The Art of Calling a Race: Adam Alexander, FOX Sports

Photo by FOX Sports

By Caleb Whisler, Staff Writer

Adam Alexander is the lead play-by-play announcer for the NASCAR Xfinity Series for Fox Sports; however, when it comes to calling a race, he taps into his unique background.

Around the age of 13, Alexander began to garner interest in sports broadcasting. Growing up in Indiana, he was around sports. His passion for sports turned into him muting the TV and emulating a sportscaster.

“When I was a kid, I was muting my TV and calling the game from my living room just doing anything I could to see what it was like to be a sportscaster,” he said. “It really started at a young age for me with my love for sports and wanting to stay involved. That was the path I wanted to go down.”

While working in local sports in his hometown, Alexander began to receive opportunities to cover motor sports at his local dirt track calling the play-by-play of the race; however, much to the angst of his friends, but he was able to practice his art of calling a race.

“When I worked locally at the dirt track, I would always call the play-by-play of the race.” Alexander stated. “I had fans and friends say, ‘You are always up there talking on that microphone and we can’t hear you over the car noise.’ I knew you couldn’t hear me over the car noise, but I wasn’t doing it for people to hear me, but I was doing it to get practice calling races. I wanted to figure out what it was like to do play-by-play of a race.”

While announcing at his local dirt track, Alexander had the opportunity to acquaint himself with Bob and Jan Stobbs. At the time, Bob held a position where he would go work NASCAR events. With Alexander’s work at the track, Bob suggested he reach out to Motor Racing Network.

Because of Bob’s connections at MRN and working at a local MRN affiliate, Alexander was connected to MRN. Ultimately, he had his audition in 2000 and was working NASCAR Truck races for the organization.

While working with MRN at the Truck and INDYCAR doubleheader at Texas Motor Speedway, Alexander ran into someone he had interned with in Indiana who was at the IMS Radio Network and asked if he wanted to join them for the Indianapolis 500.

“While I was doing that, INDYCAR was at Texas Motor Speedway with the Trucks, I ran into a guy that I had interned with in Indiana,” Alexander stated. “He was part of the IMS Radio network and said, ‘If you are working for MRN, do you want to come back home and do the 500 with us?’

“Those two merged together. I had the opportunity to do the Indianapolis 500 based on the fact that I was working with MRN and I think their philosophy was that if you are good enough to work for MRN, then you are good enough to work for us.”

While working at the local track, Alexander used that time to sharpen the skills needed to broadcast a race. When he joined MRN, he had his baseline, but he still found his challenges.

“I think the biggest challenge in any race is focusing on the action on track, and not being distracted by the surroundings,” Alexander said. “I think there is so many potential distractions at a racetrack that it is easy to lose focus. My No. 1 thing was making sure that I was focused on what was happening on the track.”

Like many radio broadcasters, Alexander moved over to TV working for FOX Sports and TNT, but he felt like he already had the philosophy of TV. The biggest thing was losing words from having to “paint the picture” to letting the pictures speak for themselves.

“One thing in radio is for the most part that people are not seeing what you are telling them about,” he said. “You kind of have to lose some of the words and let the pictures tell that story and fill in with other bits of information.

“I felt like when I was working in radio that I had a little bit of television philosophy. I think that helped me make that transition a little bit easier. When I wasn’t doing a race for MRN, because we didn’t do the full schedule, I would watch a race on TV.”

From 2006 to 2010, Alexander was a pit reporter for the now named NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series. In 2010, he received the call to call Cup races with TNT as well as DirecTV’s Hot Pass program. Alexander believes the experience working through the local ranks and his play-by-play experience with MRN helped his transition to the booth.

“When I was doing the trucks, I was exclusively a pit road reporter,” he said. “To go from pit road in the Trucks to going to the booth for Cup races was a pretty big drastic change. I think the one benefit I had was that I had a lot of play-by-play experience with MRN and also on the stick-and-ball side because I had worked my way up through the ranks locally.

“I felt like all of that experience was beneficial. I had two awesome guys to work with in Wally Dallenbach and Kyle Petty. You couldn’t ask for two guys to be more laid back, enjoyable to be around. I think that lessened the pressure and ease any tension or nerves you would have under the circumstances.

“You just kind of do it, have trial and error, watch your stuff back, but I think they wanted a new voice and decided to hire me. That was huge opportunity for me and my career. It is certainly something I look upon fondly.”

