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Behind the Mic with MRN Radio’s Alex Hayden

The Motor Racing Network is like a good friend showing up on the weekend.  The voices you hear are like that friend painting a masterpiece in your living room. One of those profound artists is pit road reporter Alex Hayden.

Hayden grew up in the shadows of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway where his dad was a photographer would spend a lot of time at the great speedway.   Additionally, Hayden was a fan at many of the big named short tracks of the Midwest, such as Winchester, Eldora, Salem and many more.  He knew the sport and knew the sounds of the announcers and how much fun it was to be a part of it all.  However, that was not the path he planned on following. In fact, it was never was on his radar.

That original path was towards an acting career.  After leaving East Carolina University and moving to Orlando, FL, Hayden said it was all on a whim with getting the job at Universal Studios as an actor and that was the first time he had done any type of performing.  That would be the first time he ever would pick up a microphone or fall in to the path of broadcasting.

So how does one go from being around motorsports in Indiana, then North Carolina, go to acting, and end up with a career that he didn’t have in mind with the biggest name in motorsports broadcasting?

Well, like many, it was sheer luck.  Hayden says that he was heading back to to North Carolina to hang out with some friends and they told him they were going to audition for a track announcer position at Wayne County Speedway, which he adds is no longer in operation.

Hayden thought that sounded like fun so he played some golf, joined his friends at the track and was the last of 14 announcers to audition.  Lo and behold, he was offered the position.

It was a flash in the pan type of situations, as he calls it, because that audition happened in March of 1996.  Two weeks later, he was asked about announcing on Saturday nights, a time which Hayden indicated as having free.  He would be offered a position at East Carolina Speedway, getting paid to announce and travel from Florida to North Carolina where he then found himself doing short track races on the weekend with a few special events sprinkled in. Eventually, he decided it was time to pack up and move back to North Carolina.

Once Hayden moved back to North Carolina, he said it was one night at Wayne County Speedway when a woman secretly recorded one of his races and would send it on to the Motor Racing Network with a message that “They needed to listen to this guy.”

With that secret tape, Hayden went from having no experiences working as a racing or play by play announcer to working at a handful of short tracks in March of 1996, getting recorded that June, and by the end of that year, MRN calling him for an audition that led to his career in motorsports.

The saying that time flies when you’re having fun is absolutely true in Hayden’s case.  Going from no thoughts of a career in motorsports or broadcasting, to working full-time with MRN with the biggest names in the industry in such a short period of time, it is what dreams are made of for many.

For Hayden, he said he was a realist and wasn’t what you’d call self deprecating.  That said, he certainly made a little fun of himself.  He added he knew of MRN, knew their background and history and said, “I can’t really be the one they are looking for.”  He said he didn’t have a formula nor didn’t know the ways to do it as far as professional announcing.

When it came to the short tracks, he knew of the circus like ring leader announcers, but he said that didn’t work for him. He went out there and called what he saw. In the end, that would be what worked for him as well as just having fun.  Notably, he would add that he never expected to make it through that first year because of what and who it was and his complete lack of experience.

Even with his lack of experience he said something that many people could take in any real world experience. “When one door opens, you either have to be A: willing to walk through it, and B: ready to walk through it. Or C: like himself a combination of A and B, to be crazy enough to go blindly through a door to see what’s on the other side.”

Hayden first auditioned with MRN at the end of 1996 at Disney World Speedway. For him, being a Disney fanatic and spending so much time around Orlando was nearly perfect for him. His audition was around the NASCAR Truck Series’ tenure at speedway and he said he was terrified.

When you hear him today, it’s hard to imagine that there’s fear or a quiver in his voice.  During his audition, long time turn announcer Mike Bagley was present and he was still getting himself established.  Fred Armstrong, who is now a consultant with MRN, and Joe Moore, longtime announcer at the network, were also present.

Hayden said he went out in to the turn and just did his thing while not knowing what to expect. Everything worked out well because his first full broadcast was the MRN style of broadcast with all of the people but on the public address system at Daytona during Speedweeks to start the 1997 season.

When it comes to his first ever broadcast, it was two weeks later at Rockingham Speedway.  With no public address system in place, he was on air live, assigned with the backstretch and turn three with the likes of Allen Bestwick, Barney Hall, who alone, would make someone nervous with his legendary presence, and Joe Moore in turn one. On pit road were the team of Jim Phillips, Winston Kelly and Marty Snider, an all-star crew with the rookie pinch hitting.

Hayden indicated that he was truly terrified, but everyone was really good to him.

