The next voice you hear
Dave DeVries enjoying life as the voice of Star Speedway
|DAVE DEVRIES reads an announcement prior to the start of action at Star Speedway on a recent Saturday night. Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)|
August 08, 2011EPPING — When New Hampshire Motor Speedway packs in close to 100,000 people for a NASCAR race, it's usually a big deal in the local news.
However, the real heart and soul of racing can be found on the short tracks that dot the New England landscape. These are the places where drivers earn their stripes, where local guys who work hard all week, get to spend a little time behind the wheel of a car racing in circles. These are the places where you find the true passion for racing. When these guys get a flat or hit the wall, there's no eight-member pit crew flying over the wall to fix the damage and no big-money sponsor writing a check to fund a new car. These are the places where you find the guy who works on his own car with his buddies and may even sponsor his own car. These are the places where racing is simply racing.
Guys like Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart got their starts on tracks like these and surely the dreams of the drivers behind the wheels of the cars on these tracks have dreams of making it big. But they mainly do it because they love it.
One of these places is Star Speedway in Epping and anyone from the local area who ventures to the quarter-mile oval on a Saturday night might find a few familiar names and one familiar voice.
Dave DeVries, a Wolfeboro resident and a longtime radio guy, is the official voice of Star Speedway, keeping fans entertained through each evening's entertainment, interviewing winners and providing general atmosphere.
Other familiar faces among the crowd would be Wolfeboro's Gary Grubisa and Brookfield's Connor MacDougall, both of whom race regularly at Star.
DeVries has a unique position at the track. He sits in the box above the grandstands, looking out over the track. But prior to the race, there's the time he spends getting ready.
With a green flag falling just after 6 p.m. on Saturdays, DeVries usually arrives at the track sometime around 4:30 p.m. and the first thing on the list (after making sure the booth's air conditioning is running on a brutally hot summer day) is to take a stroll through the pits. He checks on the drivers, seeing what changes they may have made from previous races, asking about last week's crash or congratulating someone on a victory.
It's all about getting that extra information that a fan in the stands might not know.
The announcer's job also always involves getting in words for the concession stands and for any other events coming up at the track, urging folks to check out the following week's special guest or show.
Star has four regular classes, including the EKeys4Cars Modifieds, the Outlaws, the Rookie Stocks and the Road Runners (four-cylinder, entry level cars) and usually each Saturday night will feature some sort of guest group. On this particular night, the Northeast Classic Lites are in town for the second time on the season.
Each group will race heats of approximately eight to 10 laps to help determine starting position in the main event and the size of the field will determine how many heats run. With the heat and the "big money" Oxford 250 weekend going on in Maine, this weekend is a little light in some of the divisions, but DeVries notes that the racing is always good.
"We have guys who come all the way from Rhode Island to race," he said. "It's a great track, it has a great reputation. The racing's always good down here."
For DeVries, the better the racing, the easier the job, as the more the cars do on the track, the less he has to do, as the cars can speak for themselves in some of the more exciting races.
As the night goes on, DeVries mans the microphone, talking the fans through each heat race and then through the popular spectator drags, where fans get the chance to put their car up against other fans. The fan favorite on this night is a purple Neon, but it come up short to a black and white Toyota after the three-lap shootout in the finals.
The feature races come later in the evening and the visiting Northeast Classic Lites provide plenty of crashing and banging, including a flip in turn four that brings out the red flag. This means a little more work for DeVries, as he once again goes over the upcoming events at the speedway and encourages folks to check out the concession stands.
With the mess cleaned up by the crack Speedway Safety Services crew, the race gets back under way and is marred by crashes in the early portion before straightening out for a great race to the finish.
The remainder of the feature races go smoothly and DeVries makes his way up and down the stairs to victory lane after every race, interviewing the top three drivers, giving them a chance to thank their sponsors and their crews.
And when the night is over, the lights go down and the air conditioner goes off and DeVries packs it in for another week. It's just part of the life of a racing guy.
"I've never driven a racecar, but I've done everything else," DeVries said of his time in motorsports. "The more you can do, the more valuable you are."
Back in the mid-1990s, DeVries was working mornings on seacoast radio station WERZ when Pete Falcone, who served as the announcer at Lee Speedway, asked DeVries if he wanted to step in to those shoes. Having been a race fan and attended numerous races, DeVries decided to give it a shot.
He didn't think the results were all that good.
"I called my first race in 1996 and it was horrible," DeVries said. "But I kept going back and they let me in, so it got better."
Having been a radio guy for a long time, DeVries had an idea as to what it takes to be entertaining on the air, but he found calling the races to be much different.
"Calling a stock car race is different compared to anything else you can do," he said.
After three years at Lee, DeVries moved on and has done lots of different things with lots of different outlets.
He went on the pro tour for the truck series for a while as an announcer and worked for Speedway Heat TV for four years. He also has spent time working for the Performance Racing Network, which broadcasts Sprint Cup and other NASCAR races nationwide. He still works for PRN when NASCAR visits Loudon, doing a little bit of everything with the crew.
"I do anything from production to I'll fetch coffee if they ask me to," he said.
He does a lot of editing of sound bites and interviews for PRN to use throughout the year, noting that the network banks many of the interviews he conducts or edits for use during the offseason as well.
He's also done podcasts and fill-in work at numerous tracks over the years.
DeVries notes that being around racing is the fun part of his job and praises the Webber family, the owners of Star Speedway, for the fine job they do in running their track.
"They put their hearts and souls into this place," he said.
For the Webber family, racing is obviously a passion, something that's been rooted in their genes for the past 30 years.
This year marks the Webbers' 30th y ear at Star Speedway. They also purchased Hudson Speedway in 1989, buying both from Charlie Elliott. And the reason for purchasing the tracks was simple.
"My dad originally bought it because they were going to throw out the supers," said Bob Webber Jr., speaking of one division of cars. "And he always loved the supers."
However, before Bob Webber Sr. bought the track, the family came every week and they loved the supers, which were the fastest cars to race on the track, sometimes hitting close to 120 mph on the straightaway.
Star Speedway is obviously a family affair, as Bob Webber Sr. was at his traditional position at the end of pit road, Bob Webber Jr. manned the radio and the lap button in the booth and a third generation of Webbers helped hand out trophies to the winners.
But Webber Jr. admits that it's not easy, something someone else recently found out.
The Webbers sold the track a few years back and the person who purchased it wasn't able to keep it going, so the family got the track back and this marks the first year they've been up and running after the track sat empty for two years.
"It's not easy to run a track," Webber said. "If you don't love it you're not going to survive.
"But it's all I've ever known," he added.
A family that lives and breathes racing and a guy who has done just about everything racing has to offer. Seems like a typical night at a New England short track.