Buckeye track announcer finds his dream job
Barry Vicroy is where he wants to be—at the track and in the state of Ohio. The native of Germantown, a small town in southwest Ohio, fell in love with the sport of harness racing at an early age. Vicroy knew what he wanted, so he began working with some of the Buckeye State’s top conditioners—Sam and Mary Coven, Rick Hiteman, Mark Gillenwater and Virgil Morgan Jr.
In 2007, Gillenwater and fellow trainer Roy Wilson took Vicroy to Eldorado Scioto Downs for qualifiers. Unbeknownst to Vicroy, that trip to the track was an on-the-job interview, as he was asked to announce the events. Vicroy was offered a couple of fill-in dates as an announcer there in 2007. The next year, he was offered the permanent position behind the microphone at the Columbus oval.
Vicroy, 49, is now the track announcer at three of Ohio’s four pari-mutuel tracks—Eldorado Scioto Downs, Miami Valley Gaming and Hollywood Dayton Raceway.
Jay Wolf recently spoke with Vicroy to learn more about the man and the path he took to acquire his “dream job.”
HB: Please tell us about how you became the announcer at Scioto Downs and eventually at Hollywood Dayton and Miami Valley.
Vicroy: I used to always go to watch harness racing when I was a kid, even though my family wasn’t involved with it. We had some friends that had some horses. We always went to the races. We went to almost every area county fair for harness racing when I was a kid—Eaton, Xenia, Troy, Greenville, Dayton, Lebanon and Hamilton.
At the Greenville Fair, the whole family—I have 14 cousins and six aunts and uncles and their wives—everyone would pack up at 5 a.m. in Germantown and go to the Greenville Fair for the Saturday double-card (1 and 7 p.m.). We would get under the trees with chairs, playpens and tables. We would run around the fair, come back at noon for lunch, watch the races at 1 p.m., take a nap, eat and go back for the second card. We would go home at midnight.
My dad would take me down sometimes to Lebanon Raceway on Saturday nights, the occasional trip to Latonia [Raceway] or sometimes Scioto. We went to River Downs and Beulah Park, but I was never interested in Thoroughbreds.
I started announcing in high school. We had a really good girls’ basketball team, but they didn’t have an announcer, so I did their games. In college, Cumberland University didn’t have an announcer, so I did that.
I got into nightclub deejaying. I would do impersonations of track announcers for just a couple of seconds. Everyone said I should announce races. There is a big difference to do an impersonation for a few seconds and actually doing a race.
One day when I was at Lebanon, Roy Wilson and Mark Gillenwater kind of hijacked me and said they wanted to watch qualifiers at Scioto. When we got there, I found out that Roy’s wife, Susie, who worked at Scioto, had set up for me to call the races. Ayers Ratliff had already made plans to go to Northfield Park at the end of the year, so they needed someone. I guess I sounded good. I know I wasn’t that good, but they liked the sound of my voice. They gave me a chance at Scioto and the rest, so far, is history.
HB: How would you describe your race calling style?
Vicroy: I don’t know because I don’t listen to myself. I don’t go back and listen to a bunch of my calls. Some of the bigger races that were really exciting I’ve listened to. I let the race dictate it. I am not going to try to make a 1-9 shot winning by 20 lengths an exciting race unless we are talking about a great time. While I may have fun before the races with Pacey [Mindlin] at Miami Valley, I don’t try to self-publicize. The horses are the attraction.
HB: You have had an interesting path to becoming a track announcer—groom, driver and trainer. Do you think your past experiences have made you a better announcer?
Vicroy: At times I would like to think so. I get to see the same driver colony year-round. I am used to the drivers, the horses. I can see things before they happen. I know driver A is going to make this certain move. I can also see when horses get steppy or on one line, or when a driver is having trouble, and I try to call that out so people can see that in the race and help them with handicapping in the future.
