By BILL FOLEY
There is no doubt that in order for grassroots racing to survive the younger generations must become involved.
Well, Steven Petty has dove into the deep end of the pool and is making major contributions and he is the latest featured Behind the Scenes person in this Dirt Track Digest exclusive series.
Dirt Track Digest: How did you become involved with racing?
Steven Petty: “I’ve been going to the races ever since I was 12 days old. My parents, Gordie and Michal got me involved in racing. When I was a kid, my dad painted matchbox cars to match the cars that raced at Holland and was playing on the picnic tables and was emulating the announcers there at the time. At home, my grandmother made a version of Holland out of plastic canvas (with the figure 8 track in the infield and all) that I would race on. There is a home video of me playing with my cars and I was time trialing the Late Models at Holland before the Bud 100 and just like in real life, the cars would do one lap on the track and back down the figure 8 track for pit road and I was just making up time and my mom asked what I was doing and I replied “it’s time trials mommy what does it look like.” I was probably four at the time of that home video. It’s all I wanted to do. My first job at the track was selling programs and Gater Racing News at Genesee.”
DTD: What are you doing at track you are at?
SP: “I am currently the announcer and PR Director at both Merrittville and Humberstone Speedways. I also serve as the series announcer and PR Director for the BEI Lightning Series, which is a traveling Sportsman series at tracks throughout Western New York, Southern Ontario, and Northeast Pennsylvania. Throughout the season, I fill in on occasion at Ransomville Speedway, and Freedom Motorsports Park. This will be my third season at Merrittville, eighth at Humberstone and my third as the BEI Lightning Series Announcer.”
DTD: Explain your duties as if no one understood what you do?
SP: “When I get to the track, I make sure the public address system is working and make my way over to the pit area to talk to the drivers and crews, get some notes that I think will be interesting to tell the fans about. When I get back to the tower, I stop in the speedway office to grab any other notes from the promoters that they want me to mention, head to the VIP sponsors booths and say hello and thank them for coming and hope they enjoy their night at the track. I grab some food at some of the best concession stands in dirt racing, get ready for the night and start having fun.”
DTD: What is your favorite part of the job?
SP: “Getting to interview a first-time feature winner. It doesn’t matter if its in a 6-Cylinder Pure Stock, or a 358 DIRTcar Modified or anything in between, the emotion of the first-time win is always exciting. Also exciting with the BEI Lightning Series getting to go to different tracks that I don’t get the chance to get to every season and at some tracks, seeing old friends and catching up.”
DTD: What is your least favorite part of the job?
SP: “I don’t really have a least favorite part of the job. If I had to say one is the late nights posting results to the website, updating the website, social media, etc. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I love what I do.”
DTD: Are you a fan and how hard is it to be one in relation to what you do?
SP: “I am definitely first and foremost a race fan of all kinds of racing. When a race becomes exciting, I feel like the fan side of me comes out more and I can’t hide it while announcing. Honestly, I think some of my best calls is of races that the fan side in me comes out more. It is hard to be a fan in a circumstance of officials needing an extra opinion on a call that is made on the track. It is tough being friends with most of the drivers and having to make a call that wouldn’t be a popular one to make (depending on the situation).”
DTD: How many years and what tracks have you worked at?
SP: “I began announcing at Genesee Speedway in 2007 while still attending Genesee Community College. I got the chance to announce with one of my mentors Mike Paz and worked alongside Rich Vleck. After attending SUNY Oswego majoring in Broadcasting and Mass Communications, I went to Holland Speedway and became a co-announcer, working alongside Rick Mooney starting in 2010. While at Holland, I also began to handle the public relations duties and became the lead announcer in 2015. I left Holland at the end of the 2017 seasons, as the managerial group changed and changed race nights. At that time, I was handling the PR duties at Ransomville. This will be my third season at Merrittville, eighth at Humberstone and my third as the BEI Lightning Series Announcer. Over the years, I have worked at Holland, Spencer, Wyoming County, Freedom, and Ransomville. I was a columnist for the Gater Racing News for five years with my column “Behind the Mic”. I have also written several columns for Dirt Track Digest over the years as well.
DTD: What are some of your best memories?
SP: “In 2012 at Holland during a Race of Champions Modified tour event, Sege Fidanza hit the front stretch wall. I was in the infield being the on-scene reporter. Sege is known to have quite the temper and when I went over to talk to him, I asked him if he was alright and asked he if wanted to talk. He said he was okay and didn’t want to talk because he knew he would say a few choice words on the microphone.
