The most recognizable voice in Arkansas?
If you were to guess Terry Wallace of Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, you might have the correct answer.
The 2012 race meet has begun, and Wallace’s voice is no longer heard in Hot Springs. Wallace, who retired from the track announcer’s booth at Oaklawn last year after 37 seasons of calling races in the Spa City, set a record for the most consecutive races at a single track — a record that might never be broken.
He hit the 20,000 mark with his call of the third race on March 25, 2010.
He ended the streak at 20,191 calls without a miss following the fourth race on Jan. 28, 2011.
“When someone says Oaklawn, the first thing that comes to mind is Terry Wallace,” said Larry Collmus, the track announcer at Gulfstream Park and Monmouth Park.
Wallace will be inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame as part of the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2012 when the organization holds its annual induction banquet on Friday, Feb. 3, at Verizon Arena in North Little Rock.
Tickets for the induction banquet are $100 each and may be obtained by calling Jennifer Smith at (501) 663-4328 or Catherine Johnson at (501) 821-1021.
Wallace is among 11 individual inductees — six from the regular category, three from the senior category and two from the posthumous category — in the Class of 2012. The Hall of Fame also will induct the 1994 University of Arkansas national championship basketball team.
Oaklawn’s owner, Charles J. Cella, once called Wallace’s consecutive race streak “the most incredible record in sports. This record will never be touched. I can’t imagine anyone will come close.”
Wallace came to Oaklawn in 1975 and has been a consistent presence there ever since. He regularly arrived at the track on race days by 7:30 a.m. If a radio station had a live remote broadcast from Oaklawn, he might be there as early as 5 a.m. At home each night, he would work late into the evening handicapping the next day’s races.
Arkansans loved the way Wallace would play on horses’ names with dramatic inflections, pauses and a strong emphasis on certain syllables. Ask any race fan to name a favorite horse that Wallace called, and that person is likely to come up with a name.
Perhaps it was Dragset.
Or Chop Chop Tomahawk.
And then there was Boozing.
“The crowd really got into that one when I dragged the name out,” Wallace said.
Wallace’s path to Arkansas was an unlikely one. The Cleveland native majored in modern languages at Xavier University in Cincinnati before spending a year at the Sorbonne, the commonly used name for the famed University of Paris, which was founded in the 12th century.
Wallace planned to be a teacher, and he did just that for several years following college.
“When I was in summer school at Cincinnati, I got a job with some buddies parking cars out at River Downs,” Wallace said. “That led to a job as a runner for the guys in the press box. I started to develop an interest in racing.”
Wallace taught French, first at the junior high level and later at the high school level in Cincinnati. He still would work at River Downs during the summer. Wallace was recording the call of a race there in French one day for his own amusement when the track announcer made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. If Wallace would record a few races in English, the announcer would offer a critique.
Wallace was home grading papers one night when he received a call from Latonia Race Course manager Johnny Battaglia (whose oldest son, Mike, has long set the morning line for the Kentucky Derby). Battaglia’s track in the northern Kentucky suburbs of Cincinnati needed a fill-in announcer. Wallace headed for Latonia, which is now known as Turfway Park.
In the months that followed, Wallace would get to know and occasionally fill in for the famed track announcer Chick Anderson. It was Anderson, on the CBS Sports national telecast, who made perhaps the most famous call in thoroughbred racing history — his description of Secretariat’s stretch run in the 1973 Belmont Stakes. Anderson told the nation that the 3-year-old was “moving like a tremendous machine.”
Wallace replaced Anderson at Oaklawn in 1975 when Anderson took the track announcer’s job at Santa Anita.
In his first years in the racing industry, Wallace performed a number of jobs in an attempt to make ends meet. He was even a jockey’s agent for a time. For the Daily Racing Form, he moved from call taker to chart caller, handling a racing circuit that included the Fair Grounds in New Orleans.
In December 1974, Wallace received a call from W.T. “Bish” Bishop, the dapper, erudite general manager at Oaklawn. Anderson had handed in his resignation and suggested that Wallace be hired as his replacement.
Bishop took Anderson’s advice, and Wallace was soon on his way to Arkansas.
Wallace continued working at other tracks during the nine months there was no racing at Oaklawn, including calling jockey Steve Cauthen’s maiden win at River Downs.
Wallace called races for 14 years at Ak-Sar-Ben (that’s Nebraska spelled backward) in Omaha, which closed in 1995. He’s a member of the Nebraska Racing Hall of Fame. Wallace even called races for three years at Louisiana Downs.
Wallace always has been known for his work ethic.
“The problem with those other tracks was that when I went home at night, I wasn’t in Arkansas,” he said. “I love Hot Springs.”
The people of Arkansas have loved him in return.
His long stay at Oaklawn allowed Wallace to call the races of such greats as Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra, Curlin, Azeri, Cigar, Afleet Alex, Smarty Jones, Sunny’s Halo and Temperence Hill.
For this one-time French teacher, it has been quite a career.