Popular voice of P.E.I. harness racing guest speaker for P.E.I. horsemen's awards banquet
"This is the greatest Gold Cup and Saucer of all time," Charlottetown Driving Park race announcer Vance Cameron bellowed into the microphone as the 2008 field of the $60,000 Sobey's Gold Cup and Saucer rounded the final turn.
The 53-year-old race caller says that was his favorite race in his long career as Earl Smith crosses the wire on top with Pownal Bay Matt.
"You're not going to find nine horses more closely grouped than they were at the three quarters," Cameron said.
Then, on a cold February night, Cameron received a phone call he was thrilled to answer. He was sitting home watching an NHL game where the Toronto Maple Leafs had just scored two-in-a-row when a call came from die heard Toronto fan Eldred Nicholson. Cameron figured Nicholson was just making sure everyone was watching the game, but he had other business in mind. By the end of the call Cameron agreed to be the guest speaker at this Saturday's P.E.I. Standardbred Horse Owner's Association banquet at the Howard Johnson Dutch Inn in Cornwall. Cameron usually MCs the event and admits it will be a shock to the system to be the honoured guest of the evening.
"I won't lie, I'm going to be nervous Saturday night," Cameron said. "This is as high as it gets for me. I remember going to this thing as a kid."
The Summerside native grew up on West Street, right behind the Summerside Raceway where his lifetime career all began. He called his first race in Summerside at age 16, and then was hired on as the full-time announcer the next year in 1977. In 1979, Cameron started double duty, also announcing at the Charlottetown Driving Park through the season of 1980. That's when a change of ownership of that racetrack came about and the announcing duties at the capital oval were handed to Kevin (Boomer) Gallant. This put Cameron on a cross-country journey from announcing at Marquis Downs in Saskatoon, Sask., in the fall of 1981 to being asked to fill in for six weeks at Sudbury Downs in Ontario in 1982. That is when Dale Henderson, from Leamington Raceway, came to Sudbury Downs looking for staff for his track and he liked what he heard.
"I had no trouble landing jobs," Cameron said of his time in Ontario.
Cameron would travel across the province, announcing meets at Leamington (near Windsor), Dresden Raceway, Kawartha Downs in Peterborough, Hiawatha Horse Park in Sarnia, and Friday nights at Elmira Raceway. His big break came in 1984 when he was hired to announce at Western Fair Raceway in London, where he announcing numerous Molson Paces including his favourite won by three-year-old Staff Director in 1985, the same year he won the North America Cup. During this time he met his wife Debbie in London.
"I wouldn't change a thing if I could do it all over again," Cameron said of journeying from track to track.
By the mid 1990s he found himself back in Summerside, announcing the races at the Summerside Raceway and working a construction job with wife Debbie and children Bryan and Brooke in tow.
"I had two small children and in Ontario you couldn't take your eyes off them. Then moving to Summerside, this was a way better place to raise your kids."
He would start announcing in Charlottetown again the following years and has become the distinct voice of Island racing ever since.
"I'm quite precise," Cameron said of why his announcing style has become so popular with race fans. "I try to come up with a little catch phrase sometimes. And I use the drivers in my calls, which when I first came you never heard tell of the drivers down here after they paraded."
"We've got a lot of class announcers in the business now," Cameron said while noting race callers like The Meadowlands duo of Sam McKee and Ken Warkentin. "And Roger Houston is always going to be the greatest. Man he's into his 70s now and hasn't lost a beat. When I first called races here my favourite was Ed Watters then I went to Ontario and heard Houston."
Cameron has battled his share of sickness in the past few years, winning a fight with cancer that started in late 2006 that involved 40 straight days of treatment. Then he had heart trouble in 2009 that put him in the hospital for the opening day of the new Summerside Raceway grandstand.
"It was a pretty sad day for ole Vance when I missed the opener in Summerside," Cameron laughed.
Banquet tickets are still on sale for $30 at the Charlottetown Veterinary Clinic and the Red Shores courtesy desk. The reception is at 6 p.m. with the meal and awards getting underway at 7 p.m.
Nicholas Oakes' column appears in The Guardian each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.