By TONY TAGLAVORE, Journal Sports
Dave Rodman’s first day at his new job did not start well.
Not well at all.
“The first race I called, I called the wrong winner,” the now-veteran track announcer remembered.
“But they gave me the job anyway.”
That was back in 1981. Rodman — then in his very early 20’s — was replacing Jefferson Downs’ previous track announcer.
“I was just so nervous, I believe I flipped the horses,” Rodman explained. “But it didn’t matter because they needed an announcer, and they liked my voice and they liked my style.”
Rodman survived that first day, and has built a 40-plus year career. A New Orleans native, Rodman is in his 32nd year calling races at Pimlico Race Course — home of the Preakness Stakes — and Laurel Park.
But in-between the now-defunct Jefferson Downs in Kenner, Louisiana, and the Maryland circuit, there was a five-year layover at Louisiana Downs. From 1985-1990, Rodman was the golden voice during some of the Downs’ golden years.
“It was a fun time,” Rodman said. “All of the employees at the track were really caught up in the momentum of the meet.”
Rodman was the Downs’ third track announcer, following Bob Kinney and Tony Bentley.
“It was a dream come true, because it was what I wanted to do for a living,” Rodman said. “To be able to call (races) when the big trainers came to town. We would take them around and do radio shows and interviews with them. To be on that level, I never thought I would get there, coming from a bread-and- butter track.”
Rodman is forever grateful that Tom Sweeney, then the track’s general manager, gave Rodman the opportunity to live his “dream.” In fact, Rodman enjoyed a measure of notoriety while at the Downs.
Most every race day, local television stations would show the stretch run of a featured race. “Here’s track announcer Dave Rodman with the call,” the sports anchor would say. But it wasn’t Rodman’s race calling that one night endeared him to diners at a Bossier City restaurant.
“I distinctly remember doing a seminar, and I gave out some ridiculous trifecta … (After the races), a bunch of us walked into Ralph and Kacoo’s. A group of people at a table, who were at the seminar, recognized me and got up and started applauding. They paid for dinner. I’ll never forget that. Instead of, ‘Great job calling the races’, it was, ‘Thanks for the trifecta!’”
After five years on Highway 80, Rodman had a chance to move on up to the East Side. Pimlico and Laurel — which combined offered Rodman year-round work — were looking for a new announcer.
“It was a bigger circuit,” Rodman said. “More national exposure, and obviously calling a Triple Crown race — I had to jump at that opportunity.”
That “opportunity” led to his calling the Preakness each of the past 32 years.
“At LAD, on the weekends, there would be 15 — sometimes 20 thousand (people),” Rodman said. “My first Preakness, I was completely in awe. I looked out in the infield and saw three times that number of people. Calling the Preakness, saying, ‘They’re off!,’ and hearing the crowd through the window—I can tell you the binoculars were shaking, that’s for sure. I’m just glad Hansel (the winner) drew off by many lengths, and it wasn’t like a three-horse photo.”
Rodman’s love of racing was born during his childhood years.
“It’s all my father,” Rodman said. “He was a weekend horse player. He would bring me to the racetrack in New Orleans … He would sneak me into Jefferson Downs, because there was an age limit. I would sit in the corner, be quiet, and watch the races.”
As Rodman grew older, he found another passion.
“In high school, I was very interested in getting into radio. I said, ‘This is cool. I can talk and play records for a living.’ So, my next love was wanting to become a DJ … I had my own set-up in my room with a turntable, and I would practice introducing records.”
As a race caller, Rodman thinks of himself as being “on-air.”
“In a way, it is like being on the radio,” Rodman said. “I try to make my calls mimic what’s going on at the track, as if you were listening to the radio, so you’ll know what’s going on without actually seeing the picture. It helped me immensely. The merger between radio and race calling was like the perfect Roux, as they say in Louisiana.”
And that “Roux” has been the foundation for what has become a long, successful career.
“I don’t think there’s ever been a time when I’ve awakened in the morning and said, ‘You know what, I don’t feel like going into work today.’ If that happens, it’s probably time to hang up the binoculars.”
But that time hasn’t come. At age 63, Rodman doesn’t feel like he’s nearing the finish line.
“As long as my memory will let me do it. My memory and my health.”
Louisiana Downs wraps up its racing season today. Post time is 12:45.
Contact Tony at SBJTonyT@gmail.com