COMMUNICATOR SAM McKEE PASSES
Communicators Hall of Famer Sam McKee, one of the most well-known and respected announcers in horse racing, died early Wednesday morning, March 8, as a result of complications after suffering a major stroke early last month. He was 54.
McKee was the announcer and simulcast director at the Meadowlands, having left his home state of Michigan in 1998 to work on a fill-in basis at the New Jersey racetrack. Soon after he was hired as full-time announcer, later adding the title of simulcast director.
Born on March 24, 1962, in Mount Pleasant, Mich., Sam grew up on his family's 32-acre farm in Linden, Mich. Raised in a harness racing family, he played with toy horses and gave imaginary race calls.
"From the time I was 4 or 5 years old, I was fascinated by announcers," Sam once said. "When I was 10 I went on a big letter-writing kick, and it blew me away to get something back from a star horseman. I had a very nice handwritten note from Billy Haughton that said something like, ‘In this age of jets and machinery, it's nice to see young people interested in harness racing.' Stanley Dancer was very nice and sent me pictures of Albatross and Super Bowl."
At age 12, Sam began training and jogging horses over the half-mile racetrack on his family's farm. When he was 18 he received his "P" drivers' license, and that year he won 2 of 38 starts at the Michigan fairs.
"He had written to me, and we went back and forth, and then he finally had the guts to introduce himself and talk to me. He would go to Hazel Park and other places, and sit in the stands with a tape recorder and call races and send me the tapes."
Sam graduated from Lake Fenton High School and the day after he was hired as track announcer at Saginaw Valley Downs and later at Sports Creek Raceway. In 1983, he moved to Toledo's Raceway Park, where he announced the races through 1988. In addition to his race-calling duties, he also worked as director of group sales, and was involved in the track's publicity and television departments.
Sam went on to work in the publicity department and as announcer at Ladbrokes Detroit Race Course, also adding the title of simulcast director. In the early 1990s he also served as director of operations at Northville Downs. He also served for many years as the back-up announcer to Huston during Little Brown Jug week at the Delaware, Ohio fairgrounds, usually on days Huston competed in C.K.G. Billings amateur driving events.
It was while at Northville that Sam was asked if he could travel to the Meadowlands to announce on a part-time basis, which soon led to his full-time hiring.
"We were looking for an announcer to go with Ken Warkentin," remembered Chris McErlean, the Meadowlands general manager at the time. "Sam left a very favorable impression from his first stay here. When the opportunity came up for a full-time position, he was our first choice."
When new ownership took over the historic Red Mile, they hired Sam as announcer. He made many racing moments there iconic, including his call of Always B Miki's record 1:46 mile last fall.
Sam McKee was elected to the Michigan Harness Horsemen's Association's Hall of Fame in 2009. In 2012, he received one of the sport's highest honors when he was elected to the Communicators Hall of Fame in Goshen, New York.
He survived by his wife, Chris; daughters Meagan, Melissa and Lindsey; a sister, Sally; and his father and stepmother.