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Q&A with Dave Rodman, the voice of Timonium Race Course at the Maryland State Fair

Dave Rodman has been "The Voice" at Maryland racetracks since 1991. He has called 27 Preaknesses, at Pimlico Race Course while also announcing the action at Laurel Park and Timonium Race Course. The latter, a throwback to tracks of yore, begins its seven-day season Friday during the Maryland State Fair. The Baltimore Sun sat down with Rodman, 58, to discuss his work there.

At five-eighths of a mile, Timonium is the smallest track around. Does its size affect your race-calling?

A lot of the races are only one-half mile, so I have to be quick on my announcing to get through the whole field in a total of about 47 seconds.

Would you call Timonium a retro track?

There’s a 180-degree difference between calling the Preakness and calling the fairs. Timonium is such a cool track. It takes you back to the roots of the sport. It’s basic horse racing; there’s no turf, and the horses are really up close. I can almost call it without using binoculars.

Do you play to the novice fan base?

A lot of people at Timonium may be new to the track; they just stumble onto it while walking from the state fair and eating a funnel cake. At Laurel or Pimlico, with their hardened railbirds, I have to be more professional. But here, amid the cotton candy, I can use more shtick and let it all hang out. I’ll say, “As they pass the Ferris wheel” instead of the quarter-pole. Or, “They’re nearing the Swifty Swine [pig] Races.” The calls are just as accurate, but those nuances that I throw in help make it a fair atmosphere.

I used to pick a “fan-of-the-day” from the grandstand. In 2010, Justin Bieber played a concert in the infield, so I said, ‘Congratulations to so-and-so! Come to the press box and pick up your Justin Bieber lunchbox!” It was a joke, of course.

What’s the best thing about working Timonium?

The relaxed atmosphere and the feeling that you’re back in the 1950s, or even the 1940s. There’s a lot less stress than the everyday race call. It’s almost like a mini-vacation, going from 14 horses at Laurel to seven or eight at a bull ring [small track]. Also, from time to time, people will bring corn dogs up to the press box.

Have the track and the fair ever clashed?

Once, in the 1990s, I heard that the horses wouldn’t go to the starting gate because there was a caged lion behind the 6½-furlong chute at the fair. So they moved the lion.

Many of the horses’ names are new to you. Is that a problem?

I check the entries beforehand and yellow-line those I have questions about. Once in a while, after a race, an owner will call and say, “I want my horse’s name pronounced this way,” even though, technically, it’s wrong. But I go with what the owners want.

You’re not going to get a super-name horse at The Big T [Timonium], but there are surprises. Eight or nine years ago, [seven-time Eclipse Award Trainer of the Year] Todd Pletcher won a stakes race here.

Do children enjoy their time at the track?

They come to the paddock where, between races, our outriders put the ponies’ heads over the fence so kids can feed them peppermints and pet their noses. Some may have never touched a horse. I can only imagine that, somewhere in that crowd, there’s a young me.

So that’s how you broke into the sport?

Back in Louisiana, where I was born, my dad would sneak me in to Jefferson Downs, a bread-and-butter track like Timonium. He’d give me $10 and say, “Pick a horse.” That’s what reeled me in. There’s nothing like a winner to get you hooked.

What other memories do you have of your time at Timonium?

The camaraderie in the press box. At Pimlico and Laurel, I’m isolated, but here, we’re all “one big happy.”

A few years back, one of our regulars in the press box put together a “Pick 4” ticket at Saratoga that paid $14,000. After our last race at Timonium, we watched the final race at that track. I’ll tell you, we were jumping up and down and the whole building was shaking. We must have caused a 1.2 on the Richter scale.

Do you bet on the races yourself?

I can place bets but, as a rule, I don’t — though a lot of people beg to disagree. They’ll say, “I know you bet on that horse because of the way you called the race.” But that’s in their imagination.

You’re 58 and have been calling races since 1981. How long will you continue?

As long as it’s fun, and my eyesight and memory will let me. I do wear contacts while working; luckily, my eyes have been pretty steady.

STATE FAIR RACE DATES

The Maryland Jockey Club will have seven racing dates at the Maryland State Fairgrounds over the two-week fair:

Friday-Sunday, 1:05 p.m. post time

Sept. 1-4, 1:05 p.m. post time

mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

twitter.com/mikeklingaman

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