Once the commotion of pre-race festivities is complete and the cars take to the high banks of Daytona International Speedway for 2016’s edition of Speedweeks, Dave Moody is guaranteed to be one of the first voices you hear once the field enters the first turn.
After nearly 40 years of following and covering the top ranks of NASCAR, the Vermont native has cemented himself as a familiar voice for the Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
Along with his colorful, charismatic demeanor on air, Moody once also spent time behind the wheel before learning the craft of announcing from legendary talent Ken Squier. Operating his Godfather Motorsports Blog since 2006, the 54-year-old has since been recognized as a history buff of the sport and a member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame voting panel – an honor given to only an elite class of NASCAR personalities.
Frontstretch sat down with Moody Saturday, Nov. 21, at Homestead-Miami Speedway to talk about his beginnings in racing and personal time with Squier and the late Steve Byrnes, as well as his unique on-air style of work.
1. The Beginning
Despite the success through the past three decades, Moody, much like everybody else in the higher levels of the sport, had a humble beginning.
Born in March of 1961 near a newly formed quarter-mile track called Thunder Road Speedbowl, his uncle was the first to bring the then-youngster to his first auto race.
“My uncle used to come over, drive from New Hampshire and drive an hour and a half each way to go to that race track,” Moody said. “When I got 5 or 6 years old, he realized, ‘I got a perfectly good nephew right up the road, maybe I’ll drag him along with me.'”
From that point forward, he was simply hooked.
“From the first time I ever went to the race track, that’s all I ever wanted to do,” he said. “I just thought racecars were the coolest thing on the planet.”
Before too long, Moody and friends took notice of the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, traveling to nearby races along the East Coast.
“As a fan, the first time I ever went to a Cup race some buddies and I from New England hooked a pop-up camper behind the car – five of us in a little tiny pop-up camper – and went to Martinsville. We went to the race but I think we drank more beer than we did actually watching racing. I was probably 20 … maybe I wasn’t, allegedly.”
Despite drinking more beer than watching racing, the weekend still had its thrill of danger – that of a different kind, however.
“We went there, we camped out in that camper and drank a ton of beer, like I said the first night,” he explained. “That was back where the campground used to sit, literally, right next to the railroad tracks at Martinsville before they moved the railroad tracks back. I remember at 6 a.m. in the morning, everybody is passed out in the camper and that train came through and laid on the horn and we thought sure as hell we were laying in the middle of the railroad tracks or whatever.”
Moody and company also hit the concrete mile of Dover International Speedway.
“We would go to Dover because it was close,” he said. “I remember one year sitting on top of a camper watching a race from the infield at Dover and Harry Gant lapped the field like three times. It was the worst race ever and we didn’t care, we loved it.”
2. Ken Squier and His Help Up the Racing Ladder
The developing fan in Moody quickly shifted to a hopeful worker of the sport. His thriving interest soon joined hands with Squier, who owned Thunder Road Speedbowl.
“In terms of being an announcer, I started out as a fan, I worked on some racecars,” Moody said. “As a kid I drove very badly for a very brief period of time. And that little race track that I grew up at was owned by Ken Squier, who is of Squier Hall Award fame, CBS Sports fame. When Ken started getting really busy with CBS and couldn’t be there every weekend to do the PA work at the race track, he was looking around for someone to replace him. I was writing in a little column for one of the regional racing trade papers.”
Moody, with a passion as bright as his vocabulary, was tapped by Squier to replace his spot and given a lesson on how to be a public address announcer.
“I think, in hindsight, he probably read some of my stuff and said, ‘Well, here’s a kid that’s got a workable vocabulary and loves the sport.’ So he kind of dragged me in and said, ‘Come on, I’m going to teach you how to be a public address announcer,’ which was like striking gold. When Ken Squier offers to teach you how to do what he does, yeah.”
By Moody’s standards, Squier birthed the starting point for many people in racing. From the first time he met Squier to the countless conversations while working alongside him, the lessons were plenty.
