I’ve been thinking about you a lot these days, even before your announcement Tuesday that you’re battling brain cancer. I can’t think of a Dale Earnhardt tribute that’s aired that hasn’t featured at least one of your calls.
Your calls! To this day, I stop in my tracks when I hear one of them. Equal parts enthusiasm and melody, plated with golden pipes. They can take me back to my childhood faster than an Indy 500 pole run. A childhood that you brought so much joy to.
Well before my 10th birthday, race days in my house meant my younger brother and I would line up our ever-growing but never-quite-big-enough 1:64 diecast collection on the brown rug in my parents’ living room. We’d match them best we could to the starting lineup for that day’s race, and then we’d proceed to simulate a race. My brother’s maneuvers usually won the race – I was too busy trying to imitate you calling the race. I know I’m not alone.
Drivers who were victorious in races you called wouldn’t simply “win” – no, they would “wiiinnnnnn”. You took that simple, three letter, one syllable word and made it a thrilling call to the finish line in hundreds upon hundreds of races.
You punctuated, and thus, elevated so many moments. It deepened our love of racing. And best of all? We could always tell that YOU were one of US – a race fan first. Then. Now. Always.
On all of those glorious Sunday afternoons and thunderous Thursday nights, we couldn’t wait to welcome you into our living room from race tracks of every shape and size. Places like Daytona and Talladega, North Wilkesboro and Bristol, IMS and IRP.
Thank you for the calls that will endure forever…
“They go into Turn Number 1 and both of them spiiinnnnnnn!” (North Wilkesboro, 1989, Ricky Rudd and Dale Earnhardt)
Thank you for all the fun with Ned and Benny, bringing out the best in them and becoming the most welcoming companions a race fan could ask for.
Thank you for taking the time to pose for a picture with an 8-year-old and his 6-year-old brother outside the front-stretch grandstands at Dover in June of 1990.
Thank you for inspiring that same 8-year-old who imitated you calling diecast races in his parents’ living room to take his passion for sports and make it a career.
So, Bob, on behalf of race fans everywhere….
Here’s to you…. may you wiiinnnnnn your battle.
Ron Vaccaro is VP, Editorial Content for NBC Sports Group, and a racing fan for as long as he can remember.