Blake Anderson & Tony Stewart
Blake Anderson (left) and Tony Stewart in 2019. (Frank Smith photo)

SULLIVAN: The Racing Grind

INDIANAPOLIS — I was sitting with Blake Anderson at an Indiana Pacers game talking about his future plans. His world had been turned upside down a bit with the sale of the All Star Circuit of Champions and he had a range of options on the table.

He then made a seemingly offhand remark. It was a far more profound statement than meets the eye.

Turning his eyes away from the court, he said, “I want a dog.”

One of the most intriguing of all offseason developments has centered on, of all things, openings in the traveling announcer ranks. The moment the All Star Circuit of Champions was relegated to history and the High Limit series expanded, the merry-go-round started spinning.

Then, popular Chet Christner announced he would be stepping away from USAC to do other things in his life.

Many assumed Anderson would slide over from his previous role with the All Stars to one of the new openings. It made all the sense in the world. He had held the lead position with USAC in the past and had covered every major winged sprint car event. Then, a funny thing happened on the way to the microphone.

Anderson accepted a position with Kevin Rudeen.

It turns out that filling these openings was a bit more difficult than some might have imagined, and Anderson’s story is instructive.

Blake began his career at Iowa’s Boone Speedway in 2005 when he was 15 years old. He soon added work at places like the Iowa State Fairgrounds, Marshalltown and Stuart Speedways. By 2009, he was on the public address at Knoxville Raceway.

His journey included a stop at USAC, an internship at a Des Moines television station and a position in marketing with the World Racing Group. Finally, in 2015 he joined the All Stars.

His life is already different. In a recent conversation he said it was “nice having a 50-minute drive home at night rather than an eight-hour drive on Sunday.”

His decision to take his life in a different direction was hastened by the sale of the All Stars.

“I was getting to the point that I was ready to do something else,” he said. “I thought 2024 was going to be my last year even if Tony (Stewart) didn’t sell the series. When that all went down, I thought the handwriting was on the wall.”

Anderson is a gregarious man. He calls himself a people person and via social media he invited people to stop him at the race track. “The best part was the people,” he noted, “and I enjoyed hearing stories from the fans and my relationship with the racers.” 

Yet, here is the deal. Being a series announcer is not for everyone.

Years ago, I worked with the late Brian Olson who had toiled as a traveling drag racing announcer.

In one of our conversations he said, “You know how it is. When you are at the track, you are one of the most popular guys in the world and when you are driving out of the track that night you are the loneliest guy in town.”

When Anderson reflects on his time with the All Stars he says, “People think we show up at four or five in the afternoon, do the draw, go to the tower, announce the race and leave. The reality is we get to the race track at 1 in the afternoon, finish preparing, set up and then we call the race.

“After that you drive a couple of hours, maybe get a burger at a truck stop and get to the hotel at 1 or 2 in the morning. Then, you still have an hour or two of work to do before going to bed. Maybe you get six or seven hours of sleep and then you drive two hours to the next race track. We do it because we love it, but it is a grind. It wears on you. There isn’t a lot of ‘you’ time.”

Before we go one step farther let’s get one thing out of the way.

Being an announcer is one of the best jobs one can do at the track. Watching the race is a key component and it also offers protection from the elements. There is also the other side of the role. In today’s world, announcers are under the microscope.

“I developed a thick skin when I was at Knoxville and in the last six or seven years, I got even thicker skin,” Anderson said. “If you do this, you have to realize really quickly that not everyone is going to like you. They don’t like your voice, or how you do things. If you don’t understand that you can’t please everyone you’re going to get chewed up and spit out fast.

“I wish people would be careful with their words,” he continued. “They don’t have someone sitting next to them on Monday at 9 a.m. telling them how bad they are at their job and how much they hate them. People aren’t lining up to take this job to take a bashing just because they messed up a statistic or a hometown. The funny thing is that most people who do that hide behind a fake screen name.”

Anderson learned, like all survivors in this role, to pay little attention to noise. In fact, two other factors probably entered into his decision to walk away far more than his rank in a popularity contest. First was his health. Anderson suffers from Addison’s Disease.

“I need to be on a schedule,” he explained. “I have to take pills at a certain time and my recovery is a little bit slower because my immune system isn’t as strong particularly as I get older.”

No matter one’s physical condition, the road can be a killer.

There is also the matter of his age and the future. Anderson is 34 years old. Sharing a time worn observation he said, “I feel like it took longer for me to go from 18 years old to 21 than it did to go from 21 to 30. Time speeds up.” 

Here’s the important part of the story.

“Tony took good care of me,” Anderson said. “But I can build on a career with Kevin Rudeen. There are goals I can reach and places I can go. With announcing I was banging my head on the proverbial glass ceiling a little bit. The glass ceiling in the job I am in now is a bit higher and the room for growth is there.

“I feel I can set myself up for the rest of my life. My dad would tell me at some point you have to set yourself up for your future. You must start taking care of yourself and not just doing things because you love it.”

Anderson still feels he can make a positive impact on racing and he is rightfully proud of what he has done.

“I can honestly say there is not a race out there that I wanted to do that I didn’t get to do,” he said. “I got to announce the Supernationals at Boone and that was my goal as a kid. I moved to sprint cars and I got to do the Knoxville Nationals and Kings Royal. I also got to do the World 100. All of those races were on my bucket list.

“I can look back and say I accomplished more than I ever could have imagined as a 15-year-old kid who was announcing dwarf and four-cylinder cars at Boone Speedway on Saturday night. It was a dream come true.”

He is also no longer a nomad. It means he can fulfill another dream and get a dog.

He desperately wants a Golden Retriever. Young Levi Hillier will be racing a 360 sprint car at Washington’s Skagit Speedway this year and it so happens that his parents are breeders of Anderson’s favorite dog. He needs everything to be in place to be a responsible owner. Yet, the temptation is there.

“I drive by their place on the way to the race track,” he said, “and they have a sign that says Golden Retrievers for sale and it eats me alive every day.”