MRN Announcer Spotlight: Kurt Becker
By: Jeff Wackerlin - @JWackerlin Twitter and Instagram | MRN.com on June 11, 2014 | 9:30 A.M. EST
Kurt calls a race from the booth at Iowa Speedway. (Photo: MRN)
Get to know Kurt Becker - Booth and Turn Announcer - in this week's edition of MRN Announcer Spotlight. He resides in Altamont, Ill., and can be heard not only on MRN broadcasts but also on the Horse Racing Radio Network and at Keeneland Race Course, where he is a track commentator.
Q: When did you first become interested in broadcasting?
Becker: When I was growing up in central Illinois, my father announced county fair and state fair horse races, and demolition derbies. From the time I was five years old, I would go with him and pay attention. Then, when I was 16, I became aware of Motor Racing Network and started writing letters to John McMullen, who was executive producer at the time. He was kind enough to give me a chance to audition in 1994 and here we are.
Q: When was your first broadcast with the Motor Racing Network and what do you remember about that day?
Becker: It was Labor Day Weekend of 1994 at Darlington Raceway for the NASCAR Busch (now Nationwide) Series. Mark Martin won the race in the Winn Dixie car. The other thing that sticks in my mind is that there was a rain delay. I’m already nervous because it was the first time I ever did a broadcast with MRN and then on top of that, with the rain delay, there was an extra two or three hours to pace the infield worrying about all the things that could go wrong.
Q: Which race is the most memorable that you have called so far in your career?
Becker: This is a tough one. I get this question a lot whether it’s working with Motor Racing Network or the horse racing side of things. Probably the most memorable are the ones that I've done most recently. But the ones that mean the most to me, being a guy that grew up in Illinois, are anytime to be able to work the Midwest venues like Chicagoland Speedway. There have been days where I have left Chicagoland at the end of a broadcast, driving back to my home downstate and along the way, I go by a lot of towns where I got my start doing county fair events. I always say to myself, "I’m very blessed and fortunate to be able to do what I have wanted to do since I was a kid."
Q: How many Kentucky Derbies have you called?
Becker: I had a chance to be the track announcer at Churchill Downs in the late 1990s and I was the track caller for two editions of the Kentucky Derby, won by Silver Charm and Real Quiet. Since then, I've gone back to Churchill and served as an analyst for the Horse Racing Radio Network's coverage of the Kentucky Derby. It’s a magnificent event and one of things I enjoy about it is spending that week at Churchill Downs. I find out how many folks in horse racing are fans of NASCAR.
Q: What was the biggest adjustment coming from calling horse racing to auto racing?
Becker: I was used to serving more as a public address announcer, where you keep the crowd informed on horses that have been scratched or jockey changes. For the race itself, you’ve got probably 50-90 seconds to call the race and then 20-25 minutes until the next race. Coming to MRN, I had to learn how to develop play-by-play skills over the course of a two- to three-hour broadcast. But at the end of the day, it’s all horsepower.
Q: What are some of your early memories of NASCAR and who was your favorite driver growing up?
Becker: When I was a kid, Richard Petty was my favorite driver. There was something about him - not just the fact that he won a lot. I liked his persona. I liked the way he represented the sport. I like his smile, his diplomacy when he would be interviewed and as a kid, I thought that was a cool guy. My introduction to NASCAR came through a distant relative, who taught automotive science at Lakeland Junior College in Mattoon, Ill. His name was Alvin Siebert. He was a bachelor for a very long time and he didn’t marry until later in life. He would come to my mom and dad’s house for Sunday dinner after church. One day, he asked us to turn on the television and check the Daytona 500. It was 1978 and that was my first experience watching a NASCAR race. Something about it clicked with me as a kid and I never got over it.
Q: What are some of the things you like to do in your free time when you're not calling a race?
Becker: Photography. I also enjoy collecting antique political memorabilia and antique glassware. For a hobby, what I will do - particularly in the summer months when my schedule allows - is go to county and state fairs in the Midwest. Most of them have a photo contest and also an antique contest, so that's become my thing. I enjoy the competition and I get to meet a whole new set of people. Frankly, the antique contest is usually elderly people and primarily elderly women, and I found it’s fun. I get a kick out of meeting them. The thing that they always tease me about is most of their things are family heirlooms that date back to the late 1800s and mine are things I bought off eBay within the last month.
Q: What is your most prized item for both political memorabilia and glassware?
Becker: The most prized antique on the political memorabilia side ... a family friend many years ago grew up in Boston and gave me a collection of campaign buttons from when John Fitzgerald, the grandfather of John F. Kennedy, ran for mayor of Boston. As far as glassware goes, I have an 1885 uranium glass compote, which won best of show one year at the Illinois State Fair.
Q: What is your favorite restaurant to visit on the NASCAR circuit?
Becker: Babe’s, in the greater Dallas-Fort Worth area. I love the home-style meals and the generous family-style portions they bring out with the fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans and corn. It makes me think of meals I grew up eating at family get-togethers in the Midwest.
Be sure to check back every Wednesday for the latest MRN Announcer Spotlight.
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