Voice of the Hagerstown Speedway falls silent

Frank Sagi dies at 78

April 25, 2012|By ANDREW SCHOTZ |
  • The late Hagerstown Speedway announcer Frank Sagi calls a race in this May, 1992, Herald-Mail file photo.
File photo

For race fans, Frank Sagi was the voice of Hagerstown Speedway — and part of its soul.

Sagi, who died Tuesday at age 78, called the action at the track for 39 years.

He was in the booth to announce every race. He went down the stairs to interview every winner, before climbing back up for the next race.

He did that thousands of times, his son, Alan, figured.

In nearly four decades, Frank Sagi missed just one day — for the viewing when his mother-in-law died, Alan Sagi said.

Frank Sagi didn’t choose to be a track announcer; it was thrust upon him in 1957, his son said.

Frank Sagi took a job scoring at the track, meaning he kept track of the laps as cars raced. One day, a man in charge of the track, who also was the announcer, left suddenly and handed the microphone to Frank — who never let go.

Lisa Plessinger, the speedway’s general manager, said everyone knew Frank Sagi’s sign-off: “Remember, speed is for the speedways and not the highways.”

Steve Crumbacker, a former photographer and current employee at the track, remembered another Sagi catch phrase: “We’re going to find out who’s got the hot shoe tonight.”

The names Hagerstown Speedway and Frank Sagi were intertwined, Plessinger said.

Even when under the weather, Frank Sagi kept calling races, sometimes relying on a few throat lozenges to get by, his son said.

Alan recalled one cold night when his father came home, after hours of wind whipping into the booth. Still bundled in his jacket, Frank Sagi flopped back on his bed “like a snow angel,” Alan Sagi said.

With Frank Sagi, no one was a stranger for long, Crumbacker said. After a few minutes, it was like being with a lifelong friend, he said.

“I just loved him to death,” he said.

Alan Sagi said the racing scene was his father’s passion because of the people he met and knew.

That included Richard “Boney” Bonebrake, a racer in the 1930s and car owner in the 1950s.

The Bonebrake and Sagi families became good friends, a connection that lived on through the next generations.

Richard Bonebrake’s son, Denny, said he’s been in racing for 40 years and still can’t match the excitement Frank Sagi showed.

“I like it, but he loved it,” Denny Bonebrake said.

Bonebrake recalled Sagi’s generosity after one racer was badly burned.

The racer’s wife lived in Staunton, Va., but Sagi let her stay in a trailer on his property while her husband recovered at a local hospital.

That lasted about eight months, Alan Sagi said. The racer recovered and came back to visit Frank Sagi every year.

Another time, a top driver had a bad accident in the backstretch. One crew worker was killed and another lost a leg.

The driver was traumatized and ready to quit racing. Frank Sagi talked for hours to the driver, helping him regain his mental health and stick with the sport, Alan Sagi said.

Frank Sagi was known for the playful nicknames he assigned to people, putting them at ease, such as “Toots” or “Red.”

One young boy liked his nickname — “Pork Chop” — so much, he had it written on his car when he later became a racer, Alan Sagi said.

That light, cordial touch was clear whenever Frank Sagi interviewed winners after the races. Sometimes, that meant talking to Alan, who has been racing at Hagerstown Speedway since 1982.

During those interviews, “he’d lead a driver in the right direction,” Alan Sagi said.

At age 17, Frank Sagi left school and started working for Western Maryland Railroad, which became CSX, to help support his family.

He retired after 42 years.

Sagi’s racing work filled much of his spare time. Alan Sagi said his father announced at dozens of tracks along the East Coast — in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, New Jersey, Delaware, North Carolina and Florida — sometimes working at a different track each day.

Frank Sagi was in the halls of fame for the Auto Racing Club of Hagerstown, the York County Racing Club and the Hagerstown Speedway.

He worked on the Long Meadow Speed Show for 34 years and had a racing radio show for 37 years, his son said.

Whenever he was asked to announce, he said yes, no matter what machines or creatures were going around a track, as he explained in an interview for a 1987 Herald-Mail story:

“A guy called and wanted to know if I wanted to announce some races at the fairgrounds. He said there would be five races an hour for three days straight. I asked him what kind of races. He said there would be four pig races and one duck. They were trained pigs and ducks. So, I accepted.”

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