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NASCAR's story told by New England voices - MyEasternShoreMD: Caroline County

NASCAR's story told by New England voices

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Posted: Monday, November 5, 2012 12:30 pm

DOVER -- For every story, a voice chronicles the moment, whether it's the narrative in someone's head, the words spoken by a parent to a child at story time or the presentation during the sporting event's broadcast.

NASCAR's long history was born in the south and is filled with memorable moments from the days on the dusty short tracks to today's high-banked super speedway palaces.

The many of the voices telling those memories and today's moments have one thing in common; a New England voice.

Since 2001, most all NASCAR television broadcasts have been told by New England natives Allen Bestwick, ESPN lap-by-lap broadcaster, and Mike Joy, FOX lap-by-lap broadcaster.

Both Bestwick and Joy grew up on the short tracks of New England; and while their NASCAR broadcasting path may have been different, the road was paved by legendary NASCAR broadcaster and Vermont native Ken Squier.

Bestwick sat down with The Times-Record for a candid interview before last month's race at Dover International Speedway and spoke about the roots of the Ken Squier Race Broadcasting Tree.

"First thing is, it all goes back to Ken Squier," Bestwick said. "Ken forged a connection with NASCAR from owning a race track in New England. Ken was the original MRN Radio lead announcer for NASCAR and things grew from there."

Squier's legendary voiced chronicled NASCAR's story for mainstream America with his famous last-lap call in the 1979 Daytona 500 on CBS; the first live, full-race NASCAR television broadcast. He served as one of NASCAR's main broadcast voices for CBS, TBS and MRN into the 21st century.

While Squier brought NASCAR into living rooms, Bestwick said he also began a pipeline of talented New England broadcasters.

"Like every other job, who you know, who you cross paths with in your careers I think led to that New England trail," Bestwick said. "Ken brought Jack Arute to MRN and Jack helped bring Mike Joy to MRN."

Bestwick said a common denominator is being involved in the New England short tracks.

"Jack's family owned Stafford Motor Speedway in Connecticut," he said. "They ran a very professional, very polished operation that led to a lot of opportunities for local short trackers. They really brought a professional broadcasting flare to their presentation at the track.

"So it's kind of that path of the highly successful New England short track circuit leading to that family tree," he said. "You look at the garage area and you have the Ray Evernham family of chief mechanics. Ken Squier started a very talented broadcasting family tree, and we still hear many of those voices in the sport today."

Bestwick, a Newport, R.I. native, found his love for racing as a kid, watching his dad race at Seekonk (Mass.) Speedway.

"New England really has a great short track tradition," he said. "Dad raced in front of six or seven thousand people every Saturday night."

As Bestwick entered his teens, he knew he wanted to go into broadcasting.

"I just wanted to be the guy on the radio or the guy on the television," he said. "It was not necessarily related to racing. I love hockey and grew up in broadcasting watching the Bruins and Bobby Orr. I was glued to the television and radio on a regular basis.

"I was always a fan of AM radio at night," he said. "I really enjoyed Jim McKay on ABC's Wide World of Sports because it was something different every weekend. Those things sparked this passion in me. It's just always been what I wanted to do. I've been lucky to follow that through."

At 16 years old, Bestwick became the track announcer for Seekonk Speedway. He also worked briefly in New York for ABC Radio and doing radio reports in Washington, D.C.

In 1986, Bestwick began his NASCAR career as a turn announcers for MRN Radio. He was MRN's play-by-play announcer from 1988 to 2000, broadcasting NASCAR races to more than 500 affiliate stations in the United States.

Bestwick made his television debut in 1995 on the original NASCAR Today program on ESPN and joined the SPEED Channel in 1996 as the host of Inside NEXTEL Cup Racing, a post he held for 10 years. He started pit reporting for TBS and TNT in 1997. While continuing to work in radio, Bestwick joined NBC in 1999, covering NASCAR races as well as arena football and track and field events. Bestwick became ESPN's lap-by-lap announcer in 2010 after serving as lead pit reporter.

"When I look back, I came in and there was Richard Petty and Bobby Allison, Cale and earned their professional respect," he said. "Then, the sport transitioned to Dale Earnahrdt, Rusty Wallace, Jeff Gordon and Bobby Labonte. Now, it's Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart and so on. I've been around for a long time. I've seen a lot of great racers and great races. It's been cool."

Bestwick said the 2001 Pepsi 400, the first race at Daytona International Speedway after Dale Earnhardt died and the race was won by his son Dale Earnhardt Jr., was a memorable race.

"That was one of those surreal, is this happening, moments," he said. "The season finale at Atlanta in 1992 was a wild day with Richard Petty retiring, Jeff Gordon making his first start and the championship batting coming down to the last lap.

"If I asked you to list the ten most memorable races you've ever seen or covered, I've probably covered all of them," he said. "I've been lucky. I've really been lucky to do this."

Bestwick said what makes NASCAR great are the people.

"This sport is populated by really good, hard working people. They have a real passion for what they do. You have men and women getting in these race cars, going 190 miles and hour. That is pretty extraordinary under difficult circumstances. They have my admiration."

For Bestwick, the question "Who is going to win" remains his favorite part of racing.

"It's still the same question we start with every Sunday and not knowing the answer too," he said. "Who is going to win and how is the fun part. I really still do enjoy that. When the green flag waves on Sunday, I love being here and being a part of the team that brings this sport to the world. It's a really cool seat to have."

Bestwick's voice will be chronicling the final two races of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for ESPN as five-time championship Jimmie Johnson battles Brad Keselowski for the championship.

Follow Dustin Holt on twitter: @Dustin_StarDem

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