Called home: Wal­lace did it with class

The Sentinel-Record - - SPORTS - Bob Wisener

With Fa­ther Time as om­nipresent as Santa Claus, De­cem­ber is sober­ing enough with­out the Grim Reaper in­ter­fer­ing.

The 12th month has been es­pe­cially un­set­tling at Oak­lawn Park with three ma­jor track fig­ures pass­ing in De­cem­ber within the last year. First came long­time track Pres­i­dent Charles J. Cella and Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg. It has been only a few weeks since Larry Sny­der, an Oak­lawn fix­ture for years as a jockey or stew­ard, joined their ranks, all af­ter long ill­nesses.

Terry Wal­lace, whose good cheer spread from the press box for 37 years, through rain or shine, in sick­ness and in health, is the lat­est to go. And though a suc­ces­sor was found in the an­nouncer’s booth, the voice of Oak­lawn Park is ir­re­place­able in his adopted Hot Springs.

I don’t know how many peo­ple at­tend races in, say, Cal­i­for­nia to hear Trevor Den­man. Nor can I say how much Wal­lace di­rectly im­pacted Oak­lawn’s growth into the na­tional racing cen­ter that it has be­come.

I can say with cer­tainty that for the 28 years to­gether they charmed the state’s lis­ten­ers, one call­ing Oak­lawn races and the other broad­cast­ing Ra­zor­back foot­ball and bas­ket­ball games, Wal­lace and the late Paul Eells ranked as the most rec­og­niz­able voices in Arkansas. It would be hard to say who com­pleted that tri­fecta.

Through no fault of his, Wal­lace never quite achieved the na­tional au­di­ence of, say, Den­man, Dave Johnson or his Oak­lawn pre­de­ces­sor, the late Chic An­der­son. But Wal­lace was in the right place at the right time when Oak­lawn un­der­went a growth spurt in the 1970s that con­tin­ues in full swing. And when some of Oak­lawn’s ma­jor races, in­clud­ing the Arkansas Derby and Oak­lawn Hand­i­cap, came to be tele­vised, oth­ers learned what we took for granted, that Wal­lace could call races with the best of them.

For ev­ery Smarty Jones or Demons Be­gone he de­scribed with en­thu­si­asm, Wal­lace dis­played the same pro­fes­sional touch to a full field of Arkansas-bred horses on a foggy Fe­bru­ary af­ter­noon. If the race had purse money and peo­ple bet on the out­come, whether it be in the daily dou­ble or the Racing Fes­ti­val of the South, Wal­lace called it at Oak­lawn for

37 years.

Not un­til re­cent years did we truly ap­pre­ci­ate that Wal­lace did it so well and for so long. Like the best horses ever to race at Oak­lawn, the track an­nouncer ex­hib­ited Hem­ing­way-like virtues of stay­ing power and grace un­der pres­sure. Not all of his calls were flaw­less, but never to my knowl­edge did he “phone in” a race or give less than best ef­fort.

And, to think, all those years he never called in sick. Call­ing

20,191 con­sec­u­tive Oak­lawn heats at one stretch, Wal­lace be­came the Cal Rip­ken of horse racing. It came as a sur­prise when Oak­lawn granted him a race off early in the 2011 sea­son, let­ting him mill with the crowd. Luck­ily, it did not take a fa­tal ill­ness, as with Lou Gehrig, to get him out of the lineup.

Be­fore his health de­clined, Wal­lace made a suc­cess­ful tran­si­tion as an ex-an­nouncer. We at The Sen­tinel-Record were proud that for six years he faith­fully au­thored the news­pa­per’s Morn­ing Line dur­ing the Oak­lawn sea­son and also for the Triple Crown and Breed­ers’ Cup races. Friends from the day I be­gan cover­ing Oak­lawn in

1980, Wal­lace the hand­i­cap­per warmed my heart when­ever he called me, as sports ed­i­tor, “my boss.”

Frank Mi­rah­madi, Pete Aiello and Vic Stauf­fer, the cur­rent holder, have fol­lowed Wal­lace in the Oak­lawn booth. All gave voice to Wal­lace’s leg­endary sta­tus at the track with Mi­rah­madi say­ing he merely wanted to up­hold the honor TW brought to the job. I never asked Terry to rate any of his suc­ces­sors, con­fi­dent that he could ap­pre­ci­ate the sound of other voices call­ing a sport he loved.

I am es­pe­cially proud of the word I had with Terry one af­ter­noon out­side the press-box el­e­va­tor af­ter a day at the races. He was then both call­ing races and be­com­ing in­creas­ingly ac­tive in civic af­fairs.

Re­fer­ring to his work with the Amer­i­can Cancer So­ci­ety in par­tic­u­lar, I said, “You may be re­mem­bered longer for that, and touch more peo­ple, than any­thing you do here.”

They needed a race­caller in horse­player’s heaven. They are get­ting one of the best. I just hope they have Oak­law­nany­where.com if he wants to make a bet. And that he’ll pub­lish his picks. Good night from Oak­lawn!

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