Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Face You Rarely Saw, A Voice You Can Never Forget


His distinctive voice cut through movies like Stroker Ace, Greased Lightning and The Last American Hero. It was the kind of voice that made everyone sit-up and take notice.

When you heard Bill Connell's voice began to rise, you knew it was time for action on the track. That is Connell above in the 1970's at the old Metrolina Speedway.

On a rainy and dreary day, NASCAR fans would be milling around the concession stands and souvenir rigs at the racetrack while the weather cleared. It was Connell who could snap the fans back to attention as he dramatically would say that he wanted "all drivers to return immediately to their cars on pit road." The cheer that went up instantly could be heard for miles around.

Connell was a staple at the Lowe's Motor Speedway for over thirty years. "Bill Connell was a true maestro behind a track public address microphone," said H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler, former President and General Manager. "He knew how to take an event and make it bigger than life for the people in attendance. He truly loved the sport and that came across in his work. His voice was bigger than life, his heart even bigger."

Over the years, Connell was also heard on MRN, PRN and many other racing radio broadcasts. He and his son Mark traveled around originating a weekly TV show called The Pro's In Motorsports. Using a pick-up truck and a trailer, Connell plied his trade on the road for decades.

Connell was called Big Bill for a reason. His weight and complications from diabetes took a toll on him over the years. In 2003, he called one last race at LMS and then stepped-away from the microphone. In December of 2006, a group of racing buddies including the Allisons, Harry Gant, Ned Jarrett and Buddy Parrott took part in a fund raiser to help Bill with his medical expenses.

The end came in May of this year at a medical center near his longtime home in Landis, North Carolina. Bill Connell was only 61 years old. Here is a link to his tribute page.

In this new and fast-paced NASCAR media environment, several tributes and brief news stories went online reporting Bill's passing. Many were gone the next day, replaced with the feuding millionaire drivers and the battles over racetracks and dates.

Connell's lasting legacy will only be in the minds of the fans who were lucky enough to attend a race when the voice of the PA Announcer ruled the track. It was long before scanners and cell phones and Sprint's all-in-one Fan View. A single voice talked to fans when they arrived, called the entire race and then wished everyone a safe drive home when they left.

In a way, Bill Connell made a whole lot of good friends at the racetracks over the years. Not many fans had a chance to see his face, but millions had a chance to hear his voiceand the excitement it brought to racing. It truly was a voice you could never forget.

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6 comments:

Lou,Kingston,NY said...

"A Face You Rarely Saw,A Voice You Can Never Forget". I had read this on another site. I cannot recall Mr. Connell. It seems he made his career, heart and soul to what he loved doing. My heart goes out to family. As we all know how hard it is to lose a loved one. God Bless

Anonymous said...

My first Cup race was the World 600 in 1977 and I recall his distinctive voice as well as listening to him doing the Prn races.Prn also had a call in show and he called my name out on one show in 1982 and I won a prize.mY Dad and I would listen to all the races back in the 70's whether it was MRN,PRN or Universal Radio Network.
Rest in peace Bill,you will be missed

Terry

Lynchburg, vA.

Anonymous said...

I met Bill at the fundraiser and he was genuinely surprised at the number of racing personalities and fans who turned out for the event. It brough tears to his eyes. He will be missed. Rest in peace Bill.

Anonymous said...

I never heard his voice in person but, you brought it out load and clear. Impossible to replace people like Bill

Anonymous said...

I met Big Bill in the early nineties while working on the roof of the then Charlotte Motor Speedway. He would sit and tell me stories of the "old days" of the antics and fun of the drivers. I can remember one of those conversations included Buddy Baker and Neil Bonnett. I can remember all of us laughing until we turned blue.
I can also remember Big Bill squeezing up the stairs to the roof. The stairs were 2 feet and some change wide. Bill was not!

Bill was also the one that brought the excitement as the narrator of many of the "Humpy Circus" shows.

Miss you my friend. Thanks for the nice post JD.

Anonymous said...

God Bless all of you who enjoyed Dad's passionate, P.A. personality. He enjoyed calling every lap of his career, and meeting all the fans who made motorsports what is today! I can truly say Dad never met a stranger during his thirty-five years of motorsports announcing. Bill's family wants everyone to know how much these encouraging words have comforted us during a very hard summer. Please continue to keep all of us in your prayers and thoughts, but at the same time please praise God that Bill is no longer suffering. Rejoice in the fact that he is in the best victory lane, Heaven. Again God Bless you all!
-MC-