Veteran Race Announcer Jim Childers Celebrates 20 Year Anniversary at the Illinois, DuQuoin State Fairgrounds! Macon, IL, July 29, 2003-From his days as a race fan to his early career as a midget car announcer, Metropolis, Illinois resident Jim...
Veteran Race Announcer Jim Childers Celebrates 20 Year Anniversary at the Illinois, DuQuoin State Fairgrounds!
Macon, IL, July 29, 2003-From his days as a race fan to his early career as a midget car announcer, Metropolis, Illinois resident Jim Childers dreamed of one day announcing races at the Illinois and DuQuoin State Fairs. A chance meeting with the fair's director of motor sports led to a stint behind the microphone at Springfield in 1983. Childers' dream jobs have lasted twenty memory filled years, and show no signs of stopping in the immediate future.
A lifelong resident of southern Illinois, Childers began his public address career back in 1980, working at Paducah International Raceway in Paducah, Kentucky announcing late model and street stock events. His talent attracted the attention of the Sherman, Illinois based Midwest Auto Racing Association, known for the sanction of midget car racing throughout the Midwest. He soon became the traveling announcer for their midget shows, calling races at historic facilities such as Tri-City in Granite City, Illinois and the legendary Belle-Clair fairgrounds in Belleville, Illinois.
A chance encounter in the spring of 1983 with, as he puts it, "one of the nicest people ever to grace the sport of auto racing", helped Jim realize a lifelong dream. When MARA visited the Illinois State Fairgrounds in June of 1983 as a support event to the now defunct USAC Stock Car series, Childers approached the Illinois State Fair Director of Motorsports Bill Oldani about the possibility of announcing during the fair. Oldani, known for his kindness and generosity, took a liking to the southern Illinois native and promptly put him on board at Springfield for the 1983 Illinois State Fair.
Thus, Jim started his career at Springfield assisting USAC's Gary Lee (later of ESPN and Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network fame) for the 1983 Tony Bettenhausen Memorial for the USAC Silver Crown dirt cars, and the Allen Crowe Memorial 100 for the USAC Stock Cars. And, he handled the chores for the very first Rex Easton Memorial for the USAC midgets, run in conjunction with the Sunday stock car event.
"I'd attended races at both Springfield and DuQuoin since the mid seventies," says Jim. "Of course, I followed racing long before that and knew very well who legends like A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti and Al Unser were." "At the same time, I'd also been around guys like Chuck Amati, Dean Shirley and Don Jackson, the guys who raced on the small tracks every weekend but didn't get all the national attention." "I'd also raced go-carts for a time, so I knew some of the technical side of the sport," adds Childers.
"After I began announcing, it kind of became a dream of mine to announce at the big tracks of Springfield and DuQuoin, they have quite a history in American auto racing, and both tracks being in my home state helped fuel my desire."
"I had no idea Bill Oldani would say yes when I asked him about announcing in 1983, and I guess I got kind of lucky." "At the time, the Illinois State fair was expanding it's auto racing during the last weekend to the point that it would have been hard for one guy to handle all of the duties, and Gary was looking to do TV work on a network that was just in it's infancy, ESPN." "I must have done a pretty good job that June afternoon, because Bill took my number, called me a few weeks later and I have been there ever since."
Over the next several years, Childers worked side by side with Lee, considered to be one of the premier track announcers in the country. Lee had also worked on local television in his hometown of Indianapolis, and been one of the announcers for the public address system at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Lee knew racing people and the racing business, not to mention the media side of the sport.
"Gary helped me a lot early on in my career, he helped me get to know people and to hone my style," says Childers. "While I learned a lot from Gary, I never tried to copy Gary's style." "I learned a lot from him, and I incorporated that into my own style of calling a race."
Also in 1983, Childers realized his dream of announcing at the state fair closest to home, DuQuoin. He didn't know how long the job would last, though. "I was hired by the Jabr family to work with Gary Lee in 1983, and by that time the condition of the grounds was beginning to deteriorate." "We heard they were looking to sell the property, so I didn't know how long my stint there would last." "The state purchased the DuQuoin State Fair in December of 1985 and thank goodness they did," says Childers. "Had they not bought it, I'm not sure it would be here today." "Once they bought the fair, Bill Oldani became the director of racing at DuQuoin and he kept Gary and I there." "Getting to announce at DuQuoin was very special to me, since it's so close to home," he adds. "I get to do what I love before a lot of family and friends each Labor Day weekend."
