LITTLE ROCK – Jackson Motorplex announcer Austin Lloyd is like a lot – if not most – dirt track racing fans: he grew up around the sport and never lost his love for it.
His dad, Mark, was a mechanic for Mark DeBoer’s No. 23 stock car at Rapid Speedway, I-90 Speedway, and the now-defunct Lake County Speedway in Madison, SD. They also hit specials at Slayton, Jackson, and Fairmont in Minnesota, as well as Park Jefferson and Sioux Center:
“They were a pretty formidable force together. They won over 100 features together and worked to the tune of at least eight track championships at five different racetracks – I don’t have any accurate historical record at Nobles County Speedway, so it could be many more.
“I grew up at Huset’s Speedway in Brandon, South Dakota. Mark usually didn’t race Sunday nights, so I sat in the top row off Turn 4 of the grandstands with my dad and brothers most every Sunday of my life.
“That was a lot of my childhood – I played sports and went to the races with my family. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.”
Unlike most of the people Iowa Racing News features, however, Austin is not a racer himself. And, really, he’s completely fine with that. Growing up, finances made it impossible to get behind the wheel of a racecar, and now that he’s 28, time is no longer on his side to make a midlife change, even if finances weren’t an obstacle:
“If I won the Powerball tomorrow and had all the money in the world, I’d have a 410 team and hire someone I know and like to drive the car, and I’d have a small late model team and have one of my wife’s cousins drive it in the area locally. That’ll make for a fun Thanksgiving choosing a driver!
“However, I have a 6-year-old who wants to race. Now to talk the wife into that.”
To this day, he considers Rapid Speedway and Huset’s Speedway his home tracks:
“Growing up with my dad wrenching on Mark DeBoer’s cars, no matter where we raced, we always raced on Friday nights at Rapid Speedway in Rock Rapids. That place holds a special place in my heart. I waved homemade flags as a grade-schooler there, I fell in love with dirt track racing there, I met my wife working on a race car getting ready to go there, and now after all of that, I get to host a memorial race in my dad’s honor there.
“My second home track is less than a mile from where I grew up. I lived right down the hill from Huset’s Speedway, and it was rare to miss a Sunday. ‘I’ll meet you at the top shelf’ was the common refrain between my brothers and I, and invariably we always did. I could hear the PA from my house after the feature when my parents wouldn’t let me go on school nights.”
It would be quite a while before Austin got his initial firsthand involvement in racing. In 2014, he responded to a Facebook ad looking for an intern to help with promoting American Sprint Car Series events at Black Hills Speedway in Rapid City, SD, and the Jackson Nationals. Hired for that job, he went to work for Adam Adamson, who soon bought Park Jefferson Speedway in a bid to reopen that former NASCAR dirt track:
“I had recently left my job, so the GM, Josh Holt – now of MyRacePass – and myself were tasked with finding a way to make it happen. I spent a lot of hours there that year with my dad and with Gregg Bakker making that place race ready.
“The amount of work and the hours I spent with my dad is something I’ll always cherish. We finally got it open on my birthday – July 11. That was the famous win for paralyzed driver Isaac Schreurs that got us coverage in a few publications and on the Winged Nation podcast.”
During the course of that short season, Austin’s dad put the bug in his ear about announcing races. A few months later, two important changes occurred in his life that jumpstarted his career as a track announcer: his father passed away, and just five weeks later, his own son was born.
He says his decision to become an announcer and his desire to do that were heavily influenced by his dad’s input:
“When he passed away I really felt a kind of calling to start. That coupled with the fact that the man we had on the mic in 2014 was really, truly awful combined to make the timing right and the motivation was there.
“I’ve always been a little bit of an obsesser. This like stats and information are exciting to me, and a way. Dad saw that and saw my love for the sport and ability to communicate. That’s a cool part of this for me. Dad pushed me to do a job and I ended up loving it.”
In need of a day job with health insurance, and wanting to stay involved with the operations at Park Jefferson, he reached out about announcing races in 2015. Former Knoxville Raceway announcer Justin Zoch jumped in the booth to help for one night of training, and then he was “off and running” on his own.
In those early days of trying find his “voice,” Austin says he patterned his approach to those of longtime Huset’s Speedway announcers Mark Tassler and Shawn Neistadt. That same year, he filled in for Justin Holzapfel at Nobles County Speedway during which Jackson Motorplex promoter Doug Johnson heard him, resulting in his being hired for his current announcer duties – where he is now known as “The Voice of the Plex.”
Since then, he has also filled in at the Clay County Fair Speedway in Spencer, and Interstate Racing Association shows in both Spencer and at Deer Creek Speedway in Spring Valley, MN. He now has several other jobs that he also works on the side:
“As Tod Quiring has purchased Huset’s Speedway, I work there in some capacity as well, whether trackside or in the booth. I also travel throughout the region with Midwest Power Series, going from Cedar Lake to Knoxville to Ogilvie and many other places in between.
“I’ve done MPS shows at Ogilvie, Deer Creek, Spencer, Knoxville, I-90 in Hartford (SD), Rapid Speedway, and I’ve worked a micro-sprint race in Luverne, Minnesota. I’ve had feet on the ground in Princeton, Minnesota, ready to go, but got rained out. That was a long drive home.
