MRN Announcer Spotlight: Mike Bagley
By: Jeff Wackerlin - @JWackerlin Twitter and Instagram | MRN.com on May 28, 2014 | 1:30 P.M. EST
Bagley calls a race at Chicagoland Speedway from his turn position high atop a billboard. (Photo: Jeff Wackerlin)
Get to know Mike Bagley – Turn/Booth Announcer - in the first edition of MRN Announcer Spotlight as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to his "home track," Dover International Speedway.
Q: When did you first become interested in broadcasting?
Mike Bagley: I grew up listening to MRN back in the '70s on a local radio station in Milford, Delaware. I became fascinated with the race play-by-play call, so much so that I used to have a box of Matchbox cars. We had a shag rug in the den and every Sunday I'd plug the radio in, set it on the floor and mat down the rug in the shape of whatever track they were racing at. I would move my Matchbox cars around that makeshift track listening to Barney Hall, Eli Gold, Mike Joy, Jerry Punch, and Ned Jarrett; and became fascinated with NASCAR. At the same time, I also became fascinated with radio. I used to hang out at a local station and watch the DJ behind the booth.
Q: After you discovered your fascination with radio, how did you get involved with the Motor Racing Network?
Bagley: As I grew up, I eventually sent a letter to then-General Manager John McMullen asking if there was anything I could do to help - this was when I was about 15 or 16. He said, "Yeah, you can come to Dover. I started running boxes of cables and getting stuff for people to drink. That evolved into public address work and then, I got a call one day to work the Fay's 150 at Watkins Glen in 1992. I worked the '90' (Turn 1) that day and I thought that was an awful performance. But obviously, the powers that be heard something they liked and the rest is history. Here I am almost 23 years later to the day.
Q: What do you remember about your first broadcast with MRN?
Bagley: It was very intimidating because we had Eli Gold and Allen Bestwick in the booth. Joe Moore was in the esses. Rick Benjamin and Fred Armstrong were also in the turns. Jim Phillips and Winston Kelley were on pit road and here I am with these broadcasting legends. At that time, to me they were larger than life. Eli does the wind up and the throw to me down in the ‘90’ (Turn 1) for scene sets, and my knees were shaking so hard I almost passed out. I got so backed into a corner on my scene set that eventually, I was so befuddled that I ended it with, "Well, it happened ... things turn into a big mess down here in Turn 1." Later in the broadcast, I settled down. David Donohue spun in front of me and I keyed up, "Trouble in Turn 1. David Donohue goes around ..." and all this stuff - except I didn’t refer to him as David Donohue. I referred to him as Phil Donahue and in the ensuing commercial break, Eli keyed up and said, "Hey Winston ... hated to hear that Phil Donahue had a problem in Turn 1. Let's see if we can slide into Oprah’s pit and see if we can get an update from her."
Q: Who were some of your broadcasting role models growing up?
Bagley: I did a lot of listening to Barney (Hall). He was one of them. Eli (Gold) was one of them ... Keith Jackson ... Bob Costas. Instead of focusing on a sporting event, I would listen to the play-by-play guy. I didn’t necessarily want to imitate them but to pick up some tips and mimic them; listening to their broadcasting style and the way they delivered a broadcast. The way they delivered the race, I became so fascinated with the way they would eloquently describe things. Going back into that era, I learned so much from the guys on our network - Mike (Joy) and Barney and, of course, the outside guys like Costas and Keith Jackson.
Q: What was the best advice you received in terms of calling a live event?
Bagley: Slow down. There are times where we talk very fast on the air but early on, I would just talk, talk, talk. Barney took me out back behind the trailer one day and said, "Son, you are going to have a future in this business if you slow down." That’s the most important bit of information I got. Later on, I started doing other things for the network (besides) the turns. I got called to do the booth for the NASCAR Craftsman (now Camping World) Truck Series back in 1997. I also learned how important it is to prepare. Allen (Bestwick) shared with me that it’s important to have something on everybody in the field because you never know when you're going to have to key up and talk about somebody, whether it’s a hard crash where something happened or when you have that surprise young driver that's putting in a good performance. Always be prepared. Take the time to research, talk to people and learn about the competitors in the sport; and share those stories with the listening audience.
Q: Which race has been the most memorable for you to call so far in your career?
Bagley: Dale Earnhardt winning the 1998 Daytona 500. At that time in the sport, everybody was wondering when is Dale Earnhardt going to finally win the race. We were getting down to the end of that "500." It was a chilly, cloudy afternoon and Earnhardt was out in front. Lap traffic was a factor and all of the sudden, there was a spin off of Turn 2. I was on the backstretch and remember thinking, "Oh my gosh, the caution is coming out and if Earnhardt can make it back to the line, he’s going to finally do this." It’s pretty cool to remember back to a day when one of the most popular and famous figures in the sport won our sport's biggest race. It was an honor to be a part of that broadcast that day.
Q: What are some of your early memories of NASCAR growing up and who were some of your favorite drivers?
Bagley: I have been going to races at Dover since I was five years old. That was the first exposure I got to NASCAR in person. Back then, we didn’t have the sport on TV every week. We had it on radio and I think that’s what led me down the radio path because it was something I could follow week in and week out. I remember as a Christmas present, I got tickets to Richmond. The family and I loaded up the car and went to Richmond. That was our first non-Dover race weekend. Eventually, I got to go to other tracks and thought it was pretty cool. All I had known was Dover. I was a Richard Petty fan and a Bobby Allison fan. I admired Cale Yarborough and Darrell Waltrip but landed on "The King" and Allison as my favorite drivers. I got to meet them at an early age. I thought it was pretty cool to see the guys I hear on the radio, and they were so nice and so accommodating. I was like, "These guys are real people." It was those days of listening to the races on the radio that shaped my love for the sport, a love I still have to this day.
Q: Outside of racing and working for MRN, what are some of the things you like to do?
Bagley: I love to travel. I love sports. I watch sports to this day for the play-by-play guys. I watch NHL hockey. Doc Emrick is a legendary play-by-play voice I recently got to know. I'll keep tabs on that. I love to fire the grill up and cook. Racing takes a lot of my time. I do a lot of research, a lot of reading, listening on radio and going to websites for research. That takes up about 80 percent of my time but when I'm not at the racetrack or not on the air, I like to relax and spend time with the family at home.
Q: Since we have a program at MRN.com called “Fast Food,” I have to ask ... what are some of your favorite restaurants to visit on the NASCAR circuit?
Bagley: Portillos in Chicago, which MRN's Pete Pistone has turned me on to. The Italian beef is absolutely delicious. Outside of Dallas-Fort Worth on the way to Texas Motor Speedway is a restaurant called Babe’s. They have the best fried chicken, creamed corn, mashed potatoes and biscuits on the planet. It’s absolutely unreal how good that food is. Now that's just a short list. Each city has its own unique items we seek out. But I can’t exclude Delaware - where you can never go wrong with Sambo's Tavern and some of that delicious seafood.
Photos: 1 MRN, 2-4 Jeff Wackerlin