Broadcast Pioneer Passes Away - Hal Hamrick, One of The Best
Columnist Monte Dutton Reflects on Life of Racing Publisher Broadcaster Hal Hamrick--------------------------------------------------------------------------------Columnist Monte Dutton Reflects on the Life of Racing Publisher andBroadcaster Hal HamrickSeptember 29, 2008 - 7:15PMMonte DuttonHal Hamrick was far more than the publisher of FasTrack. He was one of the more overlooked and underrated figures in the history of stock-car racing.As a broadcaster, Hamrick announced the second live NASCAR race ever sent across the airwaves. As a publicist and administrator, he ran the famous tracks in Hickory, Hampton, Ga., and Bristol, Tenn.He broadcast races at Martinsville Speedway in 1952 (sitting on a Pepsi crate) and kept at it until 1983. He helped broadcast the first Daytona 500 in 1959 and was on hand for the 50th in February of this year.Hamrick, born on March 28, 1929, in Rutherford County, grew up in Asheville and lived in Gastonia at the time of his death, which came at 10:45 p.m. on Sunday. He suffered a massive stroke two days earlier.Hal ought to be in every racing hall of fame in existence, but then again, my view is jaded. He is more responsible for me making a living writing about NASCAR than anyone else, which is surely among the least of his accomplishments.I'm far from alone.Upon learning of his condition on the day before his death, H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler, himself a famed promoter, said, "Hal is one of the last throwback promoters we have.He was never afraid of a good fight or a lot of competition.Few people know that he really put Bristol on the road as its first real promoter."We need Hal Hamricks today.He was one of the real promoters who thought of fans first and tickets first.Nothing was really second.He came from a time when racing was treated as entertainment(which it still is).He would argue with Sam Ervin's statue and tell you every reason in the world why you were wrong and then, the next day, put his arm around you, smile and see if you had come to his side.""Hal Hamrick did indeed do a lot for the sport, especially in its formative days," added NASCAR vice president of corporate communications Jim Hunter."He built a lot of excitement into the sport as an announcer and was a contributing member of the NMPA (National Motorsports Press Association). His publication (FasTrack), in his twilight years, has certainly been a huge boost for stock-car racing's grass-roots local tracks."He helped me along the way, also."Hamrick nudged many lives "along the way" in a career that spanned six decades. A man who dedicated his life to bringing stock-car racing and other sports to the masses naturally had a common touch.Jimmy White, now publicist of the Raybestos Rookie of the Year and Wix Filters' Lap Leader programs, grew up listening to Hamrick's rich, distinctive voice describing NASCAR races."As a kid growing up in rural North Carolina, I was glued to my radio every Sunday listening to the race," White recalled."I certainly remember the Universal Racing Network and listening to the races from North Wilkesboro, Rockingham, Martinsville and Darlington."Although I didn't know him as well as a lot of folks, I truly appreciate everything that Hal has done for our sport.And he was always a hoot to be around at the NMPA convention every year."Bill Desmond, both an associate of Hamrick's and a longtime racing promoter and publicist, replied to an e-mail in this way:"You're darn right he was a good man.The two of us have had many good laughs together, and I still have the million-dollar' fake bill he gave me some years back.When Hal sold the Halon fire systems for race cars, I was one of those who believed in what he was doing and I still have Halon bottles here at the house.I sold a number of those systems to teams with All Pro(the short-track series)."Hamrick was proud and stubborn, with a maverick bent that probably contributed to the appalling lack of recognition he received.Another reason he was often overlooked is that he never cared for self-promotion.It was others he promoted with a performer's skill.I'm not saying he molded my outlook, but we naturally got along and agreed on many issues.When I was editor of FasTrack (1994-96), he backed me up on many occasions when my views were outspoken and never let me know of the inconveniences I undoubtedly caused.I heard about a few of them secondhand.We took many long trips together - to a trade show in Syracuse, N.Y., or Daytona for Speedweeks - and he gave me the perspective of all those years of experience.He was a valuable source for me over the years when stories were about to break, and I made it a point to follow up on leads he gave me.I'll also miss that booming voice. When he became passionate about one issue or another, he turned on what I called his "radio voice."When I interviewed Hal in January, I was struck by his economy of language, honed over decades behind microphones.Hamrick lived a long, prosperous and influential life. His basic decency is something to be celebrated.The joy of his life more than outweighs the sorrow of his passing.I was one of thousands he influenced in a positive way, and there were hundreds he influenced who were more prominent and significant than I.It was a distinct pleasure to have been able to call Hal Hamrick my friend and mentor.You can reach Monte Dutton at firstname.lastname@example.org.