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Author Topic: A Few Words About John Houghton  (Read 1899 times)

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Offline Shadowracer

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A Few Words About John Houghton
« on: October 28, 2015, 12:48:42 AM »

It was with a bit of shock that I read John Houghton's "goodbye" post on FB the other day. I knew that he'd been planning on remaining in the announcer's chair for next season, even after giving up the job as Delaware's PR guy, so I'm not sure what happened...but it should suffice to say that the more I think about it, the more I'm deeply saddened to hear the news.

I didn't want to see it reduced to a simple "thanks for everything you've of luck to ya." post on Facebook, so I'm handling this the way I always have and writing this. The one saving grace about this is It'll be my final tribute article...and at least it will be for someone who's still alive and has a bright future ahead of him.

I first met John Houghton anonymously on CRO, where he was going by the handle of Cascar52Jr (or something to that effect.) At the time he was just another message board regular. It was clear that he was somehow in the know around Delaware, and it was a while before he told me by PM that he was in fact the announcer at the speedway. This was after I'd started doing Shadow Reports and his insights in those old message board threads always helped to foster the sort of chatter that we were trying to promote. For a little while we had a pretty winning formula there, and it carried over to the GRR message boards back when the Weekend Warrior Series was in full swing.

Slowly I got to know John and what he was all about. Often I'd drop by the office in the afternoons to catch up, rehash things and find out what the dope was on upcoming events. John was always very proper and professional. Didn't let stuff slip that wasn't supposed to slip, but he gave me enough to keep me interested.

He liked talking about the history of the place, which was refreshing coming from someone so young. I always got the idea that there was a lot more to his "Delaware history project" that he wanted to accomplish, but the realities of being in a place with a revolving cast of management left him with not enough time to ever get anywhere with it....because he was always busy.

As the years went by, there were more and more times that it was impossible to get a conversation in because he was so busy, and I came to realize before long that this guy was actually the one doing most of the legwork to try and hold the track together. Management was making the decisions, but he was the one doing the grunt work. And in those dark days after Kevin Bulmer and Amy walked...well...that was a lot of grunt work.

I dont think anyone realizes the blood and sweat...and I'm sure a few tears, that John Houghton put into this place. And I'm going on record by going so far to say that Delaware might not still be here if it wasn't for him. I level my finger at you, look over my glasses directly into your eyes and say this in all seriousness: If Jeff and Jerry had've been running the show themselves that year...I believe that would have been it. We'd have nothing but a golf course or a gravel pit now. I still remember the time when one afternoon, he took me around the back of the office trailer, shoulders slumped, to show me the remains of the Great Canadian Race Winner's wall that used to be at the entrance where the fans come into the speedway. It had been unceremoniously dumped out back and left to rot. He said, "I made sure to write them all one else here cares."

John was the guy perpetually caught in the middle, just by the nature of him being the most accessible of the track staff, particularly online. I can't count the number of times he got called out for stuff that he really had little or no control over. I remember the first year I was doing Hoppy at the track and the powers that be made some knucklehead decisions about how to use me. (Typically enough, they didn't want an actual circus guy telling them how to run a circus.) ...and they made John the one who had to come down and tell me. That scenario was played over and over again with a lot of different people, and John got stuck with the shit job.

Amazingly enough, when most people would have just up and walked, John stayed on and sucked it up. He created the concept of the Chaos Cars....a silly notion to a lot of racers, but John perservered and made it happen, even though he was pretty much getting flak from all sides on it. But look what happened: Despite the roadblocks management kept throwing in his way, the class morphed into what is one of our better and most entertaining divisions. (all while management was in the process of summarily dismantling all of our OTHER divisions.)

See, John's strength was that he wasn't purely a racer. Raced juniors for sure, grew up around the track...the guy knows racing. But guys who do nothing but eat, sleep and breathe racing are not necessarily the ones you want in charge when youre trying to put together a entertaining show. John has some background in drama/theater. He has a grasp of comic-book-geek culture. He has an interest in history...and, rumor has it, might be a pretty good swing dancer too. I think his varied interests made him a better race announcer.

Announcing is tough. My only time behind the mic during late model time trials one night made it clear to me how hard it can be. You have to be on your toes. have to be able to call every driver's name right the first time, and you have to have the amazing ability to think on your feet at all times. And that's just the basics.

