Racing And Talking Have Come Together For Georgia’s Turnbull

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, March 16 2023

Doug Turnbull, left, with driver Christopher Bell and broadcaster Doug Rice, right, will be on the call for Sunday’s Cup Series race at Atlanta. (Photo by Doug Turnbull)

By Jeff Hood | Senior Writer

HAMPTON, Ga. – When the high-speed machines of NASCAR duck onto pit road Sunday afternoon at Atlanta Motor Speedway, a familiar hometown voice will resonate during PRN’s radio coverage of the Ambetter Health 400.

Each weekday morning and afternoon, Doug Turnbull is a key member of WSB radio’s “Triple Team Traffic” crew in Atlanta. He’s responsible for breaking traffic news by alerting motorists of incidents on the highways and following up with an alternate route recommendation.

On Sunday, his job on pit road will be to break stories such as impending engine or tire failures and describe how it’s humanly possible to change four tires and fuel a car in under 12 seconds.

His love affair with fast automobiles began while watching the 2001 Daytona 500, one of the most iconic events in the sport’s history which also claimed the life of NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt.

“Losing Earnhardt that day was just terrible,” Turnbull recalled. “It was the first race on FOX’s TV deal and the whole drama with Michael Waltrip winning and the spectacle of the huge Tony Stewart crash. I was just like ‘man, this sport is unreal.’”

Turnbull had been bitten by the “broadcasting bug” many years earlier. He was always the first to volunteer to emcee school talent shows. He had a natural desire to speak into a microphone.

Three days after graduating from high school in May 2004, he caught a major break when he met “Captain” Herb Emory.

The chance meeting was set up after Turnbull learned his mom was friends with someone acquainted with the Atlanta radio legend.

“She emailed Herb and immediately got his cell phone number,” Turnbull recalled. “He said ‘oh, yeah. Have him call me.’ That’s just unreal, right?”

For decades, Emory had set the standard for coverage of Atlanta traffic on powerhouse radio station WSB. But his willingness to help others and his charitable heart was equally impressive. Simply put, Emory was a giant throughout metro Atlanta and Georgia in more ways than one.

So, it should come as no surprise that Emory made the young Turnbull his star pupil the very first day they crossed paths when the two, separated by a generation in age, immediately struck up a friendship.

“He ended up making me an unofficial intern that day,” recalled Turnbull. “He toured me around WSB, took me to lunch in the cafeteria and we started talking about the 1992 Hooters 500.

“He took me up in the helicopter that day and over this big chemical plant fire I had seen on the news that morning.”

Turnbull’s work ethic continued to make a favorable impression on Emory, evidenced by the fact the young upstart had made his way onto the WSB payroll six months later.

“I was an 18-year-old and it turned out Herb saw something in me that I didn’t see in me,” Turnbull said. “I didn’t think I had this God-given talent. But he obviously saw a drive in me.”

Ironically, Turnbull was initially unaware Emory hosted the popular Allan Vigil Ford 120 racing talk show each Saturday afternoon on WSB.

“It’s funny, but when I first met Herb I didn’t know about his involvement in NASCAR,” Turnbull said. “My meeting with him was strictly about broadcasting.

“He didn’t tell me about his show, but I heard it one weekend. That’s when I started hanging out with him during the show.”

Emory had a knack for making guests and listeners laugh. Instead of conducting the typical vanilla interviews, Emory frequently inserted his mischievous personality into the conversation, which appealed to his audience and guests.

Turnbull, Jason Durden, NASCAR Illustrated’s Ben White, PRN’s Mark Garrow, the Atlanta-Journal Constitution’s Rick Minter, Dan Elliott of the famous Dawsonville racing family, Larry Sams (better known as the “Jumper Cable Man”) and track promoters throughout Georgia were regular voices heard on the program.

“Doug was very enthusiastic, contributed to the show and had some great facts,” White recalled.

To Emory, racing at the local short tracks was just as important as cars circling Daytona International Speedway. Though NASCAR took center stage each weekend, he always made time to update listeners on happenings at the asphalt and dirt bullrings scattered throughout Georgia.

Emory’s unexpected death in April 2014 left a void in Atlanta, the State of Georgia and to all who admired and respected him, including Turnbull.

“When he passed away, it was a gut punch to all of us,” Turnbull said. “He was like a father to me and I was a son to him. We had that kind of really close bond.”

Following his death, the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame asked the protege to step into Emory’s shoes and emcee their Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

 “It’s a real honor to get to do that each year,” Turnbull said. “It’s such a huge honor because Herb did it.

“And anything that I’ve gotten to do that Herb has done, including my full-time job right now being on the WSB traffic team, it’s just a tremendous honor.”

Emory’s love for racing as a whole rubbed off on Turnbull, who found weekend work behind the microphone at area short tracks, most notably Gresham Motorsports Park in Jefferson, Ga.

“My relationship with Dan (Elliott), through Herb, led to an opportunity for me on the PA at Gresham in 2010 and for the four years afterwards,” Turnbull said.

Turnbull’s ramped-up passion for racing in the early 2010s extended far beyond talking into a microphone. He penned stories for frontstretch.com and began writing for his own racing blog.

He also sent samples of his writing and audio work to Garrow and Doug Rice of PRN. His persistence paid off.

“Out of the blue in 2012 and just a week before the Labor Day weekend race in Atlanta, Doug Rice called me and said ‘Steve Richards isn’t feeling well and is going to miss the Atlanta race. We’d like you to fill in for him on pit road,’” Turnbull said.

Throughout his part-time stint, Turnbull has remained grateful for Rice’s belief in his ability to contribute to PRN’s coverage of NASCAR.

“Doug loves developing new talent and trying out new reporters,” Turnbull said. “I did the one race at Atlanta (in 2012) and that led to me doing the Atlanta races for a couple of years. And that has led to me being used a little more often over the years.” 

Turnbull, whose resume also includes Public Address duties with Ozzie Altman at Charlotte Motor Speedway during three NASCAR weekends, has worked alongside Rice in the anchor booth during several Xfinty Series standalone races at Kentucky Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway. He also had the chance to describe the action in Turn 1 at Atlanta Motor Speedway last July.

Turnbull’s passion and performance hasn’t gone unnoticed by Rice.

“Doug brings his own brand of knowledge and enthusiasm to the PRN team,” said PRN President and longtime broadcaster Doug Rice. “He is very versatile as he has worked in the booth, called the turns and on pit road and always performs at a high level.”

White, a longtime motorsports journalist, believes Turnbull excels as a pit road reporter because of his day job in Atlanta.

“He is so good at what he does on pit road right now for PRN because he’s sort of grown up doing traffic,” White said. “You have to be quick and you have to be on your toes.

“Even when he worked with Captain Herb on the radio doing traffic and he would pass it over to Doug, he had to be quick and concise to tell what was happening on the highways.

“He sort of had a great training ground there to be able to do something similar at 200 mph. He’s got a great talent for that.”

Turnbull is expected to work a handful of races this season on PRN, including the Cup and Xfinity Series events this weekend in Atlanta.

But the 37-year-old says he’s available anytime PRN makes the call to the bullpen.

“It’s not like we talk about it, but I’m just hoping I’ll be able to get more opportunities to (work more races),” Turnbull said. “And I’ll be ready whenever those arise.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, March 16 2023
No Comment