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Minter: Clark’s Voice Makes You Feel At Home

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, December 22 2010

Johnny Clark interviews Vernon Smith after a race in Georgia short-track country.

Looking back on this and other seasons of races past, the things that really stand out are the sights and sounds of the racing atmosphere. And one of the things that makes a race track experience enjoyable, as much as anything, is a good track announcer.

No matter how the races are going down on the track, an NHRA national event is lively in large part because of the enthusiastic announcing of  Bob Frey, who is not only very entertaining but also a walking encyclopedia of drag racing knowledge. You know you’re at the races when you hear him say a driver making a clean, fast pass has gone “Right down Broadway.”

And for years, dirt track fans around the Atlanta area have come to know and love the voice on the PA at Dixie Speedway  in Woodstock, Ga., and its sister track Rome Speedway in Rome. It belongs to Johnny Clark.

The man behind the mike at those two tracks is like Frey, entertaining and knowledgeable about the racing going on down on the track. But unlike Frey, Clark is not a professional full-time announcer. He works five nights a week handling freight in a warehouse and works the race tracks on weekends.

He started his announcing career at some of Georgia’s drag strips, and announced the first two Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway, but since 1984 he’s been a mainstay of the racing at Dixie and Rome.

“Johnny brings a familiarity. He make you feel at home,” said Mia Swims Green, whose family has owned and operated those two speedways for decades. Mrs. Green said going to a race at one of her family’s tracks and not hearing Clark’s booming voice on the PA would be like going to Disney and not seeing the familiar beloved characters there.

And she said that in all her years of traveling across America to race tracks, she’s rarely come across an announcer that has Clark’s appeal.

“He’s one of the best there is, and he genuinely loves what he does,” she said.

Clark’s love of the sport and of his weekend job is apparent to anyone who has ever heard or met him.

“I’ll be 60 years old next year, but I still love to hear those race cars, and I still love to see the people,” Clark said.

The people love to see him, too. Throughout the night at the races, fans passing under the broadcast booth will look up at Clark and smile and wave.

He acknowledges and appreciates every gesture.

“It makes you feel good about the part that you played,” he said.

Clark’s job is also about generating dollars for the race track. His calls of the action on the track are mixed in with gentle urgings for fans to visit the souvenir and concession stands, and he regularly plugs upcoming shows.

“It is a business,” he said.

One of Clark’s few regrets is that because of his busy schedule, which now includes making time to play with grandchildren, he rarely gets to visit other tracks and check out their announcers.

But he learned from one of the best – Georgia’s pioneering racing announcer Jimmy Mosteller. It was at the old Southeastern Dragway in Dallas, Ga., years ago that a 6-year-old Johnny Clark took a cold Coca-Cola up to the booth and gave it to Mosteller, who in turn put the microphone in front of young Clark and had him talk to the crowd.

In the years since, Mosteller, who is now retired, and Clark have remained friends and often shared a race track microphone.

Like many others around Georgia’s short tracks, he still looks at Mosteller through the same eyes he did as a youngster, when Mosteller was referring to him as one of his “little buddies.”

At the end of a long, pleasant conversation, Clark and I agreed to call Mosteller this week and wish him a Merry Christmas, something Mosteller has done for his friends for years on end.

“We’re all still his little buddies,” Clark said.

Somewhere out there now, there are a couple of generations of race fans who feel the same way about Johnny Clark.

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, December 22 2010
2 Comments

2 Comments »

  • Terry says:

    Good deal…..someone writes about the glue that holds a weekend together…..and a small track guy at that…HOORAY…
    A good announcer with a pleasing sound and delivery will enrich any event 10 fold. A bad announcer is a piece of meat stuck in your teeth that an hour later is still ruining a fine steak dinner.
    Those of us who attend events and grew up listening to them on the radio KNOW how important it is.
    Clark is one of many treasure’s unknown outside his own racing universe…..but is loved by every fish in his small pond.
    Good job Rick.

    • Ricky E Byrd says:

      Good job Rick.Very well done. Johnny deserves to be inducted into the Ga racing hall of fame.He was a huge part of my teen years when mama and daddy took us to the races and is still part of the fabric thats woven into my life.