World 600 memories: How I blew my chance at racing’s big time

WBTV reporter recalls getting a shot at something big, and failing miserably
Would this letter be my introduction to the big time?
Would this letter be my introduction to the big time?(David Whisenant-WBTV)
Published: May. 27, 2022 at 4:23 PM EDT
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CABARRUS COUNTY, N.C. (WBTV) - Every May when I get to cover events leading up to the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, I think back to all of the memories I’ve had around that track and NASCAR in general. I also think about how my love for the sport led me to pursue a dream opportunity...and then totally blow it. Enjoy.

Oh, what could have been! There have always been several constants in my life, among them are my love for racing and my love for media. When I was a kid, I thought one of the best jobs in the world would have been to be a NASCAR race broadcaster on the radio. Every Sunday my dad and I listened to the NASCAR race on the radio. Back then very few races were on television, so it was the black and silver Admiral radio that sat beside my dad’s chair in the den that brought the world of speed and personality into my life. Barney Hall and the announcers of the Motor Racing Network were the very best, in my opinion. My love for Richard Petty grew largely out of hearing Hall describe Petty lap the field at Bristol or take another Daytona checkered flag.

My first in-person visit to a race track was in 1971 when my dad got me out of school early to go to World 600 qualifying at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Charging Charlie Glotzbach won the pole, but all I cared about was cheering for the Petty blue Plymouth Roadrunner. Even at that age I was making up my own personal “broadcasts” and shouting them into a cassette tape recorder.

That passion didn’t fade during my high school and college days. In fact, it heated up after I got my first job at WRDX-FM in Salisbury. I got to “run the board,” or more accurately, “play the commercials” during the network breaks in the NASCAR broadcasts. It brought the world of race broadcasting even closer, and I was actually part of the team, sort of.

After several years on the air at WRDX, WSTP, and WASU, the campus radio station at Appalachian State, I decided to take a shot at the big time. It was 1983, after my graduation from ASU. I was working fulltime as an announcer and sales rep at WSTP/WRDX. Just for fun, I recorded myself calling the play-by-play of a virtual NASCAR race. I didn’t have a script, I just made it up as I went along. I used all of the current motorsports broadcast cliches. I screamed “trouble in turn four!” I glibly described how Richard Petty’s STP Pontiac “swept past Darrell Waltrip to take the lead in turn four.” I described cars going “in the marbles,” stopping for “four fresh Goodyear tires and Union 76 racing fuel,” and described how Tim Richmond or maybe Ron Bouchard were running like “Jim the Bear.” Or maybe Gene the bear? Jack? Anyway, the finished product sounded really good, so along with a cover letter, I boxed it up and sent it to the Motor Racing Network.

August 2, 1985 was one of the happiest days of my life. A letter had arrived addressed to me at my parent’s house. It was from the Motor Racing Network. I hurriedly tore open the envelope and was astonished to read the message. General Manager John McMullen wrote that he “had a chance to listen to the audition tape,” and that he wanted me to call him for a “possible opening for an upcoming event.” What?!?!? MRN was asking me about broadcasting a race?!? I couldn’t believe it! Here was my introduction to the big time! Barney Hall would toss it to me saying “the battle flashes before David Whisenant in turn two!” Would I make it…or would I hit the wall?

I dutifully called Mr. McMullen. I told him how flattered I was to receive his letter. Then he asked me about the play-by-play that I called on the audition tape nearly two years earlier. When was it? What station was it on? I told him how it wasn’t a real race broadcast, it was just something I made up in my head based on years and years of listening to MRN broadcasts. Uh oh. I could sense something had changed. He now wasn’t quite as impressed with this 24-year-old fantasy race broadcaster. Even so, he said that from what he heard on the tape, he thought there might be a place for me. He wanted me to audition on a real race, so he told me to go to the North Wilkesboro Speedway in three weeks on a Saturday to cover a modified race. It would be me, another announcer that I have long since forgotten, and Mike Joy. Yes, that Mike Joy. I was a bit starstruck but was happy to have the opportunity to prove myself and earn a spot behind an MRN microphone.

I felt like I had officially arrived. When I got to the track, I picked up the credentials, all in my name on MRN letterhead. I went to a spot near turn four and settled in wearing a heavy set of David Clark headphones with the microphone pushed close to my lips. Looking over the field of those brightly colored small race cars, it finally hit me; I don’t know the first thing about modified racing. I could tell you the name, number, car color, sponsor, of every driver on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit, along with the names of their wives and pets. But modified racing? What is it? What did they modify and why? I didn’t know the first thing about it, and this being the days prior to the internet, I had no way to quickly learn who was racing that day. For me, the broadcast was a disaster. I was nervous and couldn’t remember who was driving which car from lap to lap. I fell into saying “car #5 just passed #19 over there by turn two.” It was awful. I remember Mike Joy being very gracious and trying to help me out. He encouraged me and said that I would probably be pretty good…if I knew anything about modified racing. At one point there was an accident on the track that stopped the race. An ambulance came on the track to assist the driver. I made some brilliant comment about the driver “obviously being seriously hurt.” Idiot. Mike Joy immediately corrected me and explained that you never, ever, assume on the air about a driver’s injuries. That’s a lesson I never forgot. When the race was over Mike told me that I had potential and that I should stick with it. I don’t remember what the General Manager said, but I was never offered the chance to be a part of the MRN broadcast crew. I blew it.

I was heartbroken at the time, but just had to figure that God had another plan for me. Even though I’ve been blessed with a face for radio, I’ve been on TV with WBTV in Charlotte for more than thirty years in a job that I love. I’m fortunate in that along with covering local news, I have also gotten to cover a lot of NASCAR events and news, particularly from Charlotte Motor Speedway. Still, I can’t help but think that if I had just had a little knowledge about mid 1980′s modified racing, well. I still have a cassette copy of that broadcast. I last listened to it in…1985.

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