After a career that spanned more then 40 years, Dave Despain called his final race at the Chili Bowl Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma in January 2017.
It’s been more than a year since the legendary broadcaster and motorsports journalist called it quits, but the Fairfield, Iowa native had such an illustrious career that we would be remiss if we didn’t look back on it.
Despain has hosted a vast array of shows over his career including Speed Week, Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain, Thursday Night Thunder, and Motor Week, just to name a few.
Despain had an affinity for motorcycles at a young age and joined up with the American Motorcycle Association in the 1960’s (he would later being inducted into and then resign from the AMA Hall of Fame). Being the real one that he was, he knew working in the public relations department of the AMA was far more plausible than trying to keep up with Gene Romero, the top motorcycle racer of the time.
Despain fell into his TV gig simply by being at a race, enjoying his love for motorcycles.
“It was 1975 and we were at Daytona for the AMA races when ABC’s Wide World of Sports showed up to cover the Daytona 200,” Despain recalled. “They didn’t have an analyst, so my boss at AMA told them they should hire me because I had a lot of electronic media experience.”
Little did they know that Despain’s experience in “electronic media’ was nothing more than his work as a disc jockey at his high school radio station. But that opportunity blossomed into the 40-plus year career that wrapped up with the Super Bowl of Midget racing.
His first on-air TV job was calling the Daytona 200 with late broadcaster Keith Jackson. Despain said Ken Squier saw his work with Jackson and offered a six-race gig with CBS, which led to Motor Week Illustrated. He spent a fair amount of the ’80s and ’90s as a mainstay of TBS and ESPN.
But he really found his calling when he partnered up with the SPEED Network to host Wind Tunnel, which paired him up with a number of high-profile guests. The show featured a little something for everyone, but was heavily filled with stock car material. The ongoing inside joke at SPEED (which later transitioned to Fox Sports 1) was that Despain was constantly accused of showing favoritism to NASCAR, even though he thought NASCAR to be unworthy of the coverage. NASCAR received the coverage it did, because the audience demanded it.
In the twilight of his career, Despain hosted MAVTV’s The Dave Despain Show and, during his time with MAVTV, he went on to interview such greats as Scott Bloomquist.
A career that was nothing short of amazing came to an end on a Saturday in Tulsa, and Despain wouldn’t have had it any other way.
I’ve been very lucky,” Despain said ahead of his retirement. “I didn’t have to pay a lot of dues and got to cover a lot of cool people and events.”
“Doing the Chili Bowl one last time is a good way to go out.”