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Teach 03-20-2010 10:30 PM

Remembering Joe Hartmann
This story is a tribute to Joe Hartmann who passed away earlier this week.

"Walter, that just wonít fly," Joe said, as he held the audio cassette in his hand. "I canít take this to management," he continued. I had recently given Joe a tape of the qualifiers I had called at Foxboro Raceway.

I would first meet Joe Hartmann several months earlier during the summer of 1983. I was then teaching high school history. I would supplement my teacherís pay by working part-time for local newspapers and radio stations. Over that summer I had met Joe when I was covering an awards dinner that was honoring harness racing driver, Jim Hogan (the late father of Jack Hogan).

Well Joe, then serving as Foxboroís publicity director, was most helpful. I recall that he set up the interview for me with Jim Hogan. I remember Hogan regaling me with stories about his harness racing experiences. He was particularly proud of his son Jack. I recall him telling me that his son got start ed in harness racing on the frozen New Hampshire lakes and ponds.

Over the course of the next few months, even when I wasnít visiting Foxboro Raceway on official business, I would stop by to say hello to Joe. He was always friendly and cordial.

As I recall, on one occasion, I mentioned a handful of ideas that might help Joe promote the Foxboro Raceway. Joe was most appreciative.

Then, in October, I again covered an awards dinner. As I recall, one of the honorees was Walter Case, Jr. It was after the dinner, as we were sipping on coffees, that Joe and I had a chance to talk. As if it were yesterday, I recall the exact words Joe spoke to me: "Walter," he said, "keep this under your hat, but Iím leaving Foxboro Raceway. Iím taking a job with Pocono Downs." He then asked if I knew anyone who was a good writer who also knows the sport of harness racing. He added that they will thave to occasionally fill in as the backup announcer. I remember saying, "I donít know anyone, Joe, but Iím interested." I then said, "I can handle the writing and publicity work, but I never announced a harness race."

Well, it was then that Joe suggested that I take a crack at it. I recall that he said that qualifiers were held on Wednesday mornings.

That Wednesaday morning, I drove over to Foxboro Raceway, cleared myself with security, and walked up several flights of stars to the announcerís booth high atop Foxboro Raceway. As Joe had said, there were a pair of binoculars in a cabinet. Talk about a panoramic view, I thought I was on top of the Empire State Building.

Just then, the first race pacers were leaving the paddock and preparing, after a brief warmup to, pace out the qualifying mile. I recall saying into my tape recorder, "Starting gate now in motion...pacers are in the lane...theyíre off and pacing..." Well, candidly, that was the best part of my rendition. In hindsight, I was terrible, I couldnít pull the trigger. I had trouble calling horse's names and horsesí position on the track, eg., first quarter, half, etc.

Well, I tried a second race. My effort was equally disastrous. I was frustrated. I had, over the years, heard hundreds and hundreds of harness races called. "This should be a piece of cake," I thought. I figured it was like going horseback riding. You just get on the horseís back and ride. Only, in my case, I ended up in a heap.

A short time later, I left the tape on Joe's desk in the publicity office. A couple days later, I had a meeting with Joe. Thatís when he politely told me that my tape "just didnít cut it."

I was heartbroken. Downtrodden. I wanted so badly to call harness races. My desire to call races went back over twenty-fives years to the first time I ever heard a harness race called.

Well, before I left I asked Joe, "Would it be possible to try again." "Sure Walter," he said. I recall Joe saying, "Just give me a call so I can clear it with security."

In the interim, I went to Foxboro Raceway as a patron. I remembering bringing my tape recorder. I taped all of announcer Wally Cryan's calls. I then played Cryanís race calls back over and over again. I even went down my cellar and called imaginary races. I would learn that one of the secrets of calling harness races and avoiding "dead air" is to be able to "buy time" to make a call. That usually has to do with calling horsesí positions on the track.

About a week later, I again entered tha announcer's booth. This time I felt more confident. I knew what to expect. I remember calling the first qualifier. Although there was some "dead air," I know my efforts were a vast improvement over my first try.

Well, before I gave my tape to Joe, I went over to a radio station that I worked at. I recall going into the station's recording stiudio and dubbing in race calls in the areas where there was still "dead air." Call it "announcerís license."

A day or so later I brought the tape of my second effort to Joe. He listened. I remember him, saying, "Walter, this is a vast improvement over your first effort. I can certainly bring your race calls to management," he added. He continued, "Iím going to recommend that they hire you as my replacement." And, I was hired within a week. I started working at Foxboro Raceway just after the Thanksgiving Holiday; it was late November, 1983.

Well, by this time Joe was headed for Pennsylvania and the Pocono Mountains. Joe had been a good friend and a huge help in assisting me in landing the job of my dreams.

As a postscript, I would serve as publicity director/backup race announcer for at Foxboro Raceway for the next nine months. My stint at Foxboro Raceway might have been longer, but the Rooney Family, the operrators of Yonkers Raceway, had taken over the operation of the track. One night in late-August, 1984, the new management informed me that I was being let go. They made it clear that it wasnít for poor job performance; it was because they were bringing in their own staff.

Oh, I would occasionally see Joe at Plainridge Racecourse (after Focboro closed down). It got to be an annual reunion. Joe was always part of the big Labor Day card at Plainridge Racecourse.

As I think back, every time I saw Joe, he was most affable. I donít think Joe had a mean bone in his body. Goodbye, dear friend. Maybe, some day, we'll meet again. Requiescat In Pace. "Rest In Peace."


lamboguy 03-20-2010 11:33 PM

i worked with joe at plainridge, he was a sweetheart of a guy. he would go out of his way to help me when he could. when i needed something he was johnie on the spot for me. i had a few problems getting along with others that were in that place, but not with joe. he wasn't envious of me either. i was a terrible person to be around after putting in 12 hours a day in that place 7 days a week.

he understood me like no one else in the place. all i ever wanted to do was do my job and not have anyone else get in the way. another nice guy that worked in the place was paulie rizza, he was the other guy that i got along with.

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