long way as the 26-year-old Plattsburgh N.Y., News Producer addressed how he got started and he’ll be going into his 10th year in 2018.
He said, “It goes back to when I was about five-years-old. Just like a lot of kids I was playing with Matchbox cars, but I was announcing them going around the track and somehow remembered names and sponsors for the drivers at that time. I always wanted to announce sports, but racing just kind of came natural.”
On the early days he said, “It was kind of odd as Dan Martin (announcer at Lebanon Valley) had an unfortunate motorcycle accident and could not make it up the stairs. One of the employees, Jay Terry, knew I was interning at the local ESPN station, and asked if I wanted to give it a shot. Apparently, I was pretty good at what I was doing because I was asked to come back. I took an opportunity and certainly ran with it.”
Continuing he explained, “I was influenced by Lebanon Valley Speedway announcers Dan Martin and John Stanley. I can’t thank those two enough for helping shape who I am. When I started, I sounded like a carbon copy of Stanley. I realized quickly because everything I had ever learned to say came from hearing him call a Modified race. It was safe to say I was in awe the night I ended up filling in for Dan the first time and was working with Stanley.”
In preparing for the night of racing he said, “It’s different for me based on the night. The first few weeks of the season I usually make sure I have something written down for sponsors, make sure I get them correct because of how many can change throughout the season. Once we get a few weeks in, I have an ability to just rattle off names, hometowns and sponsors as I have a photographic memory. That being said, I still make it a point to walk the pit area prior to the show to get some fresh news to talk about throughout the night. For the touring series it is different. I have a full packet I come with a list of drivers because there is no way it is the same roster of drivers for each race which makes it a bit challenging. I always end up getting amped up for a show as well, probably way too intense some nights, but hey, everyone has their own style.”
However, there are challenged and for Mike he said, “I have some night I think too much about the race worrying about mistakes. I am someone who used to try and be perfect on every race, but then slowly realized that it is impossible with as much talking at I usually do. I also think it is tough traveling to other race tracks working with other announcers. It’s only a challenge because I feel it takes a few races to mesh and get chemistry, knowing who you are with and when to turn up intensity during the race. It is much different working a two or three person race than by you.”
In conclusion he said, “If I had to give advice to any up and coming announcers I would say just go out there and have fun. Mistakes are going to happen and if you haven’t seen a situation you may not know how to deal with it until it actually happens. Don’t be afraid to talk to drivers, they know you are there to help them and you are their main source of PR and remember just like in most things in life, anything is subject to change with or without notice on a given night. I would also like to thank Lyle DeVore, Howard Commander, Rob Hazer, Dan Martin and John Stanley for giving me a shot at doing it. “
It’s obvious that the next generation of race fans will have talented voices to continue the tradition of top notch short track announcers.
The veterans will continue for the time being, but as they retire or never fear for those who will follow.
The footsteps of the announcing legends are big, but they will be filled in the decades ahead with passionate fans who also happen to be announcers.
*Editor’s Note: Bill Foley, author of this piece, is entering his 46th year of announcing or writing.