|The Golden Voice of NASCAR: Rick Allen|
NASCAR – many are born into it, others find their way into the sport later in life. Then you find a unique story like Rick Allen, who had racing basically drop into his lap thanks to his golden voice.
Tuning into the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series broadcast each week, one voice stands out amongst the rest, Rick Allen. Allen is a fresh face to NASCAR, especially sitting alongside veterans like Phil Parsons and Michael Waltrip but his voice commands presence.
Headed into college, Allen was involved in football and track and field. After being recruited by numerous colleges to pursue both sports, he received a call from the University of Nebraska to be a walk-on track and field athlete for their team. That is what set forth many big moments in Allen’s life.
“I was a walk-on pole vaulter at Nebraska and probably a very mediocre one at that,” said Allen reflecting on his college days. After giving a short try at pole vaulting, his coach suggested he try decathlons. (Decathlons are a total of 10 track and field events usually including long jump, shot put, discus, javelin, and various running distances.) Listening to the coach, Allen began to learn all the events and started competing as a freshmen in college.
Engrossing himself in something new, Allen was successful and gained recognition. “It opened a lot of eyes, let people know I was around, was a force to be reckoned with and it opened a lot of doors for my future career.” While competing, Rick first grabbed the microphone to make announcements in a joking manner. Lucky for him, one of the coaches heard him and while he was still competing for the team he was approached by a school administrator to announce for a gymnastics meet. “Their announcer was not going to be there. I had never announced anything in my life and don’t know anything about gymnastics. But they told me I would just make the announcements, they would tell me what to say, that is really how it started. I enjoy it and I guess God has blessed me with a voice that is somewhat pleasing and people can understand what I say.”
That one time of announcing for gymnastics led to other sports – baseball, football, basketball – in essence Rick Allen was the voice of The University of Nebraska’s sports. Leading into a job announcing at the local dirt track, another job he was thrown into knowing nothing about, that was the big break for Allen. Fox Sports and NASCAR found him through that dirt track.
“We think you may do well on television” Allen was told as he basically fell into the lap of NASCAR. “It was very similar to when they asked me to cover gymnastics, I said I do not know anything about gymnastics. The owner of the dirt track (in Eagle Nebraska) asked me to be his announcer and I said I did not know anything about racing. He said that was alright, they liked my personality, loved my voice and I would learn racing – no question about that.”
The lack of knowing the sport did not deter Allen, in fact it spurred him to become a student of racing.Sure enough, I am a student at whatever I do, I really enjoy learning as much as I can about what I do, no matter what it is, so I took it upon myself to learn as much as I could about what I was calling on the racetrack at that time. When the call came from NASCAR, I got every article, magazine and publication that came out to try and learn as much as I could about racing. I like to surround myself with people who are very knowledgeable in the sport and that is why I lean on Phil Parsons, Michael Waltrip, Darrell Waltrip, Larry McReynolds, Jeff Hammond, Mike Joy, all of the guys I work with on a regular basis. ”
Allen has found himself learning amongst the legends of NASCAR. Sitting in the announcing booth alongside Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip and the experienced Mike Joy, who has been calling NASCAR races since 1981, Allen has come toe to toe with the legends of the sport and learned more through them then any history book could have ever taught him.
Watching the NCWTS races, it is undeniable that the cast has a great bond, there is no stiff, staunch attitudes, which makes fans at ease and a part of their family. “The fun thing about my job, I can be absolutely and completely honest, is that I consider Michael Waltrip, Phil Parsons, Ray Dunlap, Hermie Sadler, Krista Voda, Mike Joy and all those people, close friends. I have phone numbers for all of them, if something comes us that I have a question, I do not feel uncomfortable at all calling them up to ask. They are friends of mine and I trust their opinions and comments. Not only that, we enjoy each others company. We go to concerts together, play golf together, we do things outside of our job because we enjoy each others company.”
Thankful for his job, but more importantly his friends, Allen said, “I have been very blessed that there is such great people that I can be friends with and at the same time, do my job with, they make it all that much more satisfying.”
Watching the NCWTS broadcasts in particular, there have been some standout moments to me as I sit here and reflect. Of course the top of the list each year would be Halloween episodes and getting to see Rick, Phil, Mike, Krista and Ray parade out in a new costume. Do you remember Ray Dunlap as Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz? My favorite has to be the Batman costumes.
Speaking to Rick, those are just the fun moments we see, moments of hilarity like that are of the normal. “We have those moments almost every commercial break when we do television shows. It is just that much fun to do what we do, with the people we do it with. When I say that, I am talking everyone involved because we have these headsets – because everyone is talking in the booths, cameras, trucks and they are such a relaxed and easy crew to be with that we will joke and have fun with everyone.”
The saving grace for the giggle fits as I learned, there is a cough button to the microphones that cuts their feed, so when someone starts laughing, they can hit their button. (Except Rick who is usually reading promo ads while Mike and Phil are misbehaving…that Mike always a joker)
Thoughts on the Truck Series
Who better to ask about the hot button issues in the NCWTS than Rick, he is there live and in person each week to watch the battles on track. Given the opportunity, I asked him to weigh in on some topics concerning the series.
