LANGHORNE, PA – Ernie Saxton, the distinguished voice of one of America’s great clay ovals, has concluded a 45-year career behind the mic at Grandview Speedway. Canadian racing fans will know him as a longtime contributor to Inside Track Motorsport News, supplying NASCAR columns for well over a decade. But long before that… since 1968, Saxton, 71, of Langhorne, PA, called all the racing action for generations of fans as the track announcer at the one-third mile oval in Bechtelsville, PA.
Grandview is operated by the second and third generations of the Rogers family. Forrest Rogers built the track and opened it in 1963, and Saxton started working there in the late 1960s.
Based on a 22-week season over 45 years Saxton announced about 990 Grandview race nights. He said he missed no more than 10 events.
“Three of those nights were to attend White House Correspondents’ Dinners,” Saxton said. “You just can’t pass up those opportunities, and I did get to meet several presidents.”
He met a bipartisan trio of world leaders including presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.
Saxton enjoyed almost every race night he ever announced, and didn’t retire from the booth because he lost enthusiasm for the job.
“Announcing is still fun,” Saxton said. “My back has been bothering me for some time. Climbing the steps to the tower and sitting on a stool behind the microphone for four hours has been taking a toll,” Saxton said.
Saxton said that from the beginning he enjoyed working with the Rogers family.
“Bruce Rogers and I talked about me coming to work for him and I started doing PR and writing press releases for Grandview in the late 1960s. I started out as an employee, but it came to feel like family. I felt appreciated,” Saxton said.
“Ernie always did a great job and played a big part of Grandview Speedway’s success,” said Bruce Rogers, son of the track’s founder and head of the family business. “He got the word out about the track by doing PR in addition to his announcing.”
“He’s been with us a long time and we’re good friends,” Rogers’ wife Teresa said of Saxton. “We’ve vacationed together. “We hate to see him go.”
While his final race as the full-time announcer was on Sept. 14, Saxton will remain available on a fill-in basis and will continue to maintain a weekly presence at the track.
Saxton announced his first race at the Atlantic City (N.J.) Speedway in the early 1960s. He was the publicist for the American Three-Quarter Midget Racing Association. The track announcer wasn’t familiar with the division and asked Saxton, who knew all the cars and drivers, to stand in for him.
“I hadn’t announced a race before and I was shy about public speaking. I was worried everyone would be looking at me. The track announcer convinced me that the fans would be watching the races and wouldn’t even know I was up there in the tower,” Saxton said. “Things were going OK and a side-by side battle for the lead developed. I was excitedly calling the action when a potato bug flew into my mouth. I choked and coughed for most of a lap. By the end of the day I did well enough that I announced another race the following week.”
Saxton and wife Marilyn also operate Ernie Saxton Communications Inc., a motorsports consulting firm. The Saxton’s company will continue to conduct Grandview’s media and public relations efforts and publish the track’s souvenir program, Grandview Groove.
Saxton was a 13-year manager of marketing at Chilton Book Company when he struck out on his own to focus fulltime on Ernie Saxton Communications in 1989. The company publishes Motorsports Marketing News, presents seminars on short track racing marketing and sponsorships, and consults with individual teams on sponsorship sales efforts. Saxton will also continue as columnist for Area Auto Racing News and several other motorsports and mainstream newspapers.
Saxton believes that even in the era of social media, a lot of short tracks today could improve their marketing and public relations efforts.
“It takes more than Facebook and Twitter to market and promote a track. To make it all work, a track needs to practice good public relations,” Saxton opined.
Saxton said the late Jim Hunter, a NASCAR vice president who led NASCAR’s public relations department for years, was the best when it came to PR.
“Jim preached that public relations efforts are built on personal relationships. He was an encyclopedia of NASCAR racing because he was in touch with people at every level including the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series. He could talk with Tony Stewart just the same as he could with any driver at Grandview Speedway.
“He’d pick up his phone and talk to promoters and racers and asked what was going on with them. He’d keep up with non-NASCAR tracks. He always wanted to see the big picture. He always found someone who knew something about whatever was on his mind.”
Hunter passed away two years ago this month. Saxton was among his closest friends.
“My greatest memory of Hunter is from February 2011. I received the Russ Moyer Media Award from the Living Legends of Auto Racing group during Speedweeks. Hunter was battling cancer, but he arrived at the event wearing a tux and went on stage to help present the award. Jim Hunter was an exceptional friend,” Saxton said.
Saxton said his own long-term success in multiple business platforms could not have been accomplished without the partnership and expertise of his wife of nearly 38 years. Their high quality Grandview Groove souvenir program is Marilyn Saxton’s project. Despite Grandview’s Saturday night race night, the next week’s souvenir program is taken to their longtime printer Bill’s Printing in Trenton, N.J. each Monday.
“Our work has gotten a little easier now that we’re both retired from full-time jobs,” Marilyn Saxton said. She was a travel agency consultant for about 25 years. “There are so many things to do and we always manage to make it work.”
Her step-father, Ed Darrell, was a car owner and promoter of the east coast-based American Racing Driver Club, so she’s a lifetime racer, too.
“I’d probably never accomplished anything without Marilyn,” Saxton said. “She’s a complete professional in what we do.”
“It’s been a good life,” Marilyn said. “We’ve seen and done things we never imagined because of Grandview Speedway.”
Her husband agreed.
“It’s been good.”
More information on the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series is available at http://hometracks.nascar.com.
From NASCAR / IMC