Bill Oldani and the jobs at Springfield and DuQuoin opened a whole new world for the employee of Allied Signal (now Honeywell) in Metropolis. "I got to go places and do things I never thought possible," said Jim. "Pretty soon, I was getting calls from a lot of different tracks and sanctioning bodies, wanting me to work for them." "These opportunities eventually led me to do some local TV work, and then to my own racing TV show, Motorsports Racing."
Childers begins his tenth year working for state fair promoter Bob Sargent of Track Enterprises. "I really owe a lot to Bill Oldani and to Bob Sargent as well." "Bill really helped my career get off the ground, and I wondered if I'd get to continue announcing at Springfield and DuQuoin when he passed away in 1993." "Fortunately for me, the state found a great replacement in Bob Sargent and his crew from Track Enterprises." "I miss Bill a great deal, but when Bob came on board it was is if things never missed a beat. Bob is a great guy to work for and the people at Track Enterprises are the some of the best in the business to work with."
Working with Sargent has led to a new partner in the announcing tower at Springfield and DuQuoin. In the early 1990's Gary Lee began cutting back on his work at the two tracks, giving Childers the opportunity to become the number one man on the P.A. Now, Jim's 'broadcast partner" is none other than Larry Limbach, a Decatur native who is the long-time voice of Macon and Farmer City Raceways in Central Illinois. Childers says, "I enjoy working with Larry, he's been around the sport a long time so he knows it fairly well." "By now, we know each other pretty well too, so it makes it that much easier at the track, we kind of know what the other one is going to do and we don't get in each other's way."
Childers has called races involving many of the major sanctioning bodies across America, including NASCAR, USAC, ARCA, the World of Outlaws, UMP, the UDTRA, SCRA, CRA and even the American Indy Car Series. He has worked in the P.A. booth at famous tracks such as Terre Haute, Knoxville, Eldora, "Little" Springfield Speedway, Gateway International Raceway, and the Memphis Motorsports Park. He has been the public address voice for motocross, motorcycles, monster trucks and mini sprints. He even lends his voice to the Relay for Life, and during the winter does basketball games.
"I've seen a number of things over the years, good and bad, behind the microphone," says the veteran announcer. "I've been fortunate enough to watch guys like Ken Schrader, Tony Stewart, Jack Hewitt, Chuck Gurney, Steve Kinser and Dean Roper perform magic behind the wheel of a race car." "I've gotten to know some of the best drivers in the world, and I've been fortunate to be associated with some of the best people behind the scenes." "At the same time, I've seen the other side of the sport, the heartbreak, the sorrow and unfortunately the tragedy as well."
He credits his wife and children for much of his success.
"My wife Paula has been wonderful through it all," says the father of two girls, Trish and Tracy. "She has been patient and understanding, as have my kids because there are times that I've been on the road quite a bit." "Now that the girls are grown and have lives of their own, traveling is a bit easier." "If my family had not believed in me, all this would not be possible."
Jim is looking forward to many more opportunities in the future, he has a good working relationship with Dover Motorsports, the owners of not only the Gateway and Memphis tracks, but Dover Downs and Nashville Superspeedway as well. And, he has a regular Saturday night gig at his home speedway, the "Taj Mahal" of the dirt tracks, Kentucky Lake Motor Speedway.
"I'd really like to do more TV work, I've enjoyed that aspect of my career," says the Illinois native. "But, I also enjoy the track work, and I think I'd like to try work on one of the radio networks, whether that be the Motor Racing Network, the Performance Racing Network, or even the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network." "I think my experience would lend itself very well to being a pit reporter or a turn announcer."
However, Childers makes sure that he always comes back to the place that his career really started, the state fairgrounds in Illinois.
"I really love the fairs and the dirt miles," says Childers. "The racing alone is enough to lure me back, but the historical significance of the tracks, the fair food, the grandstand acts I can see when the races are done, plus the people I've met keep me coming back year after year." "I consider it quite an accomplishment that I've made it twenty years at the fairgrounds, and the good Lord willing, maybe I can make it twenty more."