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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Last Call

Despite being away on vacation, I was certainly remiss in failing to find the time to mention the passing of Jack E. Lee, the soundtrack of my formative years at the track. Lee was the track announcer at Roosevelt Raceway back in the early 70's when I first started to make the trip on the Southern State Parkway, to the Meadowbrook, and on to Roosevelt, The Big Wheel, where his mellifluous baritone resonated throughout the festive grounds, as alive a racetrack as any I've been to since....and, in later years, echoed throughout the sad ruins of the golden age of harness racing in this state.

Track announcers at half-mile tracks can get locked into a formula. The races all unfold in similar fashion, and are run mostly all at the same distance, featuring a leader, the unfortunate first one over, the pocket trip, 4th with perfect cover on the outside, the dreaded third on the rail (especially in the days before the passing lane, ugh). Jack E. Lee avoided slipping into monotony with the sheer power and grace of his voice, and an unfailing accuracy which made the visuals virtually unnecessary.

Jack E. Lee called the races at Freehold in the 90's; and also served as the PA announcer during the early years of the Mets. He was retired when he died last week at the age of 73.

His is one of those distinct voices that I can always replay in my mind. Of course, it also helps that I can now see and hear lots of old races on You Tube. Here are three videos - the first, posted recently, is a great clip featuring Stan Bergstein in the booth while Lee prepares for a race. The second is one I think is appropriate at this time, featuring as it does the win by the champion filly Tarport Hap against the best male pacers in the sport in the 1976 U.S. Pacing Championship. (You happy now? See, I mentioned alluded to her, OK?). And the third is the great Ideal Du Gazeau winning his second straight Roosevelt International.

Thanks for the calls, Jack.







By the way, the race directly above is also one of the races which is pictured in the Big Wheel post linked to above and here. When I wrote that post, just a few short years ago in February 2005, You Tube barely even existed. Amazing, isn't it?


- Another voice from my youth is that of Pete Fornatale, who was my favorite DJ on WNEW-FM, back in the golden age of FM rock radio. As I recall, he was only a weekend and fill-in guy at first. But I was a regular, and I vividly recall his turning me on to Neil Young, this around the time of Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere; including and in particular, his mysterious first solo album, pre-Crazy Horse, with two different covers and two different mixes.

Fortunately, Pete Fornatale is alive and well, and still doing radio. He also has a new book out about Woodstock entitled Back to the Garden, which I expect to love once I get it in return for this plug (lol, just kidding). Whatsmore, you guys up in Saratoga, where the weather outlook is promising if not glorious for the next few days, can meet the author and reminisce about the times when radio really mattered; it was an art form in itself. He'll be at the Borders in town on Wednesday at 7 PM, to discuss, read from, and sign the book. While you're there, you can also discuss Thursday's races with my buddy Peter Thomas Fornatale, the junior Pete Fornatale, an author in his own right, and a sporadically prescient horseplayer and handicapper for the Saratoga Special. Check it out, tell him I said hi.

5 Comments:

SaratogaSpa said...

You left out the best part about Pete. :) He graduated from my alma mater Fordham University (class of '67). While a undergrad he worked at Fordham's WFUV-FM 90.7 building his reputation as a leader in free form FM radio in NY. When I think of NY Radio in its heyday, Pete is at the top of the list!

JOE CACCIOLFI said...

WHO CAN EVER FORGET JACK LEE AND HIS "HAS THE BEST VIEW" OR "TAKING THAT GOOD LONG ISLAND AIR"

MY FAVORITE WAS WHEN THE PACER JACK LEE NAMED FOR HIM WAS FLYING ON THE OUTSIDE AND JACKS CALL WAS "I'M GONNA WIN IT ALL"
CARMINE THE RED MAN AND AT FREEHOLD IT WAS ON THE MOVE FOR JACKIE MO.
IT IS ALL SEATRAIN,HE SKIPS AWAY BY FIVE.
RIP JACK LEE,YOU WERE THE BEST I EVER HEARD,AND I GREW UP AT SARATOGA WHERE GEORGE MILLER RULED WITH HERE COMES NEVELE PRIDE AND HE IS TROTTING UP A STORM.
AND ALBATROSS WAS PACING A HURRICANE,LOOK AT THAT BIG BIRD FLY.
THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES FROM WHEN THE GRANDSTANDS WERE FULL.

John G. Dooley said...

Those youtube clips of Jack E. Lee definitely brought back memories. I remember those shows like Racing From Roosevelt/Yonkers with Stan and Spencer Ross and Racing from Aqueduct with Frank Wright and Charlsie Cantey on WOR-Channel 9. They made me want to get into the racing game.

I can still remember trying to recreate calls from the voices like Jack E. Lee, Bullet Bob Meyer and Marshall Cassidy.

I never met Jack E. Lee but priviledged to be in the same line of work.

Thanks for the blog post about him.

Anonymous said...

Jack was easily my favorite of all time....RIP
I used to do the Doubleheaders AQ to Roosvelt...
Those were the days.
Jimmy

Anonymous said...

i know jack e lee for 20 years i know him in new york he take me home after work i miss him lot