“When you’re the new guy and no one hardly knows your name or anything about you, you kind of feel alone,” Hayden said.  “While they try to include you in everything, you know you’re just not part of it yet.”

He said he learned two very important things that weekend that he takes with him every single week.

“Number one, you have to be able to fit in with the group,” Hayden indicated.  “It doesn’t matter if it’s MRN or the office you work in.  You have to have that good camaraderie and the MRN group has that.”

But like any family, he said, “It doesn’t mean they don’t have their little spats and disagreements at times.”

The second lesson, which he got from Barney Hall, was the following:

“This is radio and we have to talk, but the most important thing we do is listen.  You have to be able to listen to what everyone else is saying so you know what is going on, what someone is talking about when it gets to you and you know what you are going to talk about.”

The simplest advice is what number two is, but he said it’s the truth in its purest form.  Being able to listen is something Hayden has taken and been able to do from day one.  Picking up on things that people are talking about and take what is told to him has been pivotal for his approach during race broadcasts.

Throughout his 20 year career, he says he’s been crazy enough and fortunate enough to be in the position he’s in. Notably, he has been extremely fortunate from that whirlwind first year to 20 years of calling the best racing action in America, to his travels, friends, family, and colleagues, and yet one thing still remains.

Even with those with the best bucket list items around, Hayden indicated that his is to call the Indianapolis 500. Having grown up at the track with his dad, he adds that the 500 was his very first race at six months of age and while he doesn’t remember it, he still has the tickets to prove it.

“The Indianapolis 500 is everything to me,” Hayden said.  “I still have that dream.”  He added that it doesn’t matter if it’s on radio, TV, or the PA system.  Simply put, he just wants to be able to say he called the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

To date, he’s had the opportunity to be at Indy for a call of the IMSA Sports Car races when they ran the road course on the Friday before the Brickyard 400, so he can somewhat check that off the list but it’s not a full check mark.

Even though Hayden said that he was “crazy enough to do some things blindly and with the Indianapolis 500 being on his bucket list,” he has respect for the people that do it and in fact says there is an unwritten code for broadcasters.

Doug Rice, who worked last year’s Indy 500, talked with Hayden about that experience, but he said when someone has a break like that, you don’t go pound on them and say, “Get me in.”

Once someone is established, then you can talk, but in that first chance, a lot like Hayden’s first year at MRN, you just wonder if you did a good enough to wonder if they will be invited back.  As much as he would love the opportunity, he knows that respect and time is better than a forceful push.

Hayden has talked with Indianapolis and made it clear that it’s a dream and if it can happen, it would be great.  At the same time, if it can’t happen at the present time, he’s got a pretty good thing going.

Whether it’s a short track in the eastern part of North Carolina, Speedweeks in Daytona, or one day at the Indianapolis 500, Hayden takes everything that he’s learned with him and keeps taking in knowledge, but two things stand out to him.


“It doesn’t matter if you are part of the MRN broadcast team, a member of the TV crew, a photographer or a first time blogger in the garage,” Hayden said.  Barney Hall once told Hayden, “Trust is the hardest thing to gain in the garage and the easiest thing to lose.  Gaining trust takes time, even with a crew you work with every weekend.”

When he finally felt like he gained the trust of his MRN comrades and the personalities inside the garage, he pointed out that this was when his colleagues realized he didn’t show up to the race track to make the broadcast about himself and his accomplishments.

“The simplest thing to remember is when you make the broadcast about what is going on in the pits and on the race track, you can’t go wrong,” Hayden pointed out.  “That’s the way he’s always gone about it.”37AD443BBA824964BB1F82A6668574AF.ashx

Hayden adds that trust isn’t just about the crew you are working with but it’s also with the drivers, the teams, NASCAR themselves. and you’re not there to cause them any grief.

“People pay to hear about racecars, not the people covering them and many journalists forget that today,” Hayden remarked.  “Alex, Winston, Steve in the pits, Joe, Jeff and Rusty in the booth, Mike and Dave in the turns, plus all the other members of MRN have never made it about them.  They paint the picture for you to see cars, not their egos.”

Hayden continued, “We’ve seen countless times how there are plenty of media members who are out there looking for nothing more than the negative and it’s nothing new. We’ve seen it for years how some so-called journalists have it in their minds that the negative is what readers and listeners want.  It’s the old adage where ‘If it bleeds, it leads.’

That’s not what we are about at MRN, we don’t need to get the clicks on the website, or to get people to tune in that want the TMZ style broadcast.  The network has been able to earn that credibility over time of being able to bring exactly what race fans want – the race. We talk about the race and that’s it.”

