There are a number of people in our world who have – or have had – great voices. Voices that match the sport or newscast they are associated with.
For 10 years, beginning in 1965, the original voice of NFL Films was a guy named John Facenda, dubbed by many the “voice of God.” Apart from him, only Walter (“And that’s how it is”) Cronkite had a voice that could announce the assassination of a president.
There are other great voices. Tom (“It’s a new record”) Carnegie in Indianapolis, Foster (“He shoots, he scores”) Hewitt in the Gardens, Peter (“It’s not news. But it’s also the reality”) Trueman behind the desk anchor at Global News, and so on.
There is also the voice of motor racing radio in this country. His name is Erik Tomas and he is the producer, editor, interviewer and host of the Raceline Radio Network. The show is heard weekly on 11 stations coast to coast and celebrates its 30th anniversary.
Thirty years on the air with niche programming is something else entirely, if you ask me.
Let me tell you about the man first, and then we’ll get to the program. (Believe it or not, the late Jim Martyn and I stood in for Tomas for nearly two years, but that’s part two of this story.)
Radio is in Tomas’ blood. He studied radio and television arts at Niagara College – he took a year off to hit the road with a band, play bass and sing, which he still does for fun – before settling down to do news and sports in the resorts of St. Catharines and Niagara Falls.
A side trip to work at radio stations in Calgary led to his interest in play-by-play hockey, which he picked up when he returned to work at CJRN in Falls.
Two families, the Friesens and the Uhls, jointly owned the Merrittville and Ransomville freeways, and because Tomas fell in love with the sport when his father took him to Merrittville at age seven, he asked to try. as an advertiser.
“Jack Gatecliff (a St. Catharines Standard columnist) and Gordie Wilson were the announcers, but the owners were still looking for a young guy to announce, so I got the job,” Tomas said. “Luckily, I met my wife there. She started selling hot dogs, then popcorn and eventually made her way to the stand as a scorer, where we met. In the meantime, the late Bob Slack had Bruce Mehlenbacher to run his Cayuga Speedway, and he hired me for special shows.
“Once Dale Earnhardt was racing an IROC race at Michigan International Speedway and Bob and Bruce took him to the infield at Cayuga. As you can imagine the place was packed. I did an interview with Dale, Randy Slack had a car for him (it didn’t finish) then after his race they drove him back to Michigan Bobby and Donny Allision and Sterling Marlin were other NASCAR stars that Bob Slack brought to one time or another.
“They would take them to the Port Dover hotel for a big pitcher of cold beer and their famous perch and chips dinner. Bobby and Donnie Allison were just regular people in Hueytown, Alabama, and they loved to sit down and have tea and toast and get to know the locals. Bob and Bruce were great promoters.
It was Mehlenbacher, the late John Massingberd and Tomas who came up with the idea for Raceline Motorsport Television, which focused on track car and model car racing, as well as track and tractor pulls. This branched out into coverage of CASCAR (the forerunner of NASCAR Canada) and Tom Curley and the US-Canada Tour. TSN picked it up and turned into Raceline Radio.
“We went on air in mid-May 1992,” Tomas said. “Our first guests were Ken Squier, the genius of racing television, and Scott Goodyear, who a week later nearly won the Indianapolis 500. In fact, it was the closest finish yet. of the history of this race.”
Since that first show, Tomas said there has been one constant: sponsors. “Subaru has been with us since day one. Also include General Tire, as well as Fast Eddie Raceware and Choko snowmobile suits. Without those sponsors, especially Subaru, I couldn’t have done this.
When Tomas moved to CJCL (now Sportsnet 590, the Fan) in Toronto in the early 1990s, he noticed that the station kept files of every story it covered. A light bulb went on in Tomas’ head and he kept a similar library. “I interviewed hundreds of drivers and team leaders and kept the records for my files. They are useful during the winter,” he said.
“The Molson Indy was in full swing in 1991 and I told (program director Allan Davis) I wanted to do a racing show. He was immediately receptive. We got the green light, and then being on the air for 30 years with niche programming was almost unheard of,” Tomas said.
“As Allan Davis said, ‘It’s a radio show first and it better be entertaining, whatever the content. It can be a cooking show, a a carpentry show or a car racing show. If it’s not entertaining, it won’t fly.”
By the way, remember when I said that Jim Martyn and I replaced Tomas? For almost two years? Again.