“I was always aware of Ken because he owned the race track and he was huge in the state of Vermont,” he said. “In terms of actually meeting Ken, speaking to Ken, I was probably 17 years old. It was probably the summer before my senior year of high school. And that’s the time where he kind of reached out and put the grab on me and said, ‘Come in here, I need you to help me with this.'”
The time progressed and Moody found himself gaining traction with Squier alongside.
“Over the course of the next year, year and a half, we raced on Thursday nights at that race track and they still do,” he says. “And every Thursday night I’d be up there in the booth and I’d announce practice or maybe a couple little four-cylinder heats or maybe a victory lane here and there.
“Then I’d be in his office the next morning and he’d say, ‘Here’s the couple of things you did right and he’s the hundred million things you did wrong. Do this, do this, do this.’”
Moody’s experience expanded to multiple tracks each week before receiving a traveling tour deal.
“From there, it kind of just progressed year by year. I worked at one race track and then I’d work at another race track and then I’d have three tracks a week, then four tracks a week, then a traveling tour deal. We just worked really hard at that for a lot years, put a lot of miles on.”
3. “Green Flag As They Storm into Turn 1!”
By the end of the 1980s, Moody advanced to the in-turn duties, sitting atop the billboards of sponsors like Sunoco and O’Reilly easily seen on TV to call the action.
A view seen by only a few men a year, after more than 25 years, Moody says the sight will never get old, especially once Speedweeks begins every February.
“Every year, it hits me at Daytona for Speedweeks,” Moody reminisced. “I don’t know if it’s because we’ve had two or three months off and we haven’t been there in a while. But when I’m standing up there in the turn position and you hear in the headset the ‘drivers, start your engines’ command, and they fire them up and then they roll off pit road and just kind of come by you on that first pace lap. I still haven’t gotten to the point – and I hope I never do get to the point where it becomes ordinary. I still… the hair stands up on the back of your neck and it’s like, holy crap this is the Daytona 500. We’re going to run the Daytona 500 and I get to be up here right in the middle of it. I hope I never lose that. I don’t think I ever will.”
The view is thrilling, the sound is outlandish and the opportunity to screw up is at an all-time high. When racing gets intense, the checkered flag is near or the Big One strikes – spewing a slur of colors into a large, smoking pile – the ability to describe the sight stands as the pivotal factor in nailing the task.
“It’s obviously a skill set that you cultivate to some degree,” he explained. “But I’m pretty convinced that you either have that ability or you don’t. Either you have that ability to take what you see, process it quickly and spit it back out accurately or you don’t. I don’t think that somebody that doesn’t have that ability can work at it and develop it. People that have the ability can fine-tune it, which we all work hard to do even today. You kind of have to have an innate play-by-play gene in your head to do it.”
4. Birth of SiriusXM Speedway
Moody’s voice took to the weekly airwaves on SiriusXM Radio in November 2003, beginning the popular SiriusXM Speedway show the day after Matt Kenseth won his Cup championship in 2003.
“We went on the air, our first show was the day after Matt Kenseth won the championship,” he said. “Worst. Timing. Ever. I mean, why would you start your show on the day where every single driver and virtually every single crew chief, anybody you would want to go talk to – it’s the day after the season. They are on the plane, they’re on a beach, they have turned the phone off. So we start a show on that day. And the reason is because it takes a while to get stuff done. You have to go through the red tape and you need to get everything done.”
Completing the show’s 12th year on air in November, Moody never expected the show to survive from its early struggles.
“I figured if we were lucky we’d get a couple years out of it, you know, maybe, if we were lucky. Nobody knew we existed for the first couple of months. We were on the stick-and-ball play-by-play sports channel. They’d have a baseball show and then they’d have a football show and then here we came, some knuckleheads talking about stock car racing for three hours in the middle of the afternoon.”
Before having his own racing-based channel on Sirius, Moody shared the same air with stick-and-ball sports like baseball and soccer.
“We would come on and we would do our three hours, and then we would be followed by World Soccer Daily with a very prim and proper British bloke as the host: [in British accent] ‘Stand by for World Soccer Daily!'” he recalled. “From the NASCAR fans to World Soccer Daily, we didn’t transfer a single listener between them. But that’s what we did for years.”