“A second memory was in the media room at the mile after Stewart Friesen won his first 200. Growing up at Ransomville, I had the chance to hangout and become friends with Stewart and the entire Friesen family. In the media room after the win, Stewie came over to me as I was talking to his grandfather Stan and dad Jamie and literally picked me up off the ground. I got to cover a few of Stewie’s wins at Syracuse while being a columnist for the Gater Racing News.
“My third memory was June 9, 2018 at Merrittville when Jordan Cosco, grandson of the late Pete Cosco won his first Sportsman feature. It was on June 9, 1998 that Jordan’s grandfather won his first 358 Modified feature at Merrittville. Working for Pete and Linda Cosco at Humberstone, I am able to get to know the family really well and it was certainly a special moment for me to be in victory lane. Another of Pete’s grandson’s, fourth-generation driver Dylan Davidson also claimed his first DIRTcar Sportsman feature at Merrittville Canada Day in 2019. Like Jordan, Dylan’s first win was very emotional.”
DTD: What are some of your toughest ones?
SP: “Just before the start of the 2018 season, I had to give up announcing at Holland. It was a tough moment for me as I grew up at Holland on Saturday nights. When the new managerial team decided to add Friday nights, I couldn’t do it as I was already committed with my commitments at Ransomville. It was hard to leave Holland as I was there practically my whole life and it was hard to say goodbye to the drivers, crews, officials, and fans that I got to know over the years.
“Another tough moment was the week after Jordan Cosco’s first win at Merrittville. After the World of Outlaw Late Model race at Ransomville, I needed to have emergency surgery to drain fluid out of my chin from a cracked tooth. It was so hard for me to not be at the track that weekend. Other than my 9-5 job commitments and being late to the track or being unable to be there, that was the first weekend I missed in my 14 years announcing.”
DTD: Why do you keep doing what you do?
SP: “I love the camaraderie of being in the pits and working so closely with officials that become a second family over the summer months. I am very passionate about racing and being able to be at the racetrack is one of my happy places. I love being at the tracks. If I’m not working a race, I am there as a fan.”
DTD: Was your family involved with racing?
SP: “My parents were season ticket holders at Oswego Speedway for years cheering on Jimmy Shampine. They were also track photographers at Genesee and Holland Speedway. My dad served as track official at Genesee, Holland, and Wyoming County. My parents along with my grandmother were FOAR SCORE 50/50 ticket sellers at tracks throughout Western New York and Southern Ontario. Both my sisters were also involved working in the ticket offices and being Ransomville’s mascot at the time, Slowpoke.”
DTD: Who influenced you in regards to racing and why?
SP: “My dad is biggest one. He was the first one that introduced me with the sport. We would go racing as much as we could from May-September. If we were on vacation, we would try to get to a racetrack and each year, we would try to go to one new track a season. He taught me the history and going through his scrapbooks, I love just listening to his stories about how he was able to take this picture or get that shot.
“My announcing mentors have also influenced me, not only in my career but in life in racing as well. I have had the privilege and opportunity to work with and listen to some of the best announcers around. Working with my mentors Mike Paz at Genesee and Wyoming County, where I got my start. Working with Rick Mooney and Kenny Hangauer at Holland made a dream a reality. Rick, Mike, and Kenny taught me a lot when I was just starting out. Having Gary Montgomery, Joe Marotta, Roy Sova, Paul Szmal, and Shane Andrews at my disposal over the years for advice has been amazing. I had the chance to work with all these announcers over the years With Gary, he would call me every Monday morning to see how my weekend went. Gary gave a chance to a young announcer to call races for the BRP CanAm 360 Late Model Tour for a couple of seasons. I worked with Joe at Spencer Speedway and had several conversations with Roy Sova over the years, whether he came to Spencer with Joe or when I would go to Oswego for Race of Champions Weekend. I have had the chance to work with and fill in for Paul Szmal over the years and his knowledge of racing is impeccable. I finally got the chance to work with Shane Andrews this past season when the Super DIRTcar Series came to Merrittville. It was so much fun getting the chance to work with Shane.
“Even to this day, I can still call/text/message all these great individuals that impacted my racing career. When I began to write for the Gater Racing News, I had Joe & Suzi Patrick along with Norm being my guides as I began to write in a professional setting. There are so many people that I can thank for their support, including several announcers that I work with on a weekly basis. I cannot thank them enough for their words of encouragement, advice, and expertise to get me where I am today.
“I also cannot thank my parents, family, and a very special person (Lynette) for all their love and support. I cannot do what I love to do without them.”
Editor’s Note: If you or someone you know would like to be included in Behind the Scenes just send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org or PM William Foley on Facebook.