Terry Wallace, who was the track announcer at Oaklawn Park for 37 years, died Thursday of complications from progressive supranuclear palsy. He was 74.
Wallace began calling races at the Hot Springs horse racing track in 1975 and called a record 20,191 consecutive races before ending his streak Jan. 28, 2011. He stepped down as announcer after that season and retired in 2017.
Eric Jackson, senior vice president at Oaklawn, said the track had lost an important part of its history. Radio stations across Arkansas broadcast the races, he said, and Arkansans became familiar with Wallace’s voice.
“For generations of Arkansas racing fans, he was the voice of Oaklawn and for a time he was the most recognized voice in Arkansas,” said Jackson, who has been at Oaklawn for 40 years and served as general manager for 30 years.
But Wallace had other skills as well, Jackson said.
“His overriding value to Oaklawn was when we would have management meetings and we would get into the weeds — often numbers — Terry would always remind us, and make sure we didn’t forget, it was all about the horse,” he said. “It was racing first. … Terry made sure all of us kept our focus on racing.”
Harry King, a sportswriter who worked for The Associated Press for 35 years, said Wallace would work the crowds in the grandstand after he called races, shaking hands and serving as an ambassador for Oaklawn.
King said Wallace always knew the background and served as a liaison between the media and the people in the “backstretch,” referring to horsemen and jockeys.
“He was really versatile, more than just a track announcer,” King said.
Oaklawn President Lou Cella said he grew up listening to Wallace call Oaklawn races.
“He had a way of making even a mundane race seem incredibly exciting,” Cella said. “It’s a remarkable skill that frankly you just don’t see very often in racing today. He took every race and by the finish line you thought you were watching the Kentucky Derby.”
Cella said Wallace had a photographic memory.
“Any race that he called, he could recall it in a second and give you the call,” Cella said.
Wallace died one year to the day after Lou Cella’s father, longtime Oaklawn President Charles Cella.
“My father loved Terry, and Terry loved my father,” Lou Cella said. “So if you have to go, let’s do it on a special day.”
Originally from Cincinnati, Wallace earned a language degree from Xavier University in his hometown and spent a year at the Sorbonne in Paris.
Lou Cella said Wallace spoke fluent French and often visited France.
After studying in France, Wallace got a job a race announcer at River Downs in Cincinnati. He also called races at Great Barrington Fairgrounds in Massachusetts, Louisiana Downs in Bossier City, La., and two tracks in Omaha, Neb., Ak-Sar-Ben and Horsemen’s Park.
He was inducted into the Nebraska Racing Hall of Fame and the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.
Wallace received the Mr. Fitz Award from the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association in 2011 for typifying the spirit of racing, according to the news release.
Wallace served on the boards of several local charities, including the Garland County chapter of the American Cancer Society Leadership Council.
Wallace is survived by his wife, Alice, two sons, one daughter and four grandchildren.
Sports on 12/07/2018