With various co-hosts spanning from Suzy Q. Armstrong, Angie Skinner [wife of Camping World Truck Series champion Mike Skinner] and currently Dustin Swedelson, Moody has learned the difficulty of making the daily commitment to the show from his fellow colleagues.
“It’s a hard deal to do because on the face of it, you think, ‘Ah, it’s four hours a day, that’s half the time most people work. You’re working half a shift,” Moody said. “But it’s there every day and you have to be so immersed in the sport 24/7. In order to go on the air and start taking phone calls from people and know that you’re going to be able to answer intelligently whatever they ask you, you have to live it.”
Moody doesn’t sugarcoat the difficulties of the profession; after all, he has hundreds of questions thrown at him each day on air,
“It’s just kind of… it’s all enveloping,” he said. “It’s hard. Suzy came to the conclusion and Angie came to the conclusion that it’s hard to make the commitment to it because it just dominates your life after a while.”
The show quickly attracted interviews from drivers like Kenseth, including Brendan Gaughan, who was their first driver interview. With the opportunity to speak to nearly every driver, team owner or crew chief in his time, Moody is well aware of his uncommon stance in the sport.
“I’ve been here, in some capacity or another, since 1984,” he said. “So most of these guys I pre-date by a significant amount of time. And just over the course of rope-repetition – Jeff Gordon and I were talking about this the other day during the Champions Four presser, neither one of us could begin to count how many times we sat side-by-side in adjoining chairs at various media functions or in the garage area or here in the trailer, pre-race, post-race, or I’m on the phone doing Speedway.
“I can’t count how many times I’ve interviewed Jeff Gordon. And after a certain number of years you just develop a relationship with them where they accept over time that you’re not looking to spin them out, you’re not looking to make a name on their back by saying something rotten about them or whatever. There is a trust there after a while.”
Moody has proven himself as an ultimate professional in the sport, sitting down with the path-pavers of NASCAR during his Legends interviews on Speedway.
“Some of them catch you by surprise,” he recalled. “But when you sit down with Richard Petty, you know you’re doing something special. When you get Bobby Allison to tell you his life story, you know you’re doing something special. Every once in a while you’ll get one you don’t expect, where somebody will just tell you something that you never knew. Those are a lot of fun.”
Moody has had plenty of opportunities to listen to some of the sport’s greatest personalities.
“When you look back at the roster of the people that we’ve been able to sit down and do those Legends series interviews with, when Richard Childress says, ‘come in my office, sit down, set up your microphones, we’ll talk for a couple hours,’ that’s special, it’s fun,” Moody said.
Joining his sturdy listening ability, Moody is a well-known believer of people freely expressing their opinion — in his words, it puts the ‘talk’ in ‘talk radio.’ However, once a caller goes a little off the beaten path with their opinions or perhaps incorrect statements, Moody is not afraid to straighten the curve.
“In order to do my job, in order to work in talk radio, you’ve got to be a huge believer in free speech. You have to be a huge believer in, even if this guy is completely out to lunch, even if nobody on the planet agrees with him, you have to let him talk because you can’t have talk radio if you don’t allow people to talk.”
Despite the freedom, Moody knows when the stop the bleeding.
“With that said… my firm belief is everybody has the right to speak, but they don’t have the right to speak forever,” he said. “That at some point, if I’m a responsible host, I have to say, ‘Dude, what you just said has no basis in fact.’ And one of the things I say to people all the time is, ‘You are entitled to your own opinion, but you’re not entitled to your own facts.’
“There are a million opinions but there’s only one set of facts. And if you’re not square with that facts, I’m going to point out that you’re not square with the facts and that’s where the debate comes in and that’s where the back-and-forth comes in and that’s where people get energized.”
Moody and many of the show’s callers believe disagreement leads to some of the best back-and-forth offered on radio.
“If everybody on the air agreed with everybody else, it would just be stultifyingly dull,” he said. “Rush Limbaugh makes a billion dollars for every penny I make, so he must be doing something right. The only people that get on the air to talk to Rush Limbaugh are people that agree with Rush Limbaugh. It’s always, ‘Mega dittos, Rush. I agree with everything you’ve ever said in your life! [And Rush says] Well, of course you do because I’m the smartest’ – and that’s great, he’s doing a wonderful job and he’s very successful. I couldn’t do that.
