• McClelland took an unlikely route to his place in drag racing history.
  • Among his many honors was the induction 2016 Motorsports Hall of Fame of America.
  • The NHRA has been its home for more than half of its 71-year history.

    Former SEMA President and CEO Chris Kersting said, “Once in a while we partake in the magic that happens when exactly the right person plays a particular role.”

    He was referring to Dave McClelland, the legendary velvet-voiced NHRA broadcaster for three decades, who died Sunday of natural causes at age 85.

    Kersting was right. It’s not just McClelland’s smooth voice and classic delivery that have made the often honored announcer an integral part of the NHRA’s 70-plus-year drag racing history. It was his commitment to his craft, his genuine love for people in the sport as much as his fast and fast racing cars, and his approachability and enthusiasm.

    To borrow a phrase from the late Indianapolis Star motorsports writer George Moore (who said it of USAC plane crash victim Frankie Del Roy), McClelland was unique: “They don’t only built one. And [Sunday] they closed the shop.

    Dave McClelland has spent over 45 years behind the mic on the racetrack.

    Courtesy of NHRA

    Bill Moore, writing in January 2009 for Speed ​​Style Magazine, said: “Dave McClelland has stood out from the herd all these years in a world of blistering speed and spectacular automobiles, hot rods, cruisers and dragsters . He’s a classy guy you’d want to call a friend. . . and over the years he has been friends with a wide range of men and women, including the real players in motoring culture and the sport of speed. And, by being around great men and women, he not only helped lift them, but he lifted himself up through hard work which usually meant working two jobs throughout his working life.

    For this he has been honored on what he would have called a “humiliating” number of occasions. Perhaps at the pinnacle is his 2016 induction into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America. He received the Car Craft Magazine Ollie Award and was named to the Car Craft All-Star Drag Racing team for his lifelong contributions to drag racing. SEMA inducted him into its Hall of Fame, which was fitting because he had hosted the organization’s awards banquet from 1976 to 2015.

    The International Drag Racing Hall of Fame at the Don Garlits Museum presented McClelland with the Founders Award. And in a surprise move in 2009, at a dinner he hosted, the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association named him a Pioneer Award recipient for his lifelong dedication and accomplishments that made a difference in motorsport. The Pioneer is one of AARWBA’s oldest and most prestigious awards, and it was the first time it has been awarded to someone in the media.

    He said he and his wife, Louise, were completely taken aback when “they started talking about an airport runway in Carlisle, Arkansas. I knew I was dead meat! He called it “quite an honor. . . greatly and humbly appreciated.

    That’s how he truly accepted all the accolades, from “greatest announcer of all time” to “unsurpassed” to “none better than the silver-throated McClelland” and “the only voice that will ever be associated with the races. of dragsters”. Every acknowledgment of his contribution to the great show launched by the base has been cherished.

    dave mcclelland nhra announcer

    Courtesy of NHRA

    McClelland’s rise to broadcasting fame began on a much different path. He told Moore, “I was really into music and acting when I was in high school in Liberty, Missouri — so much so that I took private voice lessons before going to college where my intention was to become a football coach. I was going to do a minor in music. I played ball in high school and college, but it didn’t take me long to realize that the coaching really wasn’t what I had hoped for.

    “The school, Central Missouri State College in Warrensburg, offered an experimental course in radio and television production in the first quarter of my sophomore year. Being active in theater and enjoying singing, I thought this should be a breeze! Well, they didn’t have any equipment – just a wire recorder where you could record your voice, a wooden tripod with a cardboard box on top to simulate a camera, and an exercise book. That was it! Even so, I quickly figured out that someone would pay me to sit down and talk – and went home during break and told my parents I wanted to change majors and schools. . . and that’s what led me to Iowa State in Ames for their radio and television production education course.

    It was 1956. He took a job as a studio cameraman at a television station in Little Rock, then moved to radio in Shreveport, Louisiana, and left in 1969 to run Southland Dragway in Houma, Louisiana. . But he had attended his first drag race in 1955, in Kansas City, as a high school student. It was there that he said he was “blown away by what I saw. I had been attending oval track events for several years, but this was something totally unique. You could get closer to the cars, the drivers, the action. How far to be in the grandstand of a midget dirt track – not that oval racing is bad, but drag racing is something I could see myself doing. Nothing spectacular, just the everyday Joe driving his everyday car. But it hooked me.”

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    Since 1959, when he got his start as a race announcer, he would make race calling a second job, after his 9-to-5 day at the radio station. He took the microphone on the racetracks “pretty much wherever I was asked. McClelland said “most were unpaid jobs, maybe expenses. It was above all an opportunity to get involved. Little did I know at the time that I was laying the groundwork for what eventually became a career.

    He formed an automobile club (the Ark-La-Tex Timing Association), ran a racetrack, kept his jobs in radio and television (including everything from meteorologist to program director), and finally with the NHRA in the promotion and public relations department. . In 1973, he was the on-camera host of the NHRA Drag Racing television series. Because the shows – for nearly two decades – were post-produced, I was able to continue in my role as a track announcer. My run for TV shows was about 27 years and the run announcing about 45,” McClelland said.

    His career included jobs as an advertising salesman for Popular Hot Rodding magazine, which led him to design and host “Super Chevy Sunday”. He did commercial work and spots for several Los Angeles radio stations before going freelance in 1985.

    McClelland met NHRA founder Wally Parks in 1961 and had the chance to announce U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis for the first time – and begin a nearly 50-year friendship that lasted until McClelland’s death. Park in 2007. He called this introduction to Parks “one of the great life-changing moments for me and my family. We have now resided in the same house in Glendale, California since 1971, raised three children and We thanked Wally every day and the opportunities he gave us all. It was a relationship, all this time, that I will cherish forever.

    He raced along the way, starting with his old Altered Fiat, just having fun. He has been involved in events from the sublime, like the Concours d’Elegance, to the gritty, even receiving an award for his coverage of President John Kennedy’s assassination figure, Jack Ruby. So Dave McClelland’s attention to professionalism has led him down all sorts of paths. But he’s most remembered for his ability to infuse dragstrip time with excitement and explanation that satisfied both die-hard fan and newcomer to the track.

    McClelland has always insisted that it is difficult to rank pilots over the years to determine who was greater or greater than whom. The same could be said of advertisers. But what is certain is that no one will ever do it with the style, personality and joy of Dave McClelland.

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