SEBRING — As a little kid, Mike Waldron would hear the roar and high-pitched whines coming from Sebring International Raceway and yearn to see what was happening.
“We owned Sunny Land Egg Farm in Lorida and I could always hear the cars but couldn’t see them,” Waldron told the Highlands News-Sun. “Then my dad brought home a race poster of the Chaparral split into a nighttime/daytime image. I hung that on my bedroom wall in Lorida.”
Sebring race fans like Waldron know that the Chaparral was engineered, built and raced between 1963 through 1970 – an international racing classic.
As a kid, after his school bus to elementary school picked him up at his farm, the bus would swing by Sebring airport behind the track. There it would stop to pick up the children whose parents worked at the airport.
The back straightaway of the asphalt track is clearly visible from the airport road.
“That’s the first glimpse I had of race cars,” he said. “I saw the cars from the school bus, saw the amazing machinery, the speed, and I have been hooked ever since. I listened to races on the radio and TV, and Mario Andretti was kind of my hero growing up.”
As he got older, he and his family would come to downtown Sebring where he met actor James Garner, who was grand marshall of the parade. His high school buddies then purchased spots on Turn 1, which evolved into a week-long gathering of friends using a 50-plus-foot long motorhome as race headquarters. Then after his marriage, he brought his wife and four children to enjoy the tradition.
That 11-year-old kid who pressed his face against the bus window now looks through the windows of the observation tower overlooking Sebring International Raceway. Waldron, 62, has parlayed his love of racing into becoming the track announcer at one of the most famous races in the world.
It’s his voice that attendees hear during the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, which is Saturday. Waldron informs race fans of upcoming events, interviews drivers and pitt bosses, and reads advertisements from Cadillac, Mobil 1, and other sponsors and advertisers during the race.
This is not the same as calling the first, second, third positions as the drivers move in packs and lines at 150-plus mph; that job goes to International Motor Sports Association Radio Network, which broadcasts every bump, spin, and yellow flag during the race.
Mike has a big job to do, however.
“I am impromptu on a lot of what I talk about,” he said. “I interview drivers and other celebrities who come up into the tower on the third floor of the grandstand. I encourage people to do the Cadillac Drive and Try (a test drive) and try to bring fans closer to what’s going on while they are walking around the track.”
Advertisers spend a lot of money for their products to be mentioned.
“When the track is not hot, I read sponsor scripts for Mobil 1, Advanced Auto Parts, Cadillac, and of course, local businesses who advertise at the track. Sponsors pay a lot of money and they want it done properly and professionally,” he said. “I don’t have a sanitized voice, it’s a southern accent.”
Which makes it perfect for racing.
Waldron came by the unique honor of being the Sebring 12-Hour public announcer honestly.
He has been involved with local sports through his life-long involvement with Sebring Firemen Inc., founded in the 1920s. The group sponsors a 12 Hours of BBQ in March to raise money for local sports.
Waldron has also been close to his high school alma mater’s athletic programs. The association was formed to help raise money for the school’s boys and girls sports programs. Waldron first emceed a Sebring all-star game in the late 1990s; that was followed by 20 years of emceeing Sebring High School’s regular season football games. While emceeing drag races at Sebring five years ago, Waldron mentioned he’d be available to be the track announcer should one be needed.
Not long after that, someone from the track called him.
“Within a week, the regular announcer quit. I’ve been doing it for the past five years,” he said.
Now, days before the 71st Mobil 1 Sebring 12Hour Race is to begin, Waldron is working his regular job selling power generators and units of all sizes. Come the weekend, however, he’ll be where he always is during Race Week: Sebring International Raceway.
“I’m a long-time race fan, since at least 1972 when I was 11 years old,” Waldron said. “I now bring my children up into the tower to watch the race.”