Ken Squier, the man who coined the phrase “The Great American Race” to describe the Daytona 500, will formally join NASCAR’s “Greatest” later this week. The co-founder of Motor Racing Network (MRN) and longtime voice of the sport will become the first broadcaster among the Hall of Fame’s legendary list of inductees.
The 82-year-old Vermont native is a broadcast icon, setting the standard for calling NASCAR race broadcasts. He famously worked NASCAR’s flag-to-flag network television debut, the 1979 Daytona 500 featuring post-race fisticuffs between Bobby and Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough and his smooth voice and polished insight made him a broadcast favorite for decades thereafter in a sport he famously described as “common men doing uncommon things.”
Squier will forever be most associated with that historic ’79 Daytona race telecast and selling the NASCAR product to network television. It’s a source of great pride and he is certainly accustomed to the questions about the landmark race and the scuffle in the closing credits.
“They were on each other, both (Donnie Allison and Yarborough) as determined as any race drivers that ever walked the face of the earth,’’ Squier recalled of the tangle.
“They were not going to give it up. There you saw the result.
“It was a very dramatic moment.’’
And as for the overall significance of the broadcast?
“It was a matter of introducing people from Manhattan into the scope of American stock car racing,’’ he said. “In the bread basket of America, that was the name of the tune that turned people on the most at that time.
“Having them, CBS, take an interest in it. … we did a group of races before we ever did the Daytona 500 and they did so well. It was like everything the network did in those days. They spent the time, spent the energy, forethought to really put together what it was about.
“This was a new page.’’
It was new to many Americans and set a high bar for race excitement, but for Squier, calling NASCAR races was essentially old hat. He began race play-by-play for the MRN network he co-founded in 1969 – before getting the call regularly for the television broadcasts.
In addition to his talent behind the microphone, in 1982 Squier is credited for helping to develop the sport’s first “in-car camera” – a hugely popular and unique broadcast feature still used today in later variations.
That camera was an invaluable tool in giving the world a glimpse of the most popular Daytona 500 victory in modern time – Dale Earnhardt’s 1998 triumph.
Squier remembers how emotional the steely Earnhardt was after that win, and how emotional everyone on pit road was for Earnhardt to finally win after 20 tries. The car in Earnhardt’s famous No. 3 Chevrolet picked up the amazing greeting the champion received after pulling onto pit road headed to the Daytona 500 Victory Lane for the first time.
“Just how emotional he could be, he pretty much always hid it, but you couldn’t hide that,’’ Squier recalls of the afternoon.
Squier was also in the television booth for the FOX Sports pre-race show before its full season debut in 2001 when the seven-time champion Earnhardt was killed in the final corner of the final lap of the Daytona 500 – a race ultimately won by Michael Waltrip in a car Earnhardt owned.
Humbled and awed by his historical selection to the sport’s great Hall of greats, Squier still insisted he was most pleased to have witnessed the competition and tell the stories of all the great men and women behind the steering wheel and behind pit wall.
“I guess what’s most impressive, is the competition,’’ Squier said last week when asked what memory stands out the most of his NASCAR broadcasting career.
“What you have today, that is the fruit of it. It’s pretty good tasting.”