The voice of Mike Joy has become synonymous with the Daytona 500.
As the lead race announcer for Fox Sports, the 2019 NASCAR season will be his 19th consecutive year with the network. But even more impressively, Joy is about to make his 40th live call of the Daytona 500 when he steps into the broadcast booth alongside Jeff Gordon and Darrell Waltrip on Feb. 17.
Joy worked with MRN from 1977-83 when he was a turn announcer and anchor before turning to play-by-play action and pit reporting with CBS. The only time he wasn’t a part of the live Daytona 500 broadcast was the three years NBC carried the event (2002, 2004, 2006). But since 2007 it’s Joy who has had the final call as drivers clinch the win in the Great American Race.
Ahead of what will be his 44th Daytona Speedweeks, Joy gave an extensive interview to RACER.
Q: Can you even put into words what it’s meant to be involved in this race for so long?
Mike Joy: (Laughs) Not really. I think it’s a combination of love of the sport, of perhaps some skill. But television is a business and in any big business there are a lot of sometimes conflicting agendas, so to be able to say through MRN, CBS and Fox that I’ve been able to call this race for that many years, that’s kind of shocking even to me. But I’m very grateful because it has always been a lot of fun and everybody asks, ‘What’s your favorite Daytona 500?’ and I always say it’s the next one.
Q: There is that standard question — what’s your favorite 500 — but I guess it’s a cheap way out, huh?
MJ: There are some that stand out. ’76, I was in the Wood Brothers pit when those cars (David Pearson and Richard Petty) spun off Turn 4 and listening to Ken Squier over the radio. Being high atop a scaffold in Turn 2 when Cale [Yarborough] and Donnie [Allison] crashed in ’79. And then [Dale] Earnhardt’s win in ’98 stands out. Everybody remembers the call, which is one thing — but we had a great CBS crew and they worked all week coming up with things that Dale had and had not done at Daytona, so that at 20 laps to go I could say however many times Dale’s led the race at this point, and of course he was leading then. One of the neatest facts, there were only three individual laps of that race that Dale had never led and it was two lap numbers in the 90s and of course, Lap 200.
Other than that, he’d led every single lap of the race at least once. Which none of us knew going into that. So, to be able to have that play out the way it did was a great, great group effort. The thing that’s most memorable, which was Earnhardt pulling down pit road afterward to that giant receiving line, that was Jim Cornell our assistant director, who is in charge of getting us into and out of commercial break, and he told our producer, ‘Something is happening here, don’t go to break.’ We stayed, which cost the network a good bit of money, and watched Earnhardt come down and be greeted by all those crew men. Pretty unique. I don’t recall that before or since, so that was very, very special.
Q: You’ve done a little bit of everything in Daytona, but when you first started working the race did you realize how big it was then as it is now?
MJ: I think it was bigger. I think it was bigger because aside from the Super Bowl, sporting events don’t have the share of voice in the American consciousness that they did then. There were not many big February events on television. The NBA All-Star Game. The Daytona 500. That was about it. So I think it was easier for America to get excited about the Daytona 500 then whereas today, it’s another big event but people have so many big events in their lives and they have so many media choices that I think back then the event was bigger. I think the heroes were a little larger, larger than life let’s say, and every athlete’s life wasn’t picked apart every microsecond on social media or with every word they said or wrote or tweeted.
Q: Is there a common thought that comes to mind when it’s time for the Daytona 500?
MJ: I think the challenges for us as broadcasters is pretty much the same. Mainly it’s getting to know new drivers and their stories and their history, and finding ways to make people care about them. That’s always the challenge. The biggest single challenge for us is making sure we have the right drivers, the right crew chiefs, the right people in the right car, and the hardest thing to do is have a team where the car doesn’t change but the driver does. I think I spent half of last season putting Ryan Blaney in the 21 just because the car didn’t change and that’s where I was used to seeing him. So things like that are definitely a challenge.
And of course, unlike any other sport we start right off the bat with our biggest event. The way we used to do it with CBS back in the ‘90s, during practice Buddy Baker and I would hop in a car and go out and sit in the infield in Turn 3 and a car would go by and we’d name the driver. He would or I would just to keep double checking each other that we knew who was in what car. Now with Fox we’re watching practice but we’re also broadcasting practice, so the prep work is a little different and I just hope by Sunday we’ve got everybody in the right place.