Mike Joy on The Awful Announcing Podcast with host Brandon Contes. Mike Joy on The Awful Announcing Podcast with host Brandon Contes.

Mike Joy has been the unofficial voice of NASCAR for years, with the NASCAR on Fox play-by-play announcer set to work his 45th Daytona 500 Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET.

He’s seen some of the sport’s greatest moments in that event, as well as one of its darkest, when the legendary Dale Earnhardt lost his life in a crash on the final lap of the 2001 race.

Joy appears on the latest episode of The Awful Announcing Podcast, and he talks with host Brandon Contes about that tragic day, as well as his memories of one of Earnhardt’s shining moments three years earlier with his first Daytona 500 victory.

After spending years as a pit reporter and in other various roles with CBS, MRN, TBS, The Nashville Network and ESPN, Joy became the lead NASCAR play-by-play announcer for CBS. His first points race: the 1998 Daytona 500, when Earnhardt finally won the big race that had always eluded him.

The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion had won almost three dozen previous races at Daytona, but never the 500, considered the sport’s Super Bowl.

Joy said the entire CBS broadcast team stepped up that day with a superlative effort.

“In the homestretch, as Earnhardt was leading, we cautioned viewers, ‘You know, he’s been in this spot before, what always happens, even sometimes on the last lap?’ I think in the last few laps, all of America was pulling for Dale, and he finally wins the 500,” Joy said.

“So he gets the 500, and usually we go right to (commercial) break … our associate director, Jim Cornell, said ‘Don’t go to break. Don’t go — something’s happening here. And that’s when they formed up that magnificent receiving line all the way down pit road for Dale and we were able to capture that live. It was just a tremendous team effort for everyone involved.”

Joy said another one of his fond memories of Earnhardt came when he talked to the driver on pit road before the 1996 or ’97 Daytona 500. The drivers were in their cars, almost ready to start rolling, and Joy leaned down to ask Earnhardt a question.

“He’s sitting there, he knows what the question’s going to be … he knows the question that’s coming,” Joy said, referencing Earnhardt’s long history of frustration in the Daytona 500. “So I walked up to the car, knelt down on one knee, and I just go, ‘Hey champ, you feeling racy today?’ He laughs just the biggest laugh and I got the best interview, because I didn’t do what he expected me to do. … that was the Dale Earnhardt I remember.”

Unfortunately, Joy’s memories of the 2001 Daytona 500 are darker. Once again, he was in his first race as a play-by-play announcer for a network at Daytona, this time with Fox as it began its NASCAR TV package.

The end of the race featured some extremely weird dynamics. Driver Michael Waltrip, winless in 16 seasons, led the way on the final lap. Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran second. The senior Earnhardt, who owned both of those cars, led a pack of cars chasing those two drivers.

In the booth, three-time series champion Darrell Waltrip, working his first race as Fox’s color analyst, was pulling for his brother to win.

Earnhardt hit the wall in a crash on the final lap that did not appear serious at first, but Joy knew almost immediately something was wrong.

“In the moment, we had no confirmation, no information from the accident scene, or from NASCAR or the speedway,” Joy said. “They went completely dark on us. We knew something bad had happened.”

That put Joy and his fellow broadcast team in a difficult situation, determining how to cover the moment. Even Darrell Waltrip, after cheering as his brother took the checkered flag, quickly turned somber, noting, “I just hope Dale’s OK.”

“We had to strike a tone that was cautious, yet hopeful,” Joy said. “We pretty well assumed the gravity of what was going on, but we had no real information to go by. That made it more difficult to properly frame the moment, and we went off the air with congratulations to Michael Waltrip and prayers to Dale Earnhardt. That was all we could do, and I think that was the most difficult part of it.”

“It is both difficult, painful and an incredible challenge. And I hope that day we did it well enough.”

The full episode of The Awful Announcing Podcast with Mike Joy will be released Friday morning. Subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and wherever you get your podcasts. For more content, subscribe to AA’s YouTube page. Also tune in for the 66th running of the Daytona 500 Sunday, February 18 at 2:30 ET on Fox.

About Arthur Weinstein

Arthur spends his free time traveling around the U.S. to sporting events, state and national parks, and in search of great restaurants off the beaten path.