“There’s a fight between Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison. The tempers are overflowing. They’re angry; they know they’ve lost.”
Those words from Ken Squier came moments after Richard Petty won the 1979 Daytona 500, the NASCAR Cup Series race still generally accepted as the sport’s most important event. Squier, who died Wednesday night at 88 after a number of medical issues, was the voice of the 500-miler that he convinced CBS-TV executive Neal Pilson to broadcast live from start to finish.
From that moment on, Southern-based stock car racing began to work its way into America’s sporting consciousness. For much of the next several decades, Squier’s voice was the one most NASCAR fans heard on any number of broadcasting platforms.
By almost every measure, the Vermont native was the sport’s most important figure not named France. Even though Waterbury, Vt. isn’t exactly a motorsports mecca, Dale Keny Squier grew up in his father’s radio station listening to whatever racing broadcasts were available. Once he began broadcasting local weekly-track events, NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. hired him as the lead announcer and co-founder on the newly created Daytona Beach-based Motor Racing Network in 1970.
It didn’t take long for Squier and the France family to begin lobbying CBS-TV to televise Cup Series races live from start to finish. Nothing in racing was ever the same after Yarborough and Allison wrecked each other on the backstretch of the ’79 Daytona 500, which Squier had called “The Great American Race.”
On Thursday, within hours of his death after a long illness, tributes came in from virtually everyone in the NASCAR community.
“Though he never sat behind the wheel of a stock car, Ken Squier contributed to the growth of NASCAR as much as any competitor,” said Jim France, Chairman and CEO of NASCAR. “He was a superb storyteller and his unmistakable voice is the soundtrack to many of NASCAR’s greatest moments. His calls on TV and radio brought fans closer to the sport, and for that he was a fan favorite. Ken knew no strangers, and he will be missed by all. On behalf of the France family and all of NASCAR, I offer my condolences to the family and friends of Ken Squier.”
From Petty, who held off Darrell Waltrip and A.J. Foyt in that memorable 1979 Daytona 500: “He was a big pusher for Cup racing. He understood the racing people, he understood NASCAR and he was really good at it. If you’re an amateur or never heard a race or never knew anything about a race, he could explain it to you in layman’s terms. He was one of the first ones, if not the first one, they got to tell the general public how exciting Cup racing was.”
Fellow Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt Jr. grew up with NASCAR, which means he was listening to Squier years before he began racing himself. “Ken was there when NASCAR was introduced to the rest of the world in 1979 for the Daytona 500,” he said. “I’m convinced that race would have not had its lasting impact had Ken not been our lead narrator. We still ride the wave of that momentum created on that day. Ken’s words and energy were perfection on a day when NASCAR needed it. I am forever grateful for his major role in growing stock car racing.”
Squier became a familiar face in every meaningful motorsports hall of fame. The NASCAR Hall of Fame named its most important media award the Hall-Squier Award for Squier and the late fellow broadcaster Barney Hall. He was an early recipient of the American Motorsports Media Award of Excellence and was inducted in 2018 into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte.
He insisted the men and women in the race cars were the true heroes of the sport, that he was simply there for all those years just to tell their stories.
Nobody did it better.