HB: With the three Ohio track rotation (Hollywood Dayton, Miami Valley and Scioto Downs), the horsemen get plenty of racing opportunities, but little rest for the announcer. How do you recharge the batteries?
Vicroy: Video games. Luckily, my girlfriend puts up with it. I am an overthinker, so the games help when I am trying to wind down after a race program. It sounds kind of childish, but by playing video games I can immerse myself in the game and I don’t have to think about anything else. It really lets my mind shut down.
HB: With all three of your tracks being five-eighths-mile ovals, do you find yourself getting into a rut toward the end of the meet?
Vicroy: That is another great thing about this circuit, because Scioto races like a true five-eighths. Dayton Raceway races more with the strategy and aggressiveness of a half. At Miami Valley, the stretch is just a tad longer than the other two, so you get more of a mile-track feel. Even though they are all five-eighths-mile tracks, it is a different look at the three tracks.
HB: Now that you have been announcing for more than a decade, are there certain horses or races that stick out because of a gutsy performance or longevity?
Vicroy: Some of my favorite horses are a part of my favorite trivia question. There were three horses in the history of Scioto Downs that raced until they were 14 and won a race every year at Scioto. Uphill Battle (Bo Knows Jate, $504,981), who raced for the Gillenwaters. Paul and Mark both trained him. Good Connections (Village Connection, $122,401), who had several homes, but for the most part, Darin Mouser trained him. The last one was Epes (Towner’s Big Guy, $181,732), who Jim Arledge Sr. trained and Jeff Amann then trained at the end.
Always B Miki and Wiggle It Jiggleit in :47 in the [Jim] Ewart [Memorial] was amazing. Manchego’s :50.1 mile was amazing. I can say I called Shartin N and Foiled Again, too.
When I first did the sire stakes, I was nervous. I don’t get shook up over Grand Circuit events. It’s being more comfortable in what I do.
Before Miami Valley and Dayton Raceway opened, I worked for Virgil Morgan Jr. for four or five years after Scioto closed. One of my biggest thrills was when he sent me to Chicago with Pet Rock. I didn’t take care of him, but I got to sit behind him for a training mile and it blew my mind. He was unbelievable. He beat Foiled Again in the American-National right at the wire.
HB: Is there a track or race that you would like to call sometime during your career?
Vicroy: Nah. I am where I want to be. When I was a groom and was finished for the night at Scioto, I would sit in the “chicken coop,” the place on the backstretch for us to watch the races. I would sit there and watch every race and listen to Steve Cross. I would sit there and think how cool it would be to announce there at Scioto Downs. And now I do, so that’s pretty cool.
I am an Ohio guy. I have no desire to travel. I love Ohio. If I am going to go see a site or something, there are so many cool things in Ohio. I have no desire to go anyplace else. I am where I want to be.
HB: The tracks and the Ohio Harness Horsemen’s Association have been spending a lot of time, money and effort recently on grassroots promotions. What role do you see the announcers playing in that promotion?
Vicroy: I just try to make it fun. Hopefully, I am giving the right information so big-time players and new people to the track can both enjoy the races a little bit more. Maybe I can point something out in the race call that they would never notice.
HB: The nearby Miami University is called the “Cradle of Coaches” and the old Lebanon Raceway used to call themselves the “Cradle of Drivers.” Can southwest Ohio be called the “Cradle of Announcers?”
Vicroy: Boy, it could be. I was listening to Don Huston when I was a little kid. I would drive my parents nuts when I would run around the house mimicking him. And, of course, Roger Huston. There have been a lot of guys from this area.
HB: On your days off, I have seen you at the Champaign County Fair and the Delaware County Fair. What do you like to look for or do when just watching the races?
Vicroy: I don’t play, so I just watch and enjoy. I am watching the races as a trainer. I look to see if they are traveling correctly, that they have pace on the end of it. I watch the trip.
Jay Wolf is the publicity director for the Little Brown Jug in Delaware, Ohio. To comment on this story, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.