Berggren Announces Last Race with FOX
By: MRN Staff on May 25, 2012 | 11:20 A.M. EST
Dick Berggren made his NASCAR broadcasting debut at Dover in 1981. (Photo: Getty Images)
Next week’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Dover International Speedway marks the end of an era for NASCAR’s longest-serving TV pit reporter, Dick Berggren, who celebrates his 70th birthday during Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
After 12 years on NASCAR on FOX, Berggren will give his final pit report for the network at Dover in the same informative and passionate manner he has since first established himself in the role 31 years ago. Ironically, Berggren made his NASCAR broadcasting debut at Dover in 1981 alongside Mike Joy, his NASCAR on FOX and SPEED colleague, the only NASCAR broadcaster on-air longer than Berggren.
But don’t for a second think Berggren is running away from NASCAR TV. How could he? It’s in his blood.
Without a doubt, the true racer at heart still can be found at the track on a weekly basis -- just perhaps at smaller and less grandiose ones than the Cup venues at which he has spent the past three-plus decades.
“After the FOX portion of the year ends, I’ve always traveled to local tracks where I still enjoy sitting in the stands with a hot dog in one hand and a beer in the other, watching the local heroes,” Berggren said. “I can’t get enough of local-level racing so I’ll do more of that now.”
The Speedway Illustrated founder says that, in addition to contributing stories and columns to the publication, he very well may continue to pop up on pit road at NASCAR races periodically. But he also has set in motion lofty goals and projects to which he can dedicate his newfound extra time.
The Massachusetts resident has founded a corporation with the intent of building an auto racing museum at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. He already has acquired an agreement with the speedway, tax-exempt status from the IRS and the support of a powerful Board of Directors.
“There is no museum of Northeast auto racing open to the public in general and which displays the area’s racing history,” Berggren said. “The Northeast has a rich racing history that deserves to be saved and displayed. We’re fund raising and accumulating things to display. Getting the museum up and running is a big job and it’ll take a lot of my time.”The man who earned a PhD in psychology and went on to become a college professor wasn’t always so conscientious and adept at time management. In fact, he nearly didn’t graduate from high school because he chased his dream of driving a race car a little too far.
“I couldn’t have cared less about school, especially with a couple of garages on my way home to stop at,” Berggren recalled. “I didn’t do homework, didn’t study and didn’t pay attention in class. Only around 20 of 616 students in my graduating class had a lower grade point average than I. All I wanted to do was to be involved in racing.”
After graduation, Berggren quickly realized even two jobs didn’t pay enough to fund his racing career, and decided a college diploma was his only ticket.
“But I couldn’t get into the colleges I applied to -- not with my grades,” he admitted. “I finally found a new one that would take anyone who could pay the tuition. My parents paid the bill and I was on my way. With the motivation to do well so I could race, I paid attention, did my homework and focused on my education. I earned terrific grades in college -- good enough to get into Tufts University’s graduate school on a full scholarship, where I earned an MS and then a PhD in psychology. And then I got a job that paid well enough that I could afford to race.”
Following graduate school, Berggren accepted a position teaching at an all-women’s Catholic college in Boston. Yet once again, his love of racing got in the way. Following a weekend at the track, the professor drove to work his mud-covered truck with the sprint car still on the back.
“I parked the rig, which had my name on it, in the faculty parking lot,” Berggren related. “It was there about 10 minutes when I was paged to the president’s office. Sister wanted to know what that ‘thing’ was in the parking lot. She explained to me it had to be off college property immediately. Well, I wasn’t about to park my race car on a Boston street. So, I disobeyed the college president and left the rig in the faculty lot all day. I knew my teaching job was over.”
The college’s loss was the journalistic world’s gain, though, as he took a job editing Stock Car Racing, and soon thereafter began work as a track announcer at local speedways, a position that eventually led to TV.
Amidst this all, the only thing that ultimately ended Berggren’s driving career was Berggren himself. Always a man of his word, Berggren’s racing days came to a screeching halt during a wreck in the IMCA Nationals in Boone, Iowa, in which he initially feared he’d killed hundreds of spectators, and issued a desperate plea to God.
“In one of my heats, I got turned at the end of the backstretch -- the highest-speed part of the track,” Berggren explained. “So many people were in the pits, they had overflowed to an area that wasn’t separated from the racing surface by anything other than a dirt bank. When I got turned, that’s where the car headed. I tried to head hard left, kept my leg in it hoping the car would straighten out and go back down the track. It didn’t.
“I hit that dirt bank and saw hundreds of people scatter as I headed for them,” he continued. “I’m not a religious person, but in the car that night, I said a prayer as the car hit the dirt bank. ‘God, if you get me through this without hurting anyone, I won’t do this anymore.’ I closed my eyes, hit the bank, flew through the air and crashed into the pits. As soon as the car stopped, a guy stuck his head in the window and asked if I was OK. With my eyes still closed, I asked how many people were under the car. ‘You didn’t hit anyone,’ he said. I climbed out and that was it. You don’t go back on a promise like that. It’s hard because I’ve been offered rides in cars I dearly would like to race. But I won’t.”
All said, Berggren’s 20-year racing career spanned stock cars, sprint cars and supermodifieds, including many feature wins, the majority in dirt track sprint cars. He was elected to the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 2002, among other Halls. Berggren also has earned numerous journalistic awards, including the 1999 Cunningham Writer of the Year from the National Motorsports Press Association.
But he always will be remembered most for the indelible mark he made outside the racecar.
“As a colleague and friend, Dick has had no equal in the 40-plus years I’ve been in this business,” Joy said. “He always has been the best-researched reporter on the ground. Whatever the event, Dick by far is the best-prepared pit reporter this business has ever known, and he always has brought a great degree of professionalism to every telecast he has worked.”
So, not surprisingly, answering his pit producer’s summons to key his mic one last time to deliver his pit road report at Dover won’t be easy for Berggren. Anyone who knows the man in the trademark cap knows how bittersweet that moment will be.
“Life will be different without FOX,” Berggren expressed. “I’m very proud of having been part of the NASCAR on FOX broadcasts from the beginning. I’m dreading the 2013 Daytona 500 because I won’t be there on pit road as part of that team. That will be hard, but nothing is forever and I understand that. I’m looking forward to walking into the museum on the day it opens. That’s a whole new challenge and one I fully expect to conquer. But it’s time to move on. I’m ready. However, it would be nice to pick up a few TV things here and there. I’d really like that.”