“I’ve never learned anything from talking. I learn from listening. So I want to hear what people have to say.”
Of course, Moody stays humble when it comes to compliments.
“If I get three calls in a row where people just want to blow air up my skirt and tell me what a great job I’m doing, it’s like, ‘OK, fine. Thank you very much, I appreciate it but let’s move on to somebody that’s got something bigger to say.’”
5. The Transition to TV and NASCAR Race Hub
On July 16, 2015, Fox Sports 1 personality Danielle Trotta sparked the idea to sit down with Moody to discuss his daily work on Speedway. The aired segment eventually led to an announcement on Sept. 1, which began a weekly Monday segment The Pulse, giving Moody his time on NASCAR Race Hub to talk about the previous weekend of racing.
“We’ve had a blast doing that, honestly,” Moody said. “And that came from kind of humble beginnings because it came from a simple single segment. It was Danielle’s idea and she came down with a camera crew and sat across the desk from me as we were doing Speedway and just did a little feature on here’s the guy that does SiriusXM Speedway every day. And I guess the fans reacted positively to it, her bosses reacted positively to it and pretty quickly it turned into ‘Well, why can’t we do this once a week?’
“So now we’re down there, and we have for the second half of this season, doing our deal every Monday down there. It may not continue next year, if it doesn’t, we had a hell of a time. But yeah, we’ve had a great time doing that. I really enjoy it.”
6. Time with Steve Byrnes
Though Moody was unable to share his new segment with the late Steve Byrnes [a regular on Race Hub who passed away after a battle with cancer in April 2015], he manned a special edition of Speedway with Byrnes during Speedweeks at Daytona in February 2015, what Moody believes was Byrnes’ last on-air role before his untimely death.
“I don’t know this for sure, but I’m pretty sure, that Steve’s last on-air deal was with us,” he said. “Because when we went to Speedweeks in February, he couldn’t go because he was too sick. He knew more about the seriousness of his condition at that point than we did. But we knew he was really depressed about the fact that he couldn’t go to Speedweeks. ‘If you could do a half-hour, we’ll do a half-hour, if you can do an hour, we’ll do an hour and if you can do the whole day, you’re welcome to stay for the whole day.’ And he just lit up. Absolutely lit up.”
The on-air role was nothing new for Byrnes; however, Moody realized he was struggling to complete the full show.
“And we did the full four hours that day with him,” the host recalled. “And toward the end, I knew he was struggling a little bit. Karen, his wife, subsequently after his passing told me that he was just kind of hanging in there for the last hour or two, but he didn’t want to stop. And we didn’t want to stop because it was just so special to be able to spend the time with him and put a smile on his face.
“We knew that Steve wasn’t going to win that fight but we thought he was going to be able to fight longer than he did. It really turned very quickly and [when he died] was a tough day.”
7. Hall of Fame Voting Panel
Another honor Moody shared with Byrnes was his spot on the NASCAR Hall of Fame voting panel, a 59-member panel responsible for the five personalities inducted into the Hall of Fame every January.
“I still can’t believe they let me back in that room every year,” Moody said. “I’ve done it for five or six years now and I still kick myself when I get up on the morning of the vote and say you get to go in that room and sit next to Richard Petty and Junior Johnson and Ned Jarrett and all the greats of our sport and decide who gets in to the Hall of Fame.”
With a cherished role in NASCAR’s induction process, Moody is simply happy to be there.
“I know I’m one of, what, 52 votes or whatever it is, but it’s still an incredible honor just to be invited to sit in that room,” he said. “If I never said a word, that’s fine. If they didn’t let me cast a vote at the end, I don’t care. Just to be able to sit in that room and listen to all of the things that are discussed and said, it’s special.”
Jeff Gordon, with a foreseen spot in the Hall of Fame in the near future, will be on Moody’s ballot once the time comes as the four-time champion has changed the sport through the past three decades.
