Preston Root--More Than Just a Race Fan
by Rich Romer - special to Motorsport.com
DAYTONA BEACH--If you are a race fan, the chances are that you have heard the radio voice of Preston Root. Over the airwaves of Daytona Beach station WNDB, AM 1150, Root has been the voice of the race fans during the Annual Rite of Spring, Daytona Speedweeks, and the events surrounding the July race at Daytona International Speedway--the Pepsi 400. Preston is Motorsports Director and serves on the Board of Directors for Root Communications, a chain of 29 AM and FM radio stations located throughout the southeastern United States in such markets as Brunswick, Georgia and Myrtle Beach and Florence, South Carolina. Ironically, the station which has brought Root the most fame is no longer owned by Root Communications. He does not work as a broadcaster for Root Communications owned stations.
For the past 17 years, Preston Root has greeted visitors to Daytona Beach and local residents from a broadcast booth located high above the Daytona International Speedway in the Winston Tower with his program, "Preston Root's RaceTalk". He also created the morning show "Speedway Today" which is now hosted by Mike Scudiero. Root brings together a diverse group of drivers, observers, race fans, and others to report on events at the Speedway and comment on critical issues surrounding motorsport. Over the years he has interviewed media personalities such as Ned Jarrett and Eli Gold, artist and car paint scheme designer Sam Bass, and race drivers from Dale Earnhardt to old timers such as Tim Flock. For the past ten years, Root has teamed up with ARCA driver Andy Belmont and English race commentator Guy Hobbs, the son of former Formula One driver, and Speedvision commentator, David Hobbs.
Root's broadcasts feature reports from the Daytona garage area; interviews with drivers, crew chiefs and owners; and breaking news. This year, ARCA driver Matt Mullins has joined Root's broadcast team. During the first weekend of February, Root pulled the broadcast version of a college "all nighter" as he and his team reported on the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona Grand American sports car endurance race. In addition, Root has a relationship with an all sports station in Orlando owned by Clear Channel Communications. Root says, "Technology has reached the point where I can take a small broadcast studio with me that fits into a suitcase and costs about $10,000. As I travel to races throughout the country, and the world, I can provide live feeds back to Florida using little more than a standard phone line."
Root's philosophy is to entertain the race fan by being at the track when the fan cannot. "We want to tell the race fan about what is happening, how his favorite driver is doing, and what is happening from a racing business perspective. Phone calls from our listeners are an essential part of each broadcast. We want to know what they think about each race. Their feedback is important to us." For the past several years, Root's broadcast team has had a fan oriented broadcast after each of the Speedweek's races from a restaurant across International Speedway Boulevard from the Speedway. "At least one day during Speedweeks, each member of the broadcast team, takes one day off to just be a fan, tailgate, watch one of the races from the grandstands, and be with his family." The members of the broadcast team are friends as well as co-workers. Last Christmas, Root and his wife traveled to England to spend the holiday with Guy Hobbs.
Racing traditions run deep in Preston Root's family. "I went to my first Indy 500 when I was five years old. My dad sponsored a race car there, the Sumar Special. Growing up in Daytona Beach, my biggest thrills were trips to the Speedway. Whatever else I am in life, I am first and foremost a race fan." In 2000, Root teamed with motorsport safety equipment manufacturer Bill Simpson to enter a car in the Indianapolis 500 for driver Andy Hillenberg. "Andy and I talked about doing this for 10 years. Our original plan was to enter a car in the 1996/97 time frame right after the Indy Racing League split off from CART but it just didn't come together. Andy is a driver who can the job done. He is one of the nicest guys you could ever meet and knows how to hang back when he needs to, but when it is time to go for the throat, get out of Andy's way."
Root describes the thrill of being at Indy as an owner. "It brought me closer to my dad who entered a car at Indianapolis at about the same age. Rick Mears, who has always been one of my racing heroes came over to help coach Andy to save him time in learning the way around the Speedway and the way to go fast. We went there with a year old car and quickly discovered that it wasn't going to be fast enough so we bought a new race car. When Andy qualified for the race on the last day, there were tears in everyone's eyes. We were positioned to have a great race but a $50 part, the left wheel bearing, failed and took us out of the race. We couldn't believe it, it's the right wheels that sustain the majority of the load