The Pettys. The Earnhardts. The Allisons. The Jarretts.
A number of father/son duos have filled the pages of NASCAR history books over the past half-century. While several NASCAR patriarchs have passed down their driving skills to future generations, rarely in the modern era has a son followed his father into NASCAR broadcasting.
That changes Saturday, Aug. 28 when the green flag waves for the NASCAR XFINITY SERIES race at Road America. Dillon Welch, son of FOX NASCAR reporter/host Vince Welch, joins the Motor Racing Network (MRN) team as a turn announcer for the network’s live race broadcast.
Dillon, 21, has one semester remaining at Ball State University, also Vince’s alma mater, and has called more than 50 national sprint, midget and silver crown events per year for United States Auto Club (USAC) during the past 18 months. The opportunity as a turn announcer came about when Dillon reached out to David Hyatt, president of MRN, for feedback regarding his play-by-play work.
“Earlier this year, I put together a highlight package of some of my better calls and sent that to David Hyatt in hopes he would offer me some feedback to grow as a broadcaster,” Dillon said. “I sent him a couple of videos and after the second or third one, MRN invited me to try out. He and everyone at MRN have been incredibly helpful.”
Dillon, a digital sports broadcasting major who produces regional Emmy-winning programs through his school’s sports production unit, was given an audition as a turn announcer in June at Michigan International Speedway.
“I was on the air for FOX NASCAR at the time but listened in on the MRN channel,” Vince said. “They painted such a vivid picture for listeners and meshed so well that I almost couldn’t believe it was my son. It’s a bit surreal the first time you hear your kid calling the action like an adult who has been doing it for several years.”
“I was pleasantly surprised with Dillon’s first audition tape,” Hyatt stated. “For an announcer of such a young age, he not only had great vocal quality, but his delivery cadence and ability to keep a cool head while describing the action was certainly better than I expected. He clearly has learned a lot from his dad while also adding his own style. His live audition at Michigan International Speedway proved he could work well in our environment, so we felt giving him the opportunity to join us at Road America was pretty much a no-brainer on our part.”
The Indianapolis native, who began racing quarter midgets at seven and even won several championships, first dipped his toes into broadcasting after curtailing his racing schedule during college and due to lack of sponsorship.
“My driving background has been a huge help for me as a broadcaster,” explained Dillon, oldest of three children. “I can see how the cars are handling and what the driver is facing — things a play-by-play announcer who has never driven before might not necessarily always catch.”
The most recent sons who followed their father into NASCAR broadcasting on a national network level were Dale and Glenn Jarrett, but both men and their father, Ned, first were drivers before seguing into announcing. Preceding them were Earl Kelley, a member of the Universal Racing Network radio broadcast team, and his son, Winston Kelley, who first joined the MRN broadcast team in 1988.
“There are several father/son sports broadcasting pairs out there,” Vince pointed out. “But in racing, the numbers are much, much lower, likely because this business is so competitive. Dillon getting this shot at such a young age is a credit to his ability, whether he gets to work one race or 1,000. And if that means he’s following in his father’s footsteps, then so be it. I’d be equally proud if he was teaching his first class or working his first plumbing or carpentry job.”
From the first call Vince heard Dillon make, he appears to have been a chip off the old block.
“The first time I heard him was on Pay-Per-View from Eldora with the USAC cars,” recalled Vince, who will be at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park this weekend for FOX Sports 1’s live telecast of the NASCAR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES race (1:30 PM ET on Sunday, Aug. 30). “I’m a very honest critic of everything my children do, but I was blown away by how well he did. He was a natural. I’m not the father who pumps his kid up and tells him he can be an NBA player. But I realized that night that Dillon has the potential to work in our business.”
In hindsight, Vince realizes he first caught a glimpse of his son’s aptitude years ago.
“As a kid, he played PlayStation racing games in his room with his buddies and called their races as they played,” Vince reflected. “Looking back, it’s not unlike what I did playing Nerf hoops with my buddies as a child and calling the ‘basketball game’ as we played.”
“I was the play-by-play announcer who had to make up names and driver positions on-the-fly,” Dillon said. “Something we thought was so juvenile and fun has actually landed me a job.”
The younger Welch identifies the 2001 Indianapolis 500 as the first race in which he vividly recalls attending watching his father in action.
“My first Indianapolis 500 was 2001, and Dad was working it, and even at a young age, I realized it was pretty cool that he was in the middle of the pageantry and spectacle that is the 500,” recalled Dillon, who has served as a runner for ESPN and NBC at NASCAR races. “I knew he was on radio and TV for a living but that was the first time I really understood.”
While Vince’s profession may have awed his seven-year-old son, Dillon showed interest in motor sports long before that day on pit road.
“My parents tell me they’d put little basketballs and footballs in my crib, but I’d throw a fit until they put Hot Wheels cars in my crib, and this was before I knew what my dad did for a living,” Dillon said. “Literally from birth, cars and trucks and eventually motor sports have been in my blood. Racing always took precedence when I was playing sports growing up.”
Now only days from climbing to his perch atop the road course, Dillon admits to some nerves.
“I’m a little nervous and excited both,” he explained. “I’ll be fine once I get into the race; it’s the stuff leading up to it, such as going into the garage and introducing myself to drivers and crew chiefs who have no idea who I am, that makes this challenging right now.”
And if he overcomes those obstacles and does a good job, Dillon hopes his performance paves the way for a second chance, and eventually, a career.
“My career goal is to be involved in racing in some way,” he said. “My first love is driving, but I’ve accepted the fact I probably can’t make a living with that. I want to be a national radio or TV broadcaster in racing, so I hope that if I don’t make too many mistakes at Road America, it will lead to more opportunities. I just want another chance. I just want to be asked back.”