“When he came in, NASCAR drivers were good ‘ol boys,” he said the day before Gordon started his final race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. “The vast majority of them were from North Carolina, they were guys who wore cowboy boots and cowboy hats and big belt buckles, baseball caps, dirty baseball caps or whatever.
“And here came Jeff Gordon, this tiny little guy, he wasn’t tough in the physical sense of the word. He came in with a fancy haircut and tried to do the mustache thing but it didn’t work and he was carrying a briefcase. And he talked about things like investments and portfolios, marketing.
“And everybody is like, ‘Who is this guy? We’ve never seen anything like this.’ And he changed our sport so quickly and so much for the better.”
8. Advice and a Lasting Impact
“And he’s got a pack of dogs snapping at his heels, and they are hungry dogs indeed!” – Dave Moody, Talladega, 2014.
With sizzling on-air lines for the tens of thousands of fans in attendance and the thousands listening at home or on the road, it is almost expected for a man like Moody to gain a base of fans. Over the years, Moody, in return, has also given his share of advice.
“Oh, I love that,” Moody said of giving advice to young talents. “I wish I had somebody – well, I did in Ken [Squier] – but I wish I had somebody I could go to and say, ‘How do I do this?’ And the main problem I have is that people will come to me and say, ‘I want to do your job, how do I be you?’ And [what] I’ll say is, ‘Go to your local short track, volunteer to be the pit reporter or the Victory Lane interviewer, tell them you’ll work for free.’ ‘Well, I don’t want to work for free.’ Well, then you don’t want the job. You don’t want this bad enough.”
With social media bringing the sport 24/7 to the fans in today’s world, Moody believes many hopefuls don’t want to put in the time anymore.
“We used to hook up, we would drive out of Vermont and drive eight hours to Ontario, practice, qualify, race, climb back into the car at 11 o’clock at night and drive eight hours home,” he said. “And we’d do it again the next day to somewhere else. If you’re not willing to do that, you have to got to want to do it. To do that for peanut-butter-and-jelly wages, beans-and-weenie wages, you got to love the sport.
These days, it seems more and more people want to start at the Sprint Cup Series level in their careers. Moody is one that often has to ground them in reality.
“It seems like now, everybody wants to start at least in the middle or at the top,” he said. “I get people that call and say, ‘How do I get a job driving a transporter for a Sprint Cup team?’ Well, you don’t. You don’t. These guys didn’t start at the Cup level.
“When I was a kid I used to sit in the living room and stare out the window, waiting for my New England Speedway Scene newspaper to come on Friday so I could open it up and see who won the races last weekend. You know? It’s not like that anymore. You’re instantly connected now and that’s a good thing, but it’s also a bad thing because you can just overload, you can overdose on NASCAR now.”
9. The Final Two Questions
With 40 years of time and countless hours of on-air talk, there are two questions up in the air for Dave Moody.
First, how long does he plan on doing this whole NASCAR thing?
“You get to the point where you’re too old to change,” he said. “And I’m still having fun doing it. I’ve said, not just about Speedway but about this whole job, the whole deal, the day I get out of bed saying, ‘Ah, damn, I got to go to work today.’ That’s when I’ll stop. I get out of bed energized every day to go to work. I really enjoy what I do and when that stops, I’ll stop. But I don’t see that happening.”
The second question is a familiar one for Moody, who ends each honored Legends interview with this cut-and-dry question: How would you like to be remembered in this sport?
“I don’t worry about gagging my impact or anything like that,” he answered, humbly. “I’m just a guy that showed up for work every day. I started in this business as a race fan, I came in as a race fan, I’ll go out as a race fan. I don’t see myself any differently than anybody that sits up in those grandstands, except for the fact that they have to buy a ticket. You know? They’re doing the hard part, they have to travel and buy the ticket. People fly me in, they put me in the hotel, they give me a pass to get into the race track, all I got to do is talk about it. I’d be doing that anyway!
“I guess if I’m going to remembered, remember me as a guy that started as a race fan and that finished as a race fan.”
(Below is unedited video from our conversation with Moody.)