Ken Squier at Darlington
For the third year in a row, Ken Squier was in the broadcast booth at Darlington as part of their throwback weekend. Also for the third year in a row, a (hopefully) small but vocal segment of NASCAR fans showed a great deal of ignorance about his place in the sport. As a result, a total lack of respect was given to this legendary broadcaster.
Ken Squier wasn't invited to Darlington by NBC so he could offer his best work as the lead announcer for part of the Southern 500. At 82 years old, those days are long gone for him. He was given a turn at the mic so he could take the audience on a trip. For older NASCAR fans, that trip was back to the days when we'd rush home from church or an early Sunday dinner so we could watch a race from Michigan, Talladega or Pocono on CBS. Ken Squier was the man bringing that race to us. The soft rise and fall of his voice as it followed the ebb and flow of a race was as much a part of our Sundays as family, church, friend chicken and an afternoon nap. His delivery in those days was authoritative and comforting. We looked forward to his voice filling our living rooms in the same way we looked forward to our favorite uncle coming to visit. For a few laps last Sunday night, those memories were triggered and relived as we listened to Squier call a race once again.
For more recent fans, those smart enough to appreciate what they were hearing were also taken on a trip. Squier showed them how at one time, the TV broadcast of a race had nothing to do with catch phrases or corny jokes. He showed a generation of fans what they missed out on by not being around when the lead announcer knew when there was a time to stay silent as well as a time to talk about what they were seeing on their screens.
But there was a third group of fans who watched the Southern 500 and listened to Squier. Those were the folks who took to social media to wonder why Ken Squier was allowed in the booth. They mocked the fact he called Erik Jones "the Jones boy" and referred to Daniel Suarez as "the Mexican." Neither comment was meant as an insult of course, but that didn't stop the attention seekers who were too foolish to understand the glimpse of the past they had been given. Instead of respecting who the man is, was and what he's done for the sport, they wanted to question why he was even allowed to talk on-air.
Frankly, Squier could've referred to Austin Dillon as Dale Earnhardt and called Aric Almirola Richard Petty; it wouldn't have mattered. The point of his being there was a continuation of weekend's theme. It was to honor NASCAR's rich history. It was an opportunity to recall the memories that are made from years of being a fan and for countless thousands, Ken Squier was a big part of those memories.
When the end of the '79 Daytona 500 is replayed, we remember watching that race and being thrilled we could actually watch a NASCAR race from start to finish. Most of us can probably recall where we were and who we were watching it with. We can remember all those Talladega races he called with David Hobbs, how much we looked forward to them and in hindsight, how much we looked forward to hearing Ken Squier describe those races for us.
The problem with the unwarranted criticism Sunday isn't limited to just NASCAR fans. Unfortunately, it's symptomatic of society in general. Folks have been led to believe that the best, the greatest, the only thing that matters is what's taking place right here, right now. As a result, past greatness in any endeavor is often ignored or disrespected. Those who criticized Squier's delivery last Sunday probably have no idea he's the one who sold CBS on the idea that broadcasting stock car races in their entirety was a smart business decision yet, there they were, watching a live race broadcast as they frequently do, not knowing he's the one to thank for that. While they enjoy the shots from in-car cameras, who knows how many of the naysayers even know Ken Squier is the one who invented that concept? How many of those self-appointed broadcasting experts are aware that he helped found the Motor Racing Network?
The man is a NASCAR Hall of Famer for a reason. His contributions to the sport and expanding the reach of the sport are innumerable. He's no longer a professional TV broadcaster and no one is pretending he is. He was a big part of a lot of fans' lives for many years. For that reason, out of an entire season of coverage, let us enjoy the few laps he's behind the mic at Darlington. Let us enjoy that connection to our past. For him and his place in the sport's history and growth, let him enjoy that time when he can once again be celebrated and honored.
It's possible some of the negativity and downright meanness comes from the fact that a generation of fans realizes that in future years, their fondest memory being brought to life at Darlington will be, "Boogity, boogity, boogity." That would make anyone negative.