When talking about working in the NASCAR garage, Hayden added that he’s been very fortunate to develop friendships over his 20 year career.  His best friends are on race teams, including drivers.  Some are to the point where they will send text messages back and forth and he joked that it’s 2016 so no one makes phone calls anymore. That is from not violating the trust he’s developed with those people but rather from the work he’s done with MRN.

Those friendships and strong working relationships with drivers, owners, team members, and NASCAR officials alike have led Hayden to garner other opportunities.  In recent years, this includes time not only behind the mic, but in front of the camera with NBC Sports.  Many have made this transition with some doing so seamlessly while others have done so with challenges.

It’s safe to say that Hayden made that transition appear smoothly but he said that both radio and TV each have their unique challenges.  Doing races on TV, from his perspective, is actually a little bit easier.

With radio, he indicated, “You have to be more descriptive, you have to paint that picture in one’s mind. Everything from the color of the cars, to the darkening of the groove, to the sun, ‘glistening off the windshield,’ you have to use great detail.  That leads to the credibility that MRN has been able to achieve with it’s announcers over the years. With TV, it makes it easier because you, the viewer, are seeing what’s happening.”

For Hayden and the rest of the MRN crew, they don’t have to come up with multiple ways to say things but you just have to talk about what they are seeing.  The challenge, as he distinguished, comes from explaining in detail what you “cannot see, from things like a car in the garage that may be getting a transmission change, or what the crew is working on inside the car.  During a pit stop, maybe the camera missed that spring rubber change but it’s minor details that the camera will pick up and you didn’t notice it when watching.”

Hayden indicated that he’s very fortunate with this opportunity and looks for his role to increase when NBC picks NASCAR back up for the second half of the season as he will be a very busy broadcaster splitting time between MRN and NBC Sports.  Reflecting on his journey, Hayden said, “To think a guy that never dreamed or had aspirations of becoming a broadcaster has not only made a career with national radio, but now on national TV.”

Hayden never planned on this career but he’s been inundated with advice from those working with the best in the business and he’s become one of those.

He shared some advice for those aspiring broadcasters that look to make that next step or first one. He said, “There isn’t one great piece of advice, but several.  The first would be preparation.  Prepare yourself.  Learn as much as you can – it doesn’t matter if it’s a race, a basketball game, or any type of sport.  Find out about the competitors, back stories, things leading up to the event. Interesting things about the people, that doesn’t always have to be about the star themselves, but in the race, it could be a crew chief, a team member.

Thinking outside of the box for what a fan might be interested in (is key).  Prepare for everything.  Get as many statistics as you can as you never know when a red flag or a stoppage of play will happen. As a broadcaster, you don’t just stop talking – you have to be able to fill time.”

The other important piece of advice that Hayden shared applies not only to sports but also with life – be yourself and have fun.

“Don’t try to be like someone else,” Hayden said.  “Jim Nantz, Al Michaels, Vin Scully, Mike Joy…they are all successful and people want to be like them, but they are successful because they are being themselves.  Don’t be the next Al Michaels – be the first YOU. Make people want to emulate you.”

Alex Hayden has done that well as have his colleagues on pit road.  Three different personalities on pit road with Hayden, Steve Post and Winston Kelley brings three different styles to the table and a fun broadcast overall as he’s worked with a lot of great personalities over the years but continues to be himself.

“Like all sport, NASCAR gives you the wild and unexpected and with the craziness of how things have gone and the unexpectedness of this career, all you can do is sit back and enjoy the ride,” Hayden said.  “It’s been a good one so far and you never know where things can and will go in this business.”

It all happens when you step behind the mic.

If it races, I'll write about it, talk about it or shoot it with a camera. I began pursuing a career in motorsports journalism immediately after attending college at Kent State University. I have hosted multiple Motorsports talk shows, worked in Country Music radio, and now i spend every day on the air in the morning with 1300 and 100.9 WMVO and in the afternoons watching the roadways around Central Ohio for 93.7 WQIO. The excitement and the fans make everything I put out there worth while, it's been an exciting 15 years having covered everything from the Daytona 500 to the Rolex 24 and you can find me at pretty much any event run at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. What I like to bring is a look behind the scenes, a look at what and who makes the sport grow. From the guy that welds pieces back at the shop to the host in the tv booth. Everyone has a story and I like to tell it. My main focus here at TPF is looking at the men and women behind the microphone and cameras. My life long goal is to become a member of MRN or PRN Radio and bring the races to you. I hope that what I share now is enjoyable and gives you a unique look in to the world of motorsports. See you at a track soon

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