When Rick Allen’s voice became a prominent component of Husker sporting events, his P.A. announcing gig at Eagle Raceway was a side job. Something to keep busy.
“My first priority was being the public-address announcer for the University of Nebraska for basketball and all the other sports,” Allen said Wednesday.
Then one phone call changed his course.
Nearly 15 years after calling races at the area dirt track, the former "Voice of Eagle Raceway" is getting ready for his biggest call yet.
When NBC drops the green flag on its coverage of NASCAR Sprint Cup on Sunday evening, it will be Allen — a Grand Island native and former Husker track standout whose real name is Rick Schwieger — providing race coverage for nearly four to five million viewers.
“I guess I didn’t have aspirations of actually being on television until … amazingly (current NBC Sports executive producer) Sam Flood called my house and said, ‘Hey, we heard that you may be interested in broadcasting and doing television,’” Allen said. “Sam was smart enough at the time to let Fox hire me and teach me the ways of television, so that 12 years later I can be doing what I’m doing, working with this team, and working once again with Sam Flood.”
NBC’s portion of the NASCAR schedule began this weekend with coverage of the Xfinity series Saturday (called by Allen), and is highlighted by the Sprint Cup Coke Zero 400, which starts at 6:45 p.m. Sunday at Daytona International Speedway. NASCAR hasn’t been part of the NBC lineup since 2006.
Though NBC isn’t planning to "reinvent the wheel," according to Flood, the network is hyping a fresh take on coverage of motorsports.
That makes this all the more special for Allen, who also is a regular host of "NASCAR America" on NBC Sports Network.
“It’s a dream come true. I’ve always wanted to excel and be at the pinnacle of whatever I’m doing,” said Allen, who won Big Eight Conference decathlon titles in 1991 and 1992. “So I’m very excited about it. I never dreamed that it could become a reality.”
When NASCAR and NBC announced a television partnership in July 2013, the network began assembling its broadcasting crew for 2015. It turned to Allen, who had spent the previous 10 years announcing NASCAR Trucks and the ARCA Racing Series for Fox and the Speed Channel, as lead announcer.
The network added a pair of garage gurus — former driver Jeff Burton and former Dale Earnhardt Jr. crew chief Steve Letarte — to provide color commentary.
And while NBC and its three-man booth are entering new territory, the network is banking on the group’s chemistry to help carry the broadcasts.
“We all know that Steve Letarte and Jeff Burton are incredibly knowledgeable about the sport of NASCAR,” Allen said. “My job is to make sure their knowledge comes out easiest. Knowing them personally, knowing them as well as I can, I think has helped me formulate the way we can discuss things in the booth.”
It’s that camaraderie that has helped ease Allen’s transition to NBC and NASCAR’s top circuits.
“I think the biggest change for me is just getting to know the people better than just being friends,” Allen said. “I consider them friends, close friends, all of the people that I work with, so we can carry on a conversation during a broadcast as opposed to just giving the information that’s taking place on the track.
“It’s going to feel like you’re sitting down on a couch with us and watching the race.”
For local race fans, it will be like he never left Nebraska.