Mike Meurer, “The Talker Guy,” is silent.
Tuesday night, I was making my final rounds through Twitter, Facebook, and my usual social media outlets when I saw a post from the offical Facebook page of Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55.
“We are deeply sadden (sic) to learn of the passing of Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 track announcer Mike Muerer this evening. Our Condolences go out to all of Mike’s family and friends. RIP & God Speed Mike.. We love you…”
I haven’t known Mike the longest. I didn’t know him the best. Hell, I haven’t even seen him since Dover Motorsports shut Gateway International Raceway down in the fall of 2010 and I lost my job as the PR director there. Since then, I’ve faded away from the area racing scene a bit, the sting of no longer being part of the club still smarting. But hearing of Mike’s passing still stopped me cold.
The job of a racetrack promoter isn’t weekdays, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. It’s 24/7. It requires a ton of travel and it requires, if you’re doing it right, the cooperation of any and all racetracks in a 200-mile radius of your own. When Lenny Batycki and I would go out to promote the NASCAR events at Gateway, we’d leave Friday afternoon and come back late Sunday night. In that span, he and I would hit six to ten tracks in three or four states. Sometimes, we were greeted as friends and treated like royalty. Other times, we were allowed in the gate only because we had free tickets and then expected to leave the moment we turned the tix over to the promoter.
Meurer did the best thing Lenny and I could have asked for and the hardest thing an announcer can do — he handed us his mic.
Being an announcer is hard work. A lot of the fans in the stands would disagree, but they’ve never done it. You have to entertain the crowd during the down times, you have to sell product at the concession stands, you have to know who is racing, their backgrounds, how they finished the week before, and you have to sound like you know what you’re doing. And when you’ve done all that, the last thing you want to do is hand your mic over to someone else. It’s like Harry Potter surrendering his wand to a stranger; you’ve got these people in the palm of your hand thanks to the magic you’ve casted and now, you’re tempting fate by letting someone else cast a spell.
Mike did it without hesitation. He knew Lenny and I weren’t there to take over the show. He trusted us and we never abused it. Whether we were at Belle-Clair Speedway (Belleville, Ill.) or I-55 Raceway (Fenton, Mo.) or anywhere else Mike was working, we knew it was Mike’s show and we were there because he allowed it. Being an announcer, especially being a good one, comes with a level of arrogance and self-confidence. Mike was confident, but never arrogant. The sport of racing is full of people who love it and give their life to it, but Muerer was one of those people who had no ego when it came to his job. If he could entertain the crowd and get a laugh by being the butt of a joke, he did it without hesitation. He would set the joke on a tee and let you swing for the fences.
He emceed the annual St. Louis Auto Racing Fan Club banquet along with other track banquets. In January, 2009, I was named Outstanding Media Person of the Year. Since I was a member and had helped with the banquet, I knew most of the award winners prior to the event. In order for the award to be a true surprise, some trickery was done and another name was put on the list of winners instead of mine. Lenny, my daughter, members of the fan club, and Mike were all in on it. When he called my name, with a big smile on his face, I nearly passed out. Later that night, each promoter was asked to come up and say a few words. Lenny, a verbose individual on his slowest day, had hit the five-minute mark when Mike snuck up behind him with a role of duct tape.
Muerer let you use his mic, but there were limits.
The man known by St. Louis-area racing fans as The Talker Guy was a Vietnam vet who won’t see his 65th birthday. He leaves behind his wife, Tina; his children; his grandchildren; and thousands of people who will never feel the same about going to a race where he announced. He died Tuesday, May 29th, 2012, of an apparent heart attack. He had spoken to I-55 Raceway promoter Ray Marler that night, telling how good things were with him and how happy he was. He would be gone only a few hours later.
He was kind, he was generous, and he will be forever remembered as one of the best announcers the sport of dirt track racing has ever seen. I remember him as a consumate professional and a man who made it look easy until someone else took the mic. Those are the best ones, the ones who make their jobs seem effortless. He spoke to thousands of fans every weekend like he was talking to his best friend. A fitting analogy because that’s exactly what he was doing. He knew no strangers at the track. At the Church of Speed, Muerer was the pastor, preaching the gospel of racing.
To paraphrase a famous poem about a stick-and-ball sport, there is no joy at the race track, for The Talker Guy, The Mighty Talker Guy, has turned off the mic.
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