If you’ve visited the Oswego Speedway at any point over the past five decades, you’ve had the unmistakable pleasure of hearing one of the best announcers the sport of auto racing has to offer. By all accounts, Roy Sova is the longest tenured announcer at any weekly track in the country. He’s in the Oswego Speedway Hall of Fame, as well he should be. If there is such a thing as a sports broadcasters’ hall of fame, he ought to be in that too. This weekend, Classic Weekend 2014, Roy will put the masterful finishing touches on his 50th season as Oswego Speedway announcer. And Classic Sunday, he’ll likewise be celebrating his 70th birthday. Most people slow down after five decades of doing the same thing. But like a fine wine, Roy only gets better with age.
You may have noticed that Roy and I have something in common. We share a last name. There’s an excellent reason for that. He’s my dad. It’s because of him that I fell in love with Oswego and supermodified racing. Years ago, he pulled a string or two and got me a job writing weekly columns for the Oswego Eagle. I got to know the teams, cars and drivers, and somewhere along the way, an idea was born. That idea eventually morphed into A Shot at Redemption, my debut thriller novel. Why write a book about a sport relatively few people know anything about? As Stephen King said when asked why he writes horror, “What makes you think I have any choice?” I had a story to tell; it’s as simple as that. But this isn’t about me or my book other than to say that, without Roy, neither would have ever happened. I’m forever grateful for his influence and his inspiration.
In case you’re unfamiliar with New York geography, Oswego, sometimes referred to as the Port City, is considered upstate, and is located along the Lake Ontario shoreline at the mouth of the Oswego River. Roy currently resides in Fulton, which is about fifteen minutes from there. That hasn’t always been the case. Over the past half century, he’s lived all over New York. He also spent several years on Cape Cod, and a solid decade in North Carolina. Despite the length or cost of the commute, he still made it back to the Oswego Speedway every Saturday night. In fifty years, he’s only missed two races and he’s never missed a Classic. The obvious question is why? The equally obvious answer is love. Roy was born in Oswego and has been a fan of the speedway since the 1950’s. He says he doesn’t know if his passion is for the cars, the track or both. He’s long been considered the voice of the Oswego Speedway, and it’s kept him coming back week after week, year after year, and decade after decade.
I’ve `tried and failed to figure out what exactly sets Roy apart from pretty much everyone else who does what he does. Certain things definitely come to mind: dedication, passion, enthusiasm, that love word again. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone more dynamic, except for maybe that dude that yells G–O–A–L!!!!!! at every soccer game. And let’s face it; that gets really, really annoying. Roy’s approach is far more original. He’s truly one of a kind, and it’s worth the price of admission to hear him make his magic. Here are a few vintage highlights, including the incredible finish to one of the most memorable races and race calls in Oswego Speedway history.
Amazingly, Roy is perhaps at his best when the action lags. As difficult as it is to call a good race, imagine how much tougher that becomes when the race isn’t good or there’s no race at all. Thanks to Roy’s unique flare and skill, Oswego Speedway boasts the best rain delays in the business. That may sound silly but it’s true. When the rain begins to fall, most tracks either turn on the radio or observe extended periods of dead silence. Roy tells stories, tells jokes, reminisces, entertains. It’s good stuff. He’ll talk until the rain stops and the track is dry. Then, he’ll go back to calling races, which is really what you were there to hear. He’s a class act, the true voice of the Oswego Speedway, and it seems only fitting he’s made his mark at the only track where supermodifieds still compete on a weekly basis. Somehow, though, for all the praise, I still don’t feel like I’m doing him justice.
Because I’m incapable of verbalizing all the thoughts that are going through my head, I’d like to take a few moments to tell a story of my own. Every word is true, and I’m hoping it will say what I’ve thus far been unable to. Roy’s been calling races at Oswego for fifty years, and he’s announced at forty to fifty other tracks as well. Every racetrack is a little different, yet they all have certain things in common. The grandstands face the action. The concession stands do not. In other words, while you’re in line for your hotdog, you won’t be able to watch the race. You’ll hear the roar of the engines and, at least in this case, the announcer’s call.
Once, and this has got to be thirty years ago now, Roy finished a night of announcing, left the booth and was immediately approached by a fan who said, “Roy Sova you’re a son of a bitch!” That unlikely greeting turned out to be one of the biggest compliments he’s ever received. The fan had been in line for his hot dog. That particular line was long and slow. While he waited, he heard the engines roar as well as the call to what sounded like the greatest race in the history of competition. He was hungry, but also longed to see what he’d been missing. He debated, and was nearly at the front of the line when he finally couldn’t stand it anymore. He rushed back to his seat just in time to catch the tail end of a qualifying event. There were just four cars on the track and none of them were running close together. The race he’d rushed back to watch was an absolute dog and he’d given up his spot in line for nothing. Or had he? True, that particular race wasn’t worth seeing, but that fan stood in line, listening and imagining something incredible. He’d gotten a far better experience than the fans that stayed in the stands and saw the whole thing.
Longtime fans of short track racing will surely recognize Jim Shampine’s name. He was one of the greatest competitors Oswego Speedway and the sport of auto racing have ever known. In addition to being a tremendous builder, innovator and driver, Shampine was an entertainer. Even when his car was dominant, which happened a lot, he’d make a point of giving the fans a good show, holding back and making it look like he was working hard until the very end when he charged to the front. In a way, I think Roy does something similar when he announces, masterfully turning the mundane into the miraculous, creating excitement even when none exists. The day will surely come when Roy decides to hang up his microphone for good. I hope, and I’m sure every race fan hopes that day doesn’t come anytime soon.
This blog post was supposed to be a surprise, a tribute to my dad in honor of his 70th birthday and his incredible announcing career. Then, I received a surprise phone call from George Caruso. The Caruso family built the Oswego Speedway and made it what it is today. It was George who actually hired me to write for the Oswego Eagle years ago. He asked if I would write a piece on my dad to appear in the Classic Yearbook. I couldn’t very well refuse, especially since most of this post was already written. Turns out Roy/Dad told George to call me, and George requested actual quotes from the very person I was supposed to be honoring. So much for my big surprise. Well, Dad, I hope you enjoyed the article, as well as this post. Happy birthday and congratulations on a job extremely well done. You make me proud!
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