AE: The exciting thing right now: the points battle between Austin Dillon, James Buescher and Johnny Sauter. The NCWTS will see a new champion this year. Is this a good thing for the sport?
RA: It’s a great thing in the series. I think everything we are seeing right now is a positive thing.
Specifically with points, Austin Dillon and James Buescher are the top two in the points standings, both of them are 21 years old. When you look at that and say ok, we just got off a season where Todd Bodine won the championship and before that it was Ron Hornaday, two guys that are well into their career and veterans of NASCAR racing. Hornaday is over 50 years old, Todd Bodine is creeping up on 50, and now you have two 21-year old kids battling for the Championship in what is considered to be the feeder series to Nationwide and Sprint Cup. You look at that and say obviously this is working. Here is the youth of the sport excelling in one of the top 3 tiers of NASCAR and that is what NASCAR wants.
That is what was so much fun when Austin Dillon was able to beat both Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick at Chicagoland. Those two drivers are racing for the Cup Championship this year and here you have a truck series driver who was able to upset the two of them. He outraced them and that was a great thing to see.
The stories: Austin Dillon, James Buescher and Timothy Peters and Johnny Sauter, you got a mix of people that are going to have a shot at winning the Championship and maybe fulfilling a dream and it is happening because there is a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
AE: The biggest complaint I hear while watching races is that Cup drivers are allowed to compete in the other series, many feel it does not give the series regulars a fair shot at the wins. Do you feel there should be yet another rule change regarding this?
RA: I would hope that NASCAR would NOT make it impossible for Cup drivers to compete, I would consider that an injustice against the NCWTS drivers. I really think that it is a yardstick – even if for example Timothy Peters goes out and runs third to Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick, Timothy Peters might walk away saying that was a phenomenal race for us. We raced against the best, we gave them all we had and we were the top series regular coming across the start/finish line. Would they have wanted to win? Yes of course! But, I think they rather race against the best in the sport and see how they stack up, rather then go out and beat everyone in the NCWTS handily and think to themselves could I have beaten the best that day? If that driver was not in the field, they would never know. In Chicagoland, when Austin Dillon beat Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick, that may have been one of the most gratifying wins of his life.He went up against the best and beat the best. And everything was the same, there was nothing different for Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick then there was for Austin Dillon and James Buescher or anyone else in that field. That is what makes this sport so appealing for young drivers.
Further explaining this idea, Rick told me of going to the Olympic trial is 1992.
“I knew going in there were better people than me, but I got to see how I fared against them. That was a great opportunity for me, to see this is where I fall in line when I am competing against the best. That’s the way I look at it, if I were a driver in the NCWTS, I would want to compete against a Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Elliott Sadler, Kasey Kahne,any driver that has accomplished wins at the highest levels, I would want to see how I fared against them.”
AE: The big news coming out of the Trucks series garage is the decision for Kevin Harvick Inc. to leave the series, in the long run, will this help or hurt the NCWTS?
RA: What Kevin Harvick Inc. did was they boosted the series when they first came in and built KHI. They raised the level of competition because of the level of the equipment they were putting on the race track, not only for their trucks but for the other trucks on the track. I am extremely thankful for that.
Now with KHI closing, an opportunity has been opened for Eddie Sharp to purchase equipment from KHI. He will do that and then build upon what Kevin and DeLana Harvick started and what they built up to a point. I think what it does is create opportunity for an owner to increase his awareness and his abilities in a sport that I think he will be very good at. Eddie Sharp Racing has been very successful, they won a Championship in the ARCA racing series and I believe they will now battle for a Championship in the NCWTS.
We are going to sorely miss Kevin Harvick and his company being at the track week in and week out, without a doubt. I also think that whenever one teams goes away, another team steps up and fills the void. I think that is what Eddie Sharp Racing is going to attempt to do, fill the void and maybe even raise the NCWTS to a new level. That is the exciting part of what we have to wait and see.”
Fans are truly missing out if you are not tuning into the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races each week.
RA: I do not want to cast a negative light on anyone but, I think there are the nay sayers out there that like to promote the negatives out there that are going on in the sport. While I, try to look at the positives. I look at the level of competition we have, the racetracks we go to, the fans who show up to those tracks and enjoy the race put on by the drivers, we are very excited to see the competition. I am thankful that the fans come out, spend their money and take the time to join us.
For Rick Allen, his future is wherever SPEED and Fox tell him to go. Whether it is the NCWTS coverage, Cup and NW practice while on SPEED and also ARCA coverage.
“I am very happy and content to be where I am. I am very thankful I was give these opportunities because it was not a normal path most people take to get to the position that I am in. If my career continues with the Camping World Truck Series for the next 15, 20 even 30 years, I would be very happy.”
Wherever his career takes him, he has his wife Kris and two sons to share in the joys of it all.
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