Iron Man

by Ed Meyer

posted on January 18, 2009 in General Discussion, News | No Comments >>

For Terry Wallace, it’s 19,089 consecutive races and counting. Or, 34 consecutive seasons and counting. Whichever way you count it, the streak is impressive and apparently unprecedented. Wallace has called every race at Oaklawn Park since 1975 – the same year John Wooden coached his last basketball game at UCLA, Saturday Night Live premiered and Tiger Woods was born.

“I used to think that in a couple of years that I would be able to kind of back off, but then they turned my 401K into a 104K,” Wallace said. “Now, all bets are off.” Economic downturn aside, the best bet is Wallace will be in the announcer’s booth when Oaklawn’s scheduled 54-day live meeting begins today.

After an informal investigation several years ago by David Longinotti, now Oaklawn’s assistant general manager/ racing, it is believed Wallace, 64, has called more races consecutively at the same track than any other announcer in history.

“It’s an amazing streak,” Longinotti said. “It’s huge. It’s a huge testament to the kind of work ethic the guy has.”

Wallace said Longinotti’s prodding was sparked by the work done by legendary voices like Joe Hernandez and Harry Henson in Southern California and Phil Georgeff on the Chicago circuit.

From 1934-1972, Hernandez reportedly called 15,587 consecutive races at Santa Anita in suburban Los Angeles.

Georgeff called a world-record 96,000 races from 1959-1992 but missed some days of work, Wallace said.

“Georgeff was the ultimate resource,” Wallace said. “He said that I might as well claim that record because none of his research indicates anybody has come anywhere close to it.”

Wallace said he believes he’s called about 40,000 races during his career.

He also was track announcer at Ak-Sar-Ben in Omaha, Neb., for 14 years and spent three years in the same capacity at Louisiana Downs in Bossier City, La.

Wallace said he missed two days of work at Ak-Sar-Ben to witness the birth of his children and took off another day at Louisiana Downs.

But Wallace has been an iron man in Hot Springs. On one occasion at least, just barely.

“I had a day within the last 10 years that I was sure I wasn’t going to make it because I was sick,” Wallace said. “That night we had an ice storm, and we didn’t race that next day. I would not have been able to call the races, there was no question about it.”

Wallace said Jeff Taylor, a Perryville native and longtime chart caller at Oaklawn, would replace him in an emergency. Taylor was Wallace’s backup at Louisiana Downs.

“Jeff’s a good caller,” Wallace said.

But for generations of fans, Wallace is the only “Voice of Oaklawn.”

There are no plans to silence it, either.

“As long as my eyes will handle it and my voice will handle it, and as long as Oaklawn will put up with me, I hope to be here,” Wallace said.

Wallace’s streak began when he succeeded Chic Anderson, who left Oaklawn after the 1974 season to become track announcer at Santa Anita.

In the fall of 1974, Wallace was working as a Daily Racing Form call taker at Fair Grounds in New Orleans when he was approached by Oaklawn General Manager W.T. “Bish” Bishop about replacing Anderson. Wallace said he was immediately drawn to the opening, but he also was weighing a promotion to chart caller in Kentucky.

“At that stage of the game, that was the first full-time job that I had in racing,” Wallace said. “The decision was keep a full-time job with benefits or follow the dream to call races.”

Wallace followed the dream.

The rest, of course, is history for the Cal Ripken of track announcers.

“One of the things my father used to preach to me was to show up and be there, even if you’re not at your best,” Wallace said. “That has been my calling card.”