Ken Squier, whose commanding voice as a broadcaster spanned generations of NASCAR’s history, died Wednesday. He was 88.
Ken Squier spent a career talking about other folks and rarely spoke about himself.
That‘s our loss.
The world of sports — NASCAR, in particular — is so much richer for his unselfish approach.
Squier, who passed away Wednesday night at the age of 88, likely did as much for the growth of NASCAR as any car owner, crew chief or driver. Yet the Vermont native and lifelong resident of the Granite State never saw it that way.
“I don‘t talk about myself; what the hell is there to say about me?” Squier said before his 2018 induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
“The whole game here is to talk about the people that do the job …”
At that, Squier excelled.
“In the old days, you know, (the) ‘60s and ‘70s, four people would get killed every year and that was the reality of the sport and it wasn‘t nearly as safe as it is now,” Squier said.
“So that was a part of it that needed to be talked about, because it was the kind of people, and that went back to World War II, and they didn’t give a damn. If you said go, they went, gone. That was a whole different thing than any other sport in this country. … This was the one (sport) where the guys put it on the line, and if they failed, they got hurt, and sometimes very badly. But it was worth the gamble. They absolutely, positively wanted to do it.”
Squier‘s fingerprints are all over the sport — from his timeless and unforgettable terminology used to describe the action and its participants to the formation of the Motor Racing Network, which he helped launch and sustain, to the use of in-car cameras, an idea he “borrowed” while on assignment in Australia.
He coined the phrase “The Great American Race” to aptly describe the Daytona 500 and painted a picture of racers as “ordinary people doing extraordinary things” and “common men doing uncommon deeds.”
“He was a big pusher for Cup racing,” seven-time series champion Richard Petty said of Squier. “He understood the racing people, he understood NASCAR and he was really good at it.
“If you‘re an amateur or never heard a race or never knew anything about a race, he could explain it to you in layman‘s terms. He was one of the first ones, if not the first one, they got to (tell) the general public how exciting Cup racing was.”
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“And there‘s a fight between Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison!” Squier practically shouted to a national television audience. “The tempers overflowing …”
Not many words have had any greater impact on NASCAR than those, spoken after the completion of the 1979 Daytona 500.
Richard Petty had just won the race for the sixth time, inheriting the lead after the front-runners — Yarborough and Allison — crashed on the backstretch on the final lap of the race.
The event was the first live, flag-to-flag NASCAR race aired by CBS. It had come at the urging of Squier, among others.
A large portion of the country was snowed in, providing the network with a ready-made audience. And Squier was just the man to help bring the sport to the masses.
NASCAR was growing and while its schedule included races out West, at Riverside and Ontario, California, as well as in Michigan, Texas, Pennsylvania and Delaware, it was still seen as primarily a Southern entity.
Squier knew the series was beginning to attract a wider audience. And he knew CBS could deliver the action to that audience.
“That caught on,” Squier said of the network‘s growing interest. “They saw those crowds that (NASCAR founder and president Bill) France was putting together. And through the ’70s, that Daytona 500 year after year consistently grew more of the drama, more of the adventure.”
Squier was the lead announcer for the Daytona 500 on CBS for 19 consecutive seasons (1979-1997) and worked as the studio host until 2000. He served in a similar capacity for TNN during its coverage of NASCAR as well as with TBS.
“Though he never sat behind the wheel of a stock car, Ken Squier contributed to the growth of NASCAR as much as any competitor,” Jim France, NASCAR Chairman and CEO said in a statement. “Ken was a superb storyteller and his unmistakable voice is the soundtrack to many of NASCAR‘s greatest moments. His calls on TV and radio brought fans closer to the sport, and for that he was a fan favorite. Ken knew no strangers, and he will be missed by all. On behalf of the France family and all of NASCAR, I offer my condolences to the family and friends of Ken Squier.”
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In 2013, officials with NASCAR and the Hall of Fame announced the formation of the Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence, in honor of Squier and longtime Motor Racing Network announcer Barney Hall. The award recognizes significant contributions made to the sport of NASCAR by members of the media.
Squier and Hall were the inaugural recipients of the prestigious award.
Five years later, Squier was once again recognized by his peers in NASCAR with his selection into the Hall of Fame.
It was an honor he said he didn‘t deserve.
“I really believe those awards in the Hall of Fame should be for those who sat in those cars,” he said.
Squier was inducted into the Hall of Fame by Vermont Governor Phil Scott.
“Ken’s first version of his remarks ran about 26 minutes over, and there was not one single mention of himself,” Scott noted. “It was all about everyone else. But I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. He’s been telling us the great American story his whole life, but we never hear his story.”
Squier wouldn‘t have had it any other way.
In addition to his career in radio and television, Squier was also a track promoter and was one of the founding owners of Thunder Road Speedbowl in Barre, Vermont.
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Kenley Dean Squier was born April 10, 1935 in Waterbury, Vermont. His father, Lloyd, owned and operated radio station WDEV in Waterbury and also announced harness racing at local county fairs as well as larger venues. It‘s where the younger Squier got his first taste of motorsports — those larger fairs also often hosted open-wheel races.
“Daring drivers, dancing with death and danger in every corner,” he once recalled. “Why, they‘d take your breath away. I was fully involved.”
Still just a teen, Squier got his first taste of calling races — from the back of a truck in the infield at Morrisville Speedway in Vermont.
“The first race I announced when I was 14; I did it off the back of a logging truck, using a bullhorn,” Squier told the Tampa Bay (Florida) Times in July of 1975. “It ended in a riot involving about 400 people, and the Vermont State Police had to be called out to stop it.”
He also eventually tried his hand at driving, but admitted, “I was a very mediocre driver, at best, and I knew if I was to stay in auto racing, it would have to be as a promoter/announcer.”
A mediocre driver perhaps. But a true Hall of Famer behind the microphone.