September 24, 2012
 

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Southington’s Danko Left His Mark in Racing
 


Gary Working with the Speed Channel

 

By Brian Danko, Staff Writer
The New Britain Herald & Bristol Press

Photos Courtesy of Tom Ormsby
 SpeedwayLineReport.com 

If Gary Danko of Southington had one regret in his long career in racing as a track announcer, radio host and television commentator, it would be he should have started much earlier.

Danko, a life long race fan from the days of Plainville Stadium, had the chance to get started at the Riverside Park Speedway in 1982, but because of a lack of full time commitment didn’t start until 1994.

“I had the chance to start in 1982 but I wasn’t ready to commit yet until later. Ben Dodge, Jr. gave me the chance and said I could be a real good announcer, but I had to be ready to do it on a weekly basis,” Danko said.


Brian Danko, 1986 Daytona 500 Champion Geoff Bodine, Gary and NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour driver Todd Szegedy at the WATR Studio.

The announcing was always something he thought about as he would rehearse at home about a race he was watching on television, but he lacked the desire to “be there weekly” but since 1994, it has been a staple of his life in auto racing.

Since his days as announcing at Riverside Park Speedway, the versatile announcer has honed his skills at the Thompson Speedway, Waterford Speedbowl and the Stafford Speedway, all weekly NASCAR tracks in Connecticut. He has also announced at the twisting road course, Lime Rock, in the northwestern part of Connecticut as part of the modified tour race there.

“I remember going to Riverside in 1975 and listening to Mike Joy announce there. That is where I got the itch to do it.”

Joy is now the lead announcer for NASCAR on Fox.

But it is Ben Dodge and family friend Sonny Richards who get most of the credit for helping push Danko to what it takes to be a good announcer.


Gary interviewing Modified Driver Ron Silk.

“I learned a lot from Ben and then working at Stafford with Jackie Arute, Jr. I learned to ask the who, what, when and how when I would work pit road. I also learned the do’s and don’ts while doing television at Stafford Speedway.”

Danko has worked with the giants in the auto racing announcing industry, including Mike Joy, Jackie Arute, Jr., Mike Massaro, Rick Allen, Mark Garrow, Phil Parsons, Eli Gold and naturally Ben Dodge, a long time announcer in and around New England.

It was his time at various tracks, logging the miles and hours traveling to and from races that he was able to garner a few auditions with MRN, the Motor Racing Network and the Speedway Channel doing television.

“I did a few races for MRN doing the Nationwide Series races at the Nazareth Speedway and at the Nashville Speedway. I really enjoyed doing them, but at the time, they were looking for full time people. I also did the modified tour race at Martinsville Speedway and the Busch North race from Holland Speedway for Speed Channel television.”

Since the days of announcing at all of the tracks, he has since retired from the announcing scene, but he still has his own weekly racing show on WATR 1320 in Waterbury each and every Monday night during the racing season.

“The radio show actually started when Joe Lewandoski took over as promoter at the Riverside Park Speedway and asked me to host a weekly radio show on a local Springfield, Mass. station. It was really just about Riverside Park Speedway. I did that until Riverside closed after the 1999 season.

“I still wanted to do the radio show so I contacted Tom Chute of WATR and we have been there since 2000. We do a lot of local racing, including the weekly tracks and the Whelen modified tour, but also talk about the Nationwide Series and the Sprint Cup Series.”

He has been very pleased with the support the show has gotten. It is aired live on 1320 AM each Monday during the season and also streamed live on the internet but he believes a lot of the success has come because all of the shows are archived to listen to later.

“We have had a lot of people on from different forms of racing. Geoff Bodine has been an in-studio guest several times. We always will have an in-studio guest, phone guests as well as take calls from listeners.”

While he no longer announces at race tracks, he is the announcer for the Nutmeg Kart Club in Berlin, a small karting track that runs every other week at the Berlin Fair grounds where they constructed a small oval dirt track.

When asked if he would have done anything different in his announcing career, he stated, “I would have committed myself in 1982. I think I would have been a lot further along and who knows what would have happened (career wise). I am happy with what I have done and what I accomplished. I am just content doing what I am doing now.”


1972 Daytona 500 Champion Pete Hamilton, 1971 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year Denny Zimmerman, Mod Tour veteran Ed Flemke, Jr, and Gary Danko.

Danko joins a long list of Plainville Stadium junkies who either made a full time career out of racing or were inspired to do something in racing.

(Note: Gary Danko is the brother of writer Brian Danko)

 

Brian Danko has been covering Auto Racing for over 30 years for various magazines & and racing papers including Area Auto Racing News. His weekly column can be seen "In The Print Editions" of  The New Britain Herald & The Bristol Press.

 

Copyright © 2012 Brian Danko & SpeedwayLineReport.com