I chuckle as I sit down to write this, because I can't help but think, "Wow, what a long Road Trip it has been!" It's so hard to pick just one Road Trip in my 15 years of experience on the road; from New York to Florida to Texas to California and a gazillion other places that I sometimes can, but more often than not can't, seem to remember. I'm "That Announcer," the guy who practically everyone has heard, but no one can name (for the record, my name is Rodney Tomblin). I guess I'm pretty easy to forget, but that's OK; I'm not here to get famous, I'm here to make the guys and gals laying it all on the line famous. I announce the GNCC Series, some MX dirt bike Outdoor Nationals, as well as a number of the ATV MX National races. As a result I spend a lot more time on the road than most people.
It wasn't until I was 23 years old (January of 1993) that I even witnessed a motocross race (unless you count watching ABC's "Wide World of Sports" when I was a kid). I was working at my hometown radio station with a buddy when one day he asked if I'd go to Marion, Ohio, to help him announce a "supercross race." Not knowing what he meant, my interest was sparked when he told me it would be motorcycles and some ATVs racing indoors. The job consisted of him handling the floor announcing, while I basically hid in the crow's nest. "Just talk about the racing while they're riding," he explained, and between the races, he'd wave his arms when he wanted to talk. It sounded simple enough... "Don't worry about messing it up; they probably won't be able to hear you anyway."
Well, "supercross" it really wasn't, but cool it certainly was; I had never seen anything like it in my life. That first night, there were about 800 riders, and more than anything, I remember when the quads came out. Not because I necessarily thought the racing was any better, but because of two brothers from Port Clinton, Ohio. While everyone else was decked out in the latest riding gear and aboard show-quality race bikes, these brothers wore work boots, jeans, flannel shirts and Carhartt jackets, and their ATVs were modest looking to say the least. Yet they literally waxed everyone out there despite their lack of fancy gear or shiny bikes. It was something I have never forgotten.
Coming into 1994, my buddy decided he could no longer go to the races, and the promoter, Tab Thompson at American Hotspots, asked me to announce by myself. Believe it or not, by April of that same year I quit my radio station job and went to work with American Hotspots full time. It was a lot more than announcing, though. During the day we would build the track; water, banner and stake; fence; set the starting gate and hay bales; and just about anything else you need to do to put on a race. At night we'd run the races, which meant I would announce, of course, then tear down and either drive home or go to another fair and do it all over again. We traveled across the state of Ohio with a series called the Ohio County Fair Series. The company also had a home track in McArthur, Ohio, at the Vinton County Fairgrounds, so even when we weren't on the road, we were working. During this time I began hearing about these things they were calling "the Nationals" from both dirt bike and ATV folks, and man, I wanted to go to one of those; they sounded awesome.
In 1995 at the urging of Jeff Russell, I went to Loretta Lynn's to announce some softball games on Sunday before the races got underway. Jeff had heard of me from the local races in Ohio where he happens to own a track (it's one of the best-kept racing secrets in Ohio, but that's another story). I was invited back the following year after a little walk and talk with Big Dave Coombs. He asked me to come back and told me that I needed to plan on staying an extra week or so for what he referred to as "Dirt Days." At that time, Loretta Lynn's was the benchmark of any racer's career. Just to be there was a big deal. It was like there were two championships on the line there; the Grand National Championship, or GNC, and the Loretta Lynn's National Champion title. Back then it was TT and MX at the same event, and it lasted nearly a week. It was a vacation for the racing community, and everyone was there. I remember a young Heather Rose and "Big Bad Angela Moore," as National Promoters Group's Director of Operations John Ayers called her. Joe Byrd, a young Digger Doug Gust, Byron Goggin, Shane Hitt, Tim Farr and many more.
I will never forget some of the greatest moments and most horrific incidents that have shaped the ATV racing world in the last 10 years alone. I saw Shane Hitt and Tim Farr battle it out for the Grand National title. I saw Doug Gust break the Loretta Lynn's Curse. I was at Gatorback Cycle Park when Jeremiah Jones and Matt Bartosek were racing one of the best races I had ever seen at the ATV Winter Olympics, and Matt was tragically taken away from us. I was at the GNCCs when Barry Hawk raced ATVs and was unbeatable, even for a young kid named Bill Ballance. I saw the factories begin to build an ATV that was affordable and competitive. I saw Chad Duvall win the ATV overall on a production four-stroke ATV at the Spartan GNCC in Kentucky. I saw Matt "The Kangaroo Kid" Coulter attempt the world record jump on an ATV in Orrville, Ohio, at a TT. I saw Heather (Rose) Byrd and Angela (Moore) Butler battle it down to the wire for several championships. I saw Heather push her quad across the finish line to score points in hopes of winning at Loretta's. I saw Traci (Lenig) Cecco and Stephanie Parton battle for the Women's GNCC Championship. I saw Traci Cecco and Angel Atwell race to the wire for this past year's championship in the GNCC and Traci win her record seventh title. I saw Bill Ballance win nine straight GNCC titles and counting, each one hotly contested. I saw John Natalie win the hearts of the racing world's fans and youth as well as a championship. I saw the Santa Ana winds blow so hard at Glen Helen Raceway Park that we had to wear goggles just to go outside. I've seen ATV racing on TV on a regular basis. I witnessed our sport nearly ripped apart at the seams when lines of communication got jumbled. I was there when Jeremiah Jones crashed his ATV in the first turn at Unadilla. I saw the series get stronger. I watched Joe Byrd win the first-ever AMA Pro ATV Championship. I was there when Pat Brown won the first-ever AMA ATV Open at Steel City. I saw Big Chad Wienen do it the second time. I have seen so much history that one column like this couldn't hold it all.
In closing, the past 15 years have given me so much to reflect on that I couldn't mention all of it, but I've touched on the highlights. All I can add is it's been one long Road Trip and I, like you, hope this trip doesn't end anytime soon. Oh yeah, and God bless your hearts and all your vital organs.