“I may also fill in a few times for the Tri-State Late Model Series in 2021, as well. I have nearly 50 shows on my schedule.”
Austin’s day job is now with MyRacePass, but his evenings are filled with work at racetracks throughout Northwest Iowa, Southwest Minnesota, and Southeast South Dakota. He says his wife’s support for the crazy summertime lifestyle that ensues has been “invaluable” to him.
As is the case with many announcers, the biggest challenge is keeping track of the racers and key information about them. In that regard, modern technology has been a godsend:
“I use Excel for that, and I have done a lot of work with the VLOOKUP function. I use five sponsors, engine builder, chassis builder, previous stats with the series or at the track, big career accomplishments, and I have to be able to use all of it. Excel has done the job for me.”
But, there are other challenges Austin says he has to keep in mind as he’s working a race night:
“My biggest challenge stylistically is just over-excitement. Talking too fast, yelling too loud, those types of things. I keep hearing that those things will subside with experience and just seeing more, but here I am six years in, and I still get really, really excited about watching and calling dirt track races.”
Austin said his favorite part of working in the infield is getting close to the emotions that spill over in Victory Lane:
“Victory Lane interviews really can show moments of great triumph for people, and I just love seeing the joy. I always think back to the Isaac Schreurs win, the James Broty 2018 win at Deer Creek, the Lee Grosz winning Jackson 360 Nationals in 2019, and the Austin McCarl 2019 Jackson win with IRA. Those moments are things that I see as special. I interviewed two of them, and watched my brother Collin interview two of them from where I sat in the booth. Those were special.”
While Austin likes pit reporting, he feels most comfortable in the announcer’s booth:
“I’m best suited to be up there, and I honestly love everything about it. I obsess over having the right notes for each driver, but I pour myself over simple things like the playlists of songs during the night too. The right musical accompaniment can take a regular ‘run-of-the-mill’ starting lineup and make it feel like you are at a marquee event.
“I’ve done this for five years at Jackson, and six years overall, and every single time I’m reading a starting lineup for a sprint car A-main, the hair on my arms stands up. It’s just pure adrenaline every single time. I love this job!
“In addition to that, racing has allowed me down in the pits before the races and I’ve met some great people and really enjoy getting to chat with them on a near weekly basis. The pre-race hellos before the engines fire are some of my favorite times at the track.”
As much as he loves what he’s doing and where he’s doing it, Austin still has room to grow – and goals to match:
“I’ve been pretty fortunate to accomplish some pretty cool stuff pretty quickly in my career. I call World of Outlaw races over Jackson Nationals with John Gibson. I’ve called All Star Circuit of Champions Races at Jackson with Blake Anderson, I’ve called races at Knoxville Raceway.
“If that isn’t a sprint car announcer’s bucket list item number 1, I don’t know what would be. It was incredible. I’ve called some cool things already in my life, and I’m lucky to be able to say that. I work at two of the most incredible facilities in the entire country.”
The short-term goals:
- to call the World of Outlaw Late Model race with Rick Eshelman when they come to Jackson this season;
- Midwest Power Series expands its footprint just enough to get 2 to 3 new announcing booths every season;
- to work for some of these streaming services in the winter here to get some shows in during our off-season; and
- to have his son start coming to the races with him, sitting next to him in the announcing booth, in order to see the sport he loves the way he sees it.
The longer-term goals:
- to become the voice of a major traveling sprint car tour – understanding that “Obviously the dudes doing those jobs now are incredible and young enough to make this a very long term goal”; and
- to see a new regional 410 sprint car series start up, and to be the voice of that new series – something “more feasible” than working a major traveling tour, but “just incredibly fun” to do.
To those who might like to get involved in racing as an announcer, Austin has the following advice:
“Do any job any racetrack will let you do. There aren’t a lot of openings in this gig. Guys do this job for a long time, and don’t necessarily quit all that often. If you truly want to be an announcer there are a few things you have to get right.
“First, don’t be afraid to work. You’ll have a better shot if you have all the sponsor information right, every time for every driver. Second, don’t be afraid to ask about victory lane first, and use that as a jumping point to a booth job.
“Third, don’t be a diva. This sounds obvious, but don’t go in with an attitude that this class or that class is beneath you somehow. Treat the sport compacts with the same enthusiasm as the 410s.
“There are a lot of small travelling series out there that might be more open to a guy if you can serve multiple roles. If you say, hey I’ll call your races wherever you go, do victory lane, write your post-race PR, and help with social media on race nights, you’ll have a pretty good shot.”
Coming up this summer, Rapid Speedway will once again host its Mark Lloyd Memorial Races:
“My ‘home track’ hosting a race in my dad’s honor is really incredible. Last year we more than doubled the Late Model Street Stock purse, and also gave out bonuses to the weekly USRA classes at the track.
“I want to do even better in 2021. If anyone is interested in being a part of the purse let me know. Also, If you pay me pretty good, and I don’t have a commitment already, I’ll be happy to announce at one of your bigger events.”
The Mark Lloyd Memorial Races will be held June 4 this year.
(Photos provided by Austin Lloyd)
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