As Alexander has grown into his role as a play-by-play announcer over the years that role has also evolved.

Since 2015, FOX Sports has placed a driver or crew chief from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series into its NASCAR Xfinity Series race broadcasts alongside Alexander and Michael Waltrip. With this new dynamic in the booth, Alexander’s role has changed slightly as the lead announcer.

“It is a different dynamic and unique approach to a broadcast,” Alexander said. “I do think though that what you have taken away when you don’t rehearse, don’t have production meetings, etc. is that you in spontaneity and the natural knowledge those guys bring because they were just on the track. It’s been different. I can honestly say the thought process in the booth for me before going on the air really hasn’t changed.

“You have to take on a little more of a leadership role. Instead of always saying, ‘What do you want to talk about?’, your kind of saying, ‘Here is what we are going to talk about.’ You may have to give them a couple of producer notes because they may not be in the communication with the producer like they would be if it was more of a natural setting with what we are used to. My job has changed a little bit. I am a little bit more of a coach than I am a play-by-play announcer.”

Like any broadcaster, Alexander has to stay on top of the various storylines any given weekend can bring. Luckily, Alexander has the benefit of working in the studio each week and talking NASCAR. With that benefit, the production staff at FOX is having weekly conference calls in order to prepare for the upcoming weekend.

“Once you get to the track, it all takes care of itself,” he said. “You can have all the notes you want, but once those cars go out on the track for practice, new storylines start developing: who is good in practice, who struggled in practice, did someone lose an engine, did someone go to a backup car. Those are the kinds of storyline that develop once they hit the track and when you start prepping for the race itself.”

As a broadcaster, Alexander has to be cognizant of every competitor in the field because they can have an impact on the overall result of the race. As the lead play-by-play guy, he has to also be able to explain and tell a driver’s story regardless of what happened because every driver has at least a fan.

“What has always made racing difficult and something that I have always taken pride in is talking about as many competitors as you can,” he said. “When you are talking about a race, you are going to have anywhere from 35 to 40 competitors. There are a lot of stories to tell. They all can have something happen that impacts the outcome of the race. When you are talking football, basketball or baseball, there are two teams.

“There are individuals who have a story to tell and can impact the outcome, but at the end of the day, there is only one score. You are keeping score for a lot of people when you are doing a race. That can be a lot to manage.

“I think it is important to understand that the fans see the race through the eyes of their driver. You have to be able to tell their story regardless of what has happened throughout the day. That is a lot to keep track of, but we have great people behind the scenes that aid us in that process. That is what makes racing difficult is the many different scenarios that can play out for many different people.”

What makes a good television broadcast? For Alexander, it is making sure he does not miss any of the storylines or stories that could change the outcome of the event. He understands that are some things that will fall through the cracks, but he also knows that he cannot miss stories.

For Alexander, the goal when calling a race is finding the nice, right balance and being able to articulate everything that you needed to during the broadcast.

“I think being clean across the board in the way you use your analysts, reporters, and being conversational through keeping it light,” he said. “I think finding that nice balance. Lastly, in the closing laps, telling the story of the winner of the race. Not every event is going to be a fantastic finish. If you have a fantastic finish, did you articulate it the way you wanted to?

“If you didn’t have a fantastic finish, were you able to take the time in the closing laps when the outcome was decided barring a caution, did you utilize that time to tell the story of the guy who was in position to win? Those are some of the things I would say that I hold myself accountable to.”

With Alexander’s years as a broadcaster, he understands that his role as the play-by-play guy evolved into becoming a host and facilitator of conversation. With hints of being an old school broadcaster, Alexander is constantly finding that balance of being a host and delivering information versus calling actual play-by-play.

As the tastes of consumers has changed over the years, the veteran broadcaster believes that the way he calls races will change in significant ways.

“I think fans are watching in a different way,” he said. “I think analytics have become such a big part of sports coverage. I think we will continue to see that kind of date, which will take the play-by-play role into more of a host role then it is actually calling all of the action.

“I think the event will always dictate how much play-by-play you do because in racing, if you are at Daytona or Talladega and guys are around each other, you are going to be more apt to call the actual play-by-play. If you are at Kansas or Dover, it is more spread out, so you will spend more time talking about the analytics, strategies of the race, and telling the stories of those involved.”

Despite the evolution of calling a race, the veteran understands that the racing itself will continue to dictate how he does his job as a play-by-play announcer.

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