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Longtime TV announcer Berggren, 70, to go silent

- jutter@charlotteobserver.com
Friday, Jun. 01, 2012

For an 8-year-old boy, it was love at first sight.

That’s how Dick Berggren describes the way he first became enamored by stock-car racing.

“I saw a billboard advertising stock car races at a nearby track and persuaded my father to take me. The instant I walked in, I fell in love,” Berggren said.

“It was love at first sight that became an enduring love.”

Sunday’s FedEx 400 at Dover, Del., will be Berggren’s last as a pit reporter for Fox Sports. He is retiring.

Ironically enough, it was at Dover during 1981 when Berggren debuted as a color analyst for ESPN. He has been a fixture on NASCAR telecasts since.

Berggren, 70, also has served as editor and executive editor of Stock Car Racing from 1977 to ’99 and founded and served as executive editor of Speedway Illustrated since 2000.

Berggren recently spoke about his career.

Q: How has NASCAR most changed in the years you have covered it?

I’ve covered racing on TV for 32 years. I wrote about and photographed the sport beginning in the mid-1960s, nearly 50 years ago. In the early days, I was terrified of going to some tracks – Talladega (Ala.), Daytona, Oswego (N.Y.) and Syracuse, N.Y. – places that were incredibly dangerous. I saw too many people die in race cars. Some I knew well and liked died right in front of me.

Today, I go to the races and the fear of someone I care about being hurt is absent. This sport is safer than football, hockey and baseball where athletes sometimes wind up in the hospital. Our drivers don’t get hurt anymore and I’m glad for that.

Q: How has TV coverage of pit road changed in your career?

In the beginning, at places like North Wilkesboro, my microphone was hard wired. I pulled the cable up and down pit road as I went. The equipment was fragile and failed often. In the early 1980s I was often the only pit road announcer. I had no scanner to listen in on driver-crew chief conversations. There were no PR people to provide information about the drivers. There were no statistics packages. I kept my own statistics.

Now, we get hundreds of pages of information for every race from NASCAR and team PR people. Our equipment is wireless and it works flawlessly. Four of us cover pit road. We all have our own rental cars and stay in nice clean, safe hotels, all of which have heat.

Q: Who is your hero or mentor?

I’ve had many race car driving heroes. Art ‘Rock and Roll’ Rousseau captured my attention when I was 8 years old and remained a hero until the day he died deep in his 80s. He was so charismatic, such a good driver and so kind to a little kid who worshiped him.

There are so many others: (Ken) Schrader, Richard Petty, Bentley Warren, Jim Shampine, Richie Evans, Jeff Gordon, Steve Kinser, David Pearson, Ted Christopher, A.J. Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Tony Stewart, Geoff Bodine. My heroes race (or raced) on tracks big and small, in front of massive audiences and TV cameras or tiny local crowds.

Q: Who has most helped you in your TV career?

My TV heroes are Ken Squier and Mike Joy, both of whom are/were by far the best of their time. Both helped me enormously and I’ll be forever grateful to them. Mike Joy’s understanding of an event and his ability to explain what’s going on so anyone can understand it is admirable. Both Mike and Squier are wonderful storytellers. Today’s announcers should listen to what they say on air because they are the best there ever were.

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