NASCAR announcer calls Salisbury home
CONCORD — Doug Rice’s office at the Charlotte Motor Speedway doesn’t have the usual trappings of a broadcast executive in the world of NASCAR.
There are no die-cast models of race cars. Instead, he showcases Civil War chess pieces on the top of a corner shelf.
Rather than a numbered car fender hanging from the wall, Rice features a framed, original poster from Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” album.
A life-size cutout of Star Trek’s Mr. Spock stands behind the door going into Rice’s office — homage to his fascination with science-fiction.
His football allegiances are obvious, from the Atlanta Falcons helmet to all the items connected to Appalachian State University, including a framed tribute to the Mountaineers’ historic victory over Michigan in 2007.
But there are two NASCAR-related things in Rice’s office worth noting.
On one wall is a large photograph of Rice interviewing Dale Earnhardt at the Atlanta speedway. On another wall, Rice has placed his marked ballot from the first class inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Rice says voting for the Hall of Fame members each year is a great honor.
As great of a honor, he adds, is co-anchoring Sprint Cup radio broadcasts for Performance Racing Network. Rice, president and general manager of PRN, has been in the booth calling races for the Bruton Smith-owned racing network since 1993, winning national motorsports awards and the respect of his peers along the way.
Mark Garrow, Rice’s PRN co-anchor, says his longtime colleague “sets the tempo on these broadcasts,” yet sees himself as part of a team.
“He makes sure everyone on the team shares in the broadcasts — it’s one of his gifts,” says Garrow, who also writes on racing for ESPN.com and is daily host for PRN’s “Garage Pass.”
Rice has a voice whose energy and emotion lends itself perfectly to racing on radio. He remembers someone saying a racing broadcast team is in the “transportation business,” taking the audience from their homes or cars to the track itself.
“You want to paint that word picture,” he says.
• • •
With Rice and Garrow on a race broadcast are two turn announcers and four pit reporters — eight people who know each other’s timing and inflections. They travel together to Smith-owned tracks across the country and hit other venues, such as this week’s Daytona 500, as part of their constant reporting on the sport.
“There’s no doubt that Doug loves his job,” Garrow says from Daytona. “Everybody on the PRN broadcast loves to come to the racetracks, and we hope that enjoyment comes out on the air in a serious, fun and entertaining way.”
PRN’s own race-calling season will start in Las Vegas and later take Rice to places such as California, Texas, New Hampshire, Indiana, Georgia, Tennessee and, of course, North Carolina.
In addition Rice is host every Monday night — and has been for 19 years — of the “Fast Talk” call-in and interview show, where driver co-hosts such as Kyle Petty, John Andretti, Kenny Wallace and Greg Biffle rotate in as his sidekick.
That show gained its foothold with the late Benny Parsons, who Rice also loved working with. The weekly show now goes to 200 radio stations.
Through it all, Rice, a Salisbury resident and 1973 West Rowan High School graduate, directs nine full-time employees at PRN and many additional personnel on contract.
His fellow employees include production coordinator Kent Bernhardt and technical producer Harrill Hamrick, people he worked with years ago at WSTP/WRDX in Salisbury.
“He’s extremely knowledgeable about racing,” says Bernhardt, who Rice lured to PRN fulltime 10 years ago just as NASCAR had negotiated its biggest television deals and as the sport was unknowingly set to mourn the death of its biggest star, Dale Earnhardt.
As a boss, Rice brings an “extreme sense of loyalty to everyone,” Bernhardt says, describing him as “a good friend and employer.”
Garrow says the PRN race team sometimes refers to Rice as “the professor” because he often finds a way to slip an obscure historical reference into a broadcast. “We’ll ask him,” Garrow says, “who are you going to teach us about today?”
• • •
Rice, 55, grew up the youngest of four boys and four girls dependent on dairy farming — first on the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, then at the Piedmont Research Station in western Rowan County.
Rice remembers that he could see the Biltmore House from his front porch.
His family moved to Rowan County when Doug was in the fourth grade, and they lived on Sherrills Ford Road, about a mile from West Rowan High.
The broadcasting bug hit Rice early, in a couple of ways. He was among the students participating in a two-hour WSTP youth program on Saturday mornings.
And as a young Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves fan, Rice would stay up late on summer nights, listening to Braves games on radio. Thanks to the announcers, Rice found himself engrossed in each pitch and living the action with the players’ baseball cards spread out on his bed.
Rice enrolled at Appalachian State as a speech and political science major and landed his first radio job at the campus station, WASU, as a freshman. He played classic rock records during the 10 p.m.-midnight shift on Thursdays.
It thrills Rice today that his daughter, Amy, a junior at Appalachian State, also has an air shift at WASU.
The benefit of working at WASU is “they let you mess up so you could learn,” Doug Rice says.
