Racing is his calling
Allen Bestwick may not have been born to be an auto racing broadcaster. But fate certainly wasn't opposed to the idea.
Thanks to over 25 years behind the mike and on the screen, Bestwick has become one of the most recognizable voices in racing. He's ESPN's NASCAR anchor, the man calling each lap on the telecasts. He's also a show host, and an experienced pit reporter.
He's also a born-and-bred New Englander, a Rhode Island native who's thrilled that his job features two stops in the region he calls home.
"It was a big deal for my whole family when that racetrack was built," Bestwick said of New Hampshire Motor Speedway. "For many, many years, my parents and my sisters never missed a race there. When I lived away from New England, the race was always an opportunity to get together and have a mini family reunion.
"It's sort of a summer vacation home for my entire life, and now I just get to wrap a little work around it, too."
Those same New England ties got Bestwick into racing. His father worked on a car and raced it at Seekonk Speedway in Seekonk, Mass., near the family home. The car was always in the garage and Bestwick was constantly around it, learning about the car and the sport and developing a passion for racing that just grew with time and future visits to other tracks and speedways.
"I've always been a fan of the sport," he said. "The competition is exciting, but the people that compete are fascinating characters."
Bestwick loved racing, but he didn't get the chance to do it himself. Instead, his goal was to get into broadcasting. He had his idols. Bruins announcer Fred Cusick was one. Red Sox broadcasters Ned Martin and Jim Woods were others. So was ABC Wide World of Sports icon Jim McKay.
At first, the broadcasting passion bumped racing out of the way. But Bestwick's calling couldn't be kept down for long.
"The fact that I broadcast racing was kind of an accident, truthfully," he said. "My career aspiration was to be a broadcaster and I was working in the business, doing everything that had nothing to do with racing, and a job opportunity came up with the NASCAR radio network, MRN, and they were looking for somebody to do something about racing, and I happened to have that knowledge."
Bestwick was at MRN from 1986 to 1999, but opportunity came knocking again. NBC needed an announcer for its expanding racing coverage, and Bestwick fit the job. He presided over several memorable moments, including Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s emotional Pepsi 400 win at Daytona in 2001, as well as his win at the track in 2004.
When the broadcast rights switched from NBC to ESPN, Bestwick did too - allowing his career to progress to points he previously could only imagine.
"The opportunity to get to a place like that and do races for NBC and now for ABC, in addition to ESPN, is kind of pretty hard to fathom, at times," he said.
He's had to utilize every aspect of his racing knowledge throughout his time on television. He's handled the fast-paced atmosphere of reporting in the pits ("You're covering eight or 10 teams, and trying to understand how those eight or 10 teams that you're covering fit into the larger story of the race."). He's had to orchestrate a pre-race show as its host ("Your context has to be different. ... it ends up being more of a hard news world at times."). And, since 2011, he's had to call the action during the race as the play-by-play announcer, for which he summarized his responsibility as being "the last stop for making sure it all makes sense."
It's a heavy load, one that demands an unrelenting love for the sport. But Bestwick has long since proven his, through years and years of experience in the field - experience that stretches back to when he was just a kid, hanging around Dad's car.
"I spent many a night going to places like Stafford, Conn., and Seekonk as a young man, just paying my way in the gate to watch the races," he said. "It has been a lifelong passion of mine."
(Drew Bonifant can be reached at 369-3340 or email@example.com or on Twitter @dbonifant.)