We've all heard announcers that cover their shortcomings by overdoing it on the testosterone...they come at you like the guy running the thrill rides at the fair....their sole purpose is to get the audience "jacked up" Then there's the ones who just crack jokes, say funny stuff, and give the drivers all sorts of silly nicknames, making light of the whole proceeding, even when theres been a bad crash, or if two drivers are furious at each other. Then there's the guy who will inform you to death...he'll rattle off every sponsor on every car and every billboard, and will overload you to the point where you don't remember any of it. What most of them don't realize is that in spite of their ability to get the crowd jacked up, or to inform them, or to make them laugh, the announcer's FIRST job is to make the crowd CARE about what's going on out there. John had that, AND a good helping of all the other stuff too.

Above all, John is an awesome announcer. In my opinion, the best we've ever had. All those other guys, Jared, Chris, Jamie...they're great too but John was the quarterback. He was the guy who'd call the race, but also inform new fans where the bathrooms are and what the black flag means. (Guys that are hip deep in racing always forget that stuff.) John understands well that each night is a show in itself, and that for every one of us hardcores that rolls their eyes everytime Jared said "its deja vu all over again" or everytime John overuses the word "catastrophic", or every time (God save us) Maudsley starts singing, there's a hundred fans in the seats that don't come every week and haven't heard all this stuff a hundred times.

When most longtime fans think of the "eras" at Delaware, they think in terms of the racing...who the stars were or what sorts of cars were running at the time. Me, I always think of the announcers we had. In the 70s and early 80s it was Sandy Harrison and sometimes Dave Longfield, then later when CASCAR took off it was Ron Sinclair, then later Kevin Bulmer. For me the voice of Delaware is Sandy Harrison. Not so much because of his talents behind the mic, but because of the age I was at. (I've heard it said that your own personal golden age of anything happens when you're about 10 years old.) And Sandy was the guy when I was that age...its just imprinted on me.

But just think about this: While I'm not sure of exact dates and whatnot, I do believe that John had a longer run behind the mic than any of those other guys did....and I'm pretty sure he's only 30...if even. That's a really big generation of people that will grow up remembering his voice as a signature of Delaware Speedway. Kids will be driving their tricycles around the driveway, pretending to be Jesse Kennedy and imagining John's voice calling the action....much like generations of kids played road hockey imagining Foster Hewitt shouting "He shoots, he SCORES."

That's something that no one will ever be able to take away.

I have not spoken to John, so I don't profess to know the circumstances behind him hanging it all up. Maybe it was voluntary, and maybe it wasn't. I'm not sure it even matters anymore. What matters going forward is that he's got a bright teaching career ahead of him. And teaching is a pretty damned noble pursuit...maybe even more noble that being an awesome announcer/PR guy. I congratulate him on his new career path and wish him all of God's grace as he embarks upon the next chapter.

As for Delaware. It just won't be the same. Won't be the same without John behind the mic at all. And for a few seasons forward it'll feel like something's something's not quite right. For me personally, my own lamentations are selfish ones.

John and I never really got to be "friends" in the traditional sense of the word. Never had beers or fact I think I only ever saw him away from racing once, and that was purely by accident when he walked past the end of my driveway on the way to the student housing that was next door to me. Our relationship was purely racing centered, and I regret deeply that it never became more.

I'm also going to miss dropping by the track on the odd weekday to catch up on the goings on. I'm going to miss collaborating on story ideas for the program...I had such fun writing some of those, and he was the reason I ended up doing them in the first place. I'm going to miss the little post race chats...often right in the middle of the front straightaway. Oddly, what I might miss the most is those moments before or even during the races, we'd pass by one another, each of us going about our respective tasks, and not talk....just exchange a knowing glance, a wink, a smile. Both of us totally respecting what the other one was doing, and knowing that in the big picture, we were really in cahoots to the same end...making racing at Delaware as special as we could in our own way. I believe with 100 percent certainty, that in our love for the speedway, we were kindred.

And its really tough to see that come to an end.

John....I dont know what else to say. People always throw out the thought "the place just won't be the same without you", and in this case its absolutely true. But this thought is even bigger than it sounds. Delaware will be significantly different without you there, and I don't believe it will be for the better.

On behalf of all of us who have made Delaware our Friday night home, thank you so much for the years of dedication, hard work and sacrifice. Rest assured, knowing that the people that matter KNOW just how deep and wide your contributions were...and we all salute you.

Good luck on your journey my brother.


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« Last Edit: October 28, 2015, 12:53:32 AM by Shadowracer »

A Few Words About John Houghton
« on: October 28, 2015, 12:48:42 AM »

Offline CanadianRacingOnline

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Re: A Few Words About John Houghton
« Reply #1 on: October 28, 2015, 10:30:22 PM »
Sad to see him go and I noticed the difference this season, as we really had no updates on Delaware Speedway this season.

Thanks John for keep us up to date of things happening there and including our members on how to make the speedway better.

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