NASCAR & Auto Racing

October 2, 2013

Higgins' Scuffs: A broadcast harvest of corn and fruit

As broadcasters work to inject drama into the Chase for the Sprint Cup, I’ve been thinking about zany lines I’ve heard from broadcasters and track announcers through 56 years of covering motorsports.

“They’ve picked the low-hanging fruit.”

Hearing that I laughed so hard I almost drove off the low-hanging shoulder of a rural highway.

Heading home from a Sunday afternoon visit with a friend, I was listening to the radio broadcast of a recent NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. The “fruit” pronouncement was an attempt by a member of the radio team to inject drama into a restart following what proved the final pit stops.

I’ve been thinking about zany lines I’ve heard from broadcasters and track announcers through 56 years of covering motorsports.

There have been some beauties, especially from the cast of characters who manned microphones in the old days.

Please don’t get me wrong. I’ve counted the guys doing the talking as friends. And they could poke fun at me for some of the things I’ve written.

It’s just that on occasion a few of them got carried away.

The “King Of Corn,” in my estimation, was Ray Melton. Ray is gone now, deceased along with other long-serving announcer/broadcasters such as Hal Hamrick, Dick Jones and Bill Connell.

Melton, who saw combat as a Marine during World War II, was a colorful, audacious chap with a deep, growling voice, of which he was highly enamored.

Ray, with the distinctive twang of his native Tidewater area in Virginia, prided himself on delivering what he considered clever lines.

The one he used most in a career that began in NASCAR’s formative years in the 1950s was this: “And here he comes through the fourth turn, belly to the ground like the true champion that he is.”

The same description applied to whatever driver might be on the track, be it Richard Petty, David Pearson, Bobby Allison, Cale Yarborough, Buddy Baker, et al.

When a competitor spun or veered slightly out of control, Ray inevitably shouted into his microphone, “And he KISSES the wall.” If it was a minor incident, he always added, “Ever so lightly.”

Ray was not low-key in any way.

The street cars he drove from track to track around the South always had his name emblazoned on the sides, along with the title “Chief Announcer For NASCAR.”

Ray once offered a young, up-and-coming P.A. and radio guy named Barney Hall a sheet of paper with a list of suggested phrases. Leading off was this: “And here he comes through the fourth turn like Santy Claus on a rocket sled!”

Barney, who became perhaps the best of all time in his profession, politely took Melton’s list. But to my knowledge the Motor Racing Network veteran never used this or any other cornpone.

Hall was inducted into a media wing of the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte last year along with Ken Squier, best known and cited for his TV work.

But back to Melton

He once sent a letter to every member of the National Motorsports Press Association extolling the credentials of fellow broadcaster Sammy Bland for induction into the organization’s Hall Of Fame. Ray closed by declaring, “Modesty prevents this writer from listing his own qualifications.”

Modesty was not among Melton’s virtues.

Ditto Connell, a big, affable fellow.

When NASCAR took some of its star drivers to Australia in 1988 for an exhibition race at the new Thunderdome track near Melbourne, Bellowing Bill went along. He and others from Charlotte Motor Speedway were hired by Thunderdome founder Bob Jayne to help in putting on the show. Jayne was enamored of the Charlotte operation and promoter Humpy Wheeler.

Connell took with him flyers on which he billed himself as “Co-star with Burt Reynolds in the movie Stroker Ace.” In actuality, Bill had a bit part as, of course, an announcer.

He offered himself available for interviews with the media Down Under, and some took him up on it.

But during the action on the track—practice, qualifying and then the race—Connell had these same people and fans alike groaning with his loud, seemingly non-stop, nonsensical one-liners. The Australian guy sharing the P.A. booth, overwhelmed, hardly was able to comment.

Bill’s corniest, and the line I remember most and rate No. 1 worst of all time, came near the end of the race as eventual winner Neil Bonnett, Allison and Dave Marcis ran in tight formation, battling for the lead.

Connell’s declaration caused some members of the Australian media in the press box to choke, spitting out their beer. And for these hard-core imbibers to waste brew, that’s saying something.

Intoned Connell, loudly and seriously:

“Ladies and gentlemen, and my good Aussie mates, they’ve put the bread on the table for the Last Supper!”

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