PENN YAN, N.Y. — The dirt racing community in the Northeast and a small community in Upstate New York are both mourning the loss of a husband, father, grandfather, friend, mentor, dirt track analyst and beloved promoter in Gary Montgomery, who passed away Wednesday on his 74th birthday.
Montgomery was surrounded by his family and was taken to be with the Lord on Wednesday evening. He had battled courageously against cancer for the past year, with the cancer taking over rather aggressively this Fall.
It would take days to tell the story of Gary Montgomery’s rise in the world of motorsports, but he had involvement on every level, from the grassroots stage of New York’s many dirt tracks all the way to announcing from turn four at the Daytona International Speedway during NASCAR’s marquee event, the Daytona 500.
Montgomery’s love of auto racing started in 1950, when his family attended races at the Wellsville Speedway. They attended races twice weekly at local tracks, with the community levels of the sport being on display. Though he couldn’t recall the winner or how the race played out at his first race, Montgomery recalled in a recent interview that it was wandering the pit area during the post-race technical inspection that made him “catch the racing bug.”
In 1959, Montgomery got his first shot at announcing a race at the Bradford Speedway. It was really by chance that he found himself in the tower, but that night was an event that would change the course of the rest of his life.
“The track owner realized at race time that he didn’t have an announcer,” said Montgomery recently. “I stepped up and said I would announce for him. The rest, as they say, was history.”
Montgomery later became a big fan of racing at the Spencer Speedway, where he got his next shot at play-by-play duties. During the 1968 and 1969 seasons, Montgomery’s first time announcing at Spencer was a night that he felt was the most challenging of his career.
“I remember it vividly,” recalled Montgomery. “A car got up in the air and landed in the grandstands, killing several people. One of them was the owner and person behind building Rolling Wheels (Raceway Park). Imagine that being your first night officially on the job?”
Montgomery was a master of networking and knowing the drivers in the pit area better than any announcer in the area. In his time as a broadcast announcer for the TV series ‘Rush Hour on DIRT,’ Montgomery was much more than just a color commentator.
He knew the pit area and all it’s drivers like the back of his hand, and his way of reproducing that information at just the right time was powerful. He knew where the driver was from, what he did for an occupation, how many kids he had, how many different car owners he had driven for and much more.
It was this level of preparation that set Montgomery aside from anyone else that has ever held the microphone. His level of preparation wasn’t aided by the use of social media, but was obtained through weekly conversation with drivers from each division, not just the premier division.
It was a networking opportunity at one of Gary’s favorite events, Super DIRT Week, that landed him an opportunity to join the broadcast team at the Motor Racing Network (MRN) to cover countless NASCAR events.
Montgomery recently recalled a fond memory of his first trip to announce for MRN at Daytona.
Legendary broadcaster Dave Despain came up sick and couldn’t announce from the turn four position, prompting MRN to call Montgomery in for a relief effort. Montgomery said with a smile, “That started a relationship that lasted a very long time at MRN.”
Other notable events that Montgomery found himself in the middle of while broadcasting for MRN included the tragic day that J.D. McDuffie lost his life at Watkins Glen International. McDuffie’s crash happened right below Montgomery’s call position.
Some may even remember the day that eventual six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson launched into the turn one guardrail at the Glen, in what was then the NASCAR Busch Series. Who was the first reporter to interview Johnson after exiting the Infield Care Center?
That’s right: Gary Montgomery.