Column By: MARTY CZEKALA / RPW – SALAMANCA, NY – It’s called “The Greatest Show on the Snow.”
Amsoil Championship Snocross is perhaps the best snowmobile racing series globally and a great way for fans in the US to have racing during the offseason.
Racing never disappoints, from tight turns to steep jumps and from young guns to pros.
But the man behind the microphone on the PA system, on the FloRacing live stream, or on CBS Sports Network, is a New Yorker many dirt racing fans know as “Cowboy.”
Paul Szmal is the lead play-by-play voice for Snocross. Ever since he took the gig, he claims he doesn’t have an offseason but loves it.
The announcer from Outlaw Speedway and Freedom Motorsports Park spoke in an exclusive interview last week with Race Pro Weekly in Salamanca, NY, for the US Air Force Snocross National and talked about the Snocross gig.
“I started doing regional Snocross events around 2001 or 2002. A Northeast regional group has gone through different iterations. There was Big East Snocross, Rock Maple Racing, East Coast Snocross, now it’s ESXT. I happened to come out to Salamanca a couple of years ago to lend a hand calling the regional races. They reached out to me over the summer [of 2019] and said, ‘We have an open slot. Would you like to come on tour?’ I thought it was to do the daytime stuff, and they were like, ‘No, this is to do the CBS stuff,’ and I was like ‘yes!!’ Szmal explained how he got the job.
With last weekend’s Snocross weekend being in his backyard, he is recognized at the event more than others.
“I get that a lot. I see it on Facebook a lot of the time,” Szmal says. “Sometimes, when the clips go up, people may not realize this, but it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, that guy that I hear on Friday nights at the short track is doing this wintertime deal with these crazy people on snowmobiles jumping around.’ It’s very rare I can go to a racing event somewhere and not have somebody come up and say, ‘Oh hey! I saw you on TV.’”
Suppose you’re a dirt-modified fan from the 1990s. In that case, you may recognize Szmal as the pit reporter for the nationally syndicated Rush Hour on DIRT. Mostly, that had a New York following. With FloRacing getting popular in the states to the tape-delayed broadcasts on CBS Sports Network, Szmal would agree that this allows him to have his voice heard in more places outside of just being at a track.
“Yeah, I would say, probably,” Szmal says. “I tend not to think too much about it. For me, whether it’s a Friday night short track, one of these events, etc., I’m just a guy who loves to perform. I love all different facades of motorsports. To be able to do this sort of thing with the frequency that I do it, it’s a blessing.”
Szmal also talked about the differences between a regular live PA/Flo stream during the primetime events to a CBS broadcast that only shows Pro and Pro Lite.
“Coming out of the speakers if you’re on-site, we’re talking to the people in the stands and also to the live stream audience. What you don’t see and hear is what happens after the race day is over. That’s when Haley [Shanley, broadcast partner] and I will be either in the booth or somewhere. We record all the voiceovers, the standup where you’ll see us on camera at the beginning of the show. Then our producer Joe Harewitz is the one who edits it all together. And there may be other voiceover bridges that need to be done he’ll send over to me. I’ll voice them back at the radio station I work at (Operations Manager for Finger Lakes Radio Group) and send them back to him. That’s how the show works altogether.”
A question remains from dirt fans: Would he consider bringing the “Cowboy” moniker to Snocross?
“I don’t want to infringe on Jesse Kirchmeyer’s (Snowbike racer) gimmicks, so to speak. I think Jesse’s got the cowboy deal covered. The story of that was when I was working for DIRT Motorsports in the 90s, and we were plotting what Rush Hour on DIRT was going to become. One of the things we wanted to do was not look like racing on TV. The talent were all wearing suits. We’re dirt track racing. We’re different. We came up with the denim shirt look for Doug Logan and Gary Montgomery. I was working in a country station in Syracuse. I bought a cowboy hat to wear to station remotes and appearances. I said to Patrick Donnelly and Tery Rumsey, the producer, and director, what if I became the cowboy? Pat was for it; Tery thought it was a terrible idea. Until we got to the very first one at Fonda, and I put the hat on and the bolo tie on, and Tery looked at it and goes ‘Let’s run with it!’ It stuck from there and took on a life of its own. There were people that don’t know my real name, just know me as “Cowboy,” and that’s okay!”
Snocross is off this weekend but can be seen every weekend in March for the final four events live on FloRacing.