In college, Rice often came home on weekends to fill shifts at Salisbury’s WSTP/WRDX. Within two weeks of graduating college in 1977, he landed a full-time job with the Salisbury station.
He worked all the shifts, spinning records at night, or manning the 3-to-7 p.m. shift on the AM side. Rice eventually became morning show host and program director.
In addition, he broadcast the county high school football game of the week on WRDX and play-by-play for Catawba College football — a job he had for close to 10 years.
He also joined Sports Director Howard Platt as a color analyst for Catawba College basketball games. “That was fun,” Rice says of those days, “having an attachment to a team yet not a rooting interest.”
• • •
As if Rice wasn’t busy enough with his Salisbury radio duties, he began working as a weekend stringer for NASCAR races, filing updates and summaries for the Associated Press, United Press International and the N.C. News Network.
“You could sense the sport was starting to grow,” Rice recalls. “More and more people admitted to being race fans.”
Every winter, Rice would attend the three-day media tour, which took reporters to the various race shops, mostly around Charlotte. Rice kept a running account of the wisecracking among the broadcasters and scribes, and one year Ed Clark, general manager for Charlotte Motor Speedway, asked Rice to read some of his diary entries at the wrap-up dinner.
A nervous Rice took the notes back to his room and rehearsed his delivery. His presentation that night at a Japanese steakhouse proved to be a hit, and the next day Clark called Rice to ask whether he would be interested in a job opening at PRN, the broadcast arm for the speedway.
• • •
Rice started at PRN in February 1988 as an affiliates manager. At the time PRN was only on the air four days out of the year, broadcasting two Winston Cup races and two Busch Series events.
But NASCAR kept growing, and Rice moved into the broadcast booth in 1993 as Charlotte Motor Speedway owner Smith’s network of racetracks also kept expanding.
Today PRN broadcasts 12 Sprint Cup races, 10 Nationwide races and co-produces the Brickyard 400 in Indianapolis with Motor Racing Network. At the legendary site of the Indianapolis 500, “it’s a kick to be in the Pagoda,” Rice says of the famous nine-tier tower.
“But it’s a kick anytime you do a race,” Rice adds. “That’s as good as it gets in my profession.”
Under Rice’s direction, the network also added daily and weekly programs so that now “something is on the air somewhere every day of the year,” Rice says.
It’s another thing, Rice is immensely proud of, and it’s only possible, he says, because of the people working for PRN.
“It’s definitely not the Doug Rice Show,” he says.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Doug Rice file
Positions: President and general manager of Performance Racing Network; co-anchor on PRN radio broadcasts of Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series races; host of “Fast Talk,” an interview, call-in NASCAR show airing Monday nights.
Education: West Rowan High School (1973); Appalachian State University (1977).
Salisbury connection: Current resident.
For 11 years, program director, morning show host, evening DJ and play-by-play voice for high school and Catawba College football at WSTP/WRDX in Salisbury.
Honors: Co-winner of 2007 National Motorsports Press Association’s Broadcaster of the Year. Winner of several NMPA awards for live-event broadcasts.
Family: Wife, Penny; daughter, Amy.
Doug Rice on ...
NASCAR points system: Loves the changes made for the new Sprint Cup season. “I wish they had done it a long time ago.”
Young drivers on verge of stardom: Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski.
Driver with best chance of breaking Jimmie Johnson’s streak of five Sprint Cup Championships: Johnson himself. “He has to slip. He has to come back to the pack.”
Favorite track to call a race: Loves them all. Just enjoys the drama and calling the action. “It doesn’t matter where they are.”
Easiest NASCAR drivers to interview: Jeff Gordon is excellent — “he’s a professional.” Also, Jeff Burton, who gives smart, considered answers.
Toughest NASCAR driver to interview: Ryan Newman. You have to be prepared and measure questions carefully, or Newman might playfully go off topic.
Dale Earnhardt’s death at the 2001 Daytona 500: The sport is still feeling the shockwaves of that tragedy. Rice never has seen such loyalty to another sports figure and such an overwhelming, long-lasting grief experienced by fans.
Most exciting race finishes he ever called: Elliot Sadler at Texas Speedway, beating Kasey Kahne “by an eyelash.” Also, Adam Petty’s victory in an ARCA race and what it meant at the time to the Petty family. “That was a perfect day.”
Most memorable race: 1999 night race at Bristol (Tenn.) Speedway, when Dale Earnhardt wrecked Terry Labonte at the end and won the event. In Victory Lane, Earnhardt famously said he was only trying to rattle Labonte’s cage.
Personal driving car: A company-owned Toyota RAV4. “I’m not a car guy.” But wife Penny has a tomato red, “three-on-the-tree” 1957 Chevy.