Speedweeks at Daytona begins this upcoming weekend. Delmarva native Mike Bagley is about to start his 15th season as one of the announcers on the Motor Racing Network. He is also the co-host of The Morning Drive on Sirius/XM. Bagley’s love of NASCAR has its roots to listening to the broadcasts of the races on a Milford radio station. Before he departed for Florida, Sports Director Matt Pencek had a chance to talk with Bagley.
Pencek: This has to be like Christmas for you as we get closer to Speedweeks and the start of the 2016 NASCAR season.
Bagley: It’s a great time of year. Christmas has come. The packages and all of the ornaments have been put away. We’ve gotten through football and now it’s time to go racing again. This is a fun time of the year because we get to see what’s shiny and new. Whether it’s a new driver, crew chief pairing, a team changing manufactures. There have been over 60 changes in the Cup garage as well this off-season. So we’re getting ready to go to Daytona and see what it all looks like on the race track.
Pencek: There are some good storylines as we start the season. One of the biggest are the rules changes for the car set-up. What impact do you think that will have?
Bagley: There are a lot of changes that are coming up in the 2016 season. In the Cup series you’ve a got a new lower down force package which won’t be a threat at Daytona or Talladega. It’s mainly built for tracks like Dover, Kansas, Chicago, Charlotte, and Texas. A lot drivers think that it will put the racing back in their hands and let them have more say in what happens. A lot of those drivers like a looser car. If you have a driver like a Greg Biffle who is a wheelman and who loves driving a loose race car, this going to play into his wheelhouse.
In the Xfinity Series, you have got the Dash For Cash changes. You’ve got a Chase system going into that series. In the Camping World Truck Series you also have a Chase system and the caution clock where we won’t go more than 20 minutes without a caution flag coming out.
The changes may be minimal in the Cup series, you still have a lot of change coming in the sport in general.. It’s going to be a great season.
Pencek: Let’s talk a little bit about you. How does somebody from Delmarva end up on MRN and becoming a prominent voice on the NASCAR coverage.
Bagley: I was born in Salisbury back in 1969 and I lived in Salisbury for two years. We moved to Milford and I lived in Milford for 30 plus. I lived in Dover for ten. I’m showing my age now. I guess the key was a couple of things. My father and mother and U.S. 13 Speedway now known as Delaware International Speedway in Delmar and the radio. Mom and Dad used to take me to U.S. 13 as a child. I started to watch dirt track racing on the weekends and listening to racing on the radio. The local radio station in Milford was an MRN affiliate and I was hanging out there. I started running Dick Clark’s Countdown America hitting buttons to run commercials. I voiced a commercial here and there. I sent a letter to John McMullen who was the general manager of the Motor Racing Network back in the day. I asked if I there’s anything I can do to help when they come to Dover. He said, “sure.” That was back in 1988. I started running cable and getting Mike Joy and Barney Hall coffee. Now I am one of the voices on the network. It’s been pretty awesome.
My first race was back in 1992 they had me do a turn at Watkins Glen. I guess it was not that bad because I’ve been back ever since.
Pencek: How did the weekday show start on Sirius/XM?
Bagley: MRN has loaned me out to Sirius/XM. That was back in 2008. They were looking to make a change on the morning show. When Marty Snider stepped aside, they were looking for somebody to replace him and I had done some fill-in work for Marty when he had other commitments. They had asked the network and asked me if I would be interested. I said sure not knowing what I was getting into. Hearing a talk show and executing a talk show are two totally different things. It is something I love to do. With MRN, my role is to deliver play-by-play. The Morning Drive allows me to go deeper and get into the fans minds and connect with the fans. I get to see what the fans like and what they don’t like and get their take on certain things. NASCAR talk moves the meter no matter what form it’s in especially on talk radio.
Pencek: What is your opinion of the state of the sport? I felt like the end of last season that NASCAR was on the up tick with the ratings, the interest in the Chase format, and the way it came down to the end.
Bagley: I think the Chase format we adopted two years ago gave the sport and the Chase a kick in the shorts when the introduced the elimination. It generated a lot of interest. It came down to the final turn of the final lap where you had two guys fighting for the win and fighting for the Championship.
When you factor that in plus Fortune 500 companies are starting to get comfortable again after their losses in ’08. They’re seeing the value in NASCAR. A lots been said about declining attendance and declining TV ratings over a period of time. They’re still a lot of eyeballs and a lot of ears on the sport. Now it’s coming along with the tweaks to the cars and the tweaks to the formats.
Our fanbase is getting older and we’re bringing in a newer fanbase. The newer fans want something different. They don’t want what I had when I sat in the grandstand when I was their age. They’re other things now with Twitter, social media, phones and WIFI that folks want to be connected and want to participate. They have different takes and different likes.
NASCAR to me is in the middle of a revolution. If you pay attention ton NASCAR there’s something called the RTA and charters have been discussed. The owners want more value. We just signed a new TV deal two years ago. Plus we have a new generation of fans coming in. NASCAR in the middle of a revolution and it’s keeping up with that revolution that will dictate what the next change and what the next step will be in the evolution of the sport. It’s a great time to be in NASCAR. It still has popularity and still moves the meter in all sports. It’s still in the conversation with high profile stick and ball sports.
Pencek: What is a typical Dover race weekend like for you? Is it different from when you are in Darlington? Is Dover different because it is your home track?
Bagley: The phone rings more with folks wanting tickets and access. Folk wanting to visit and say hi. I live in Delaware you can say hi any other time. It’s just so happens about two weeks out the phone starts to ring more. There are more things to do and I have a great relationship with the track. It can get hectic but it also can be fun. It’s also something I wanted to do as a child. Watching races from those wooden planks on the grandstand I wanted to be one of the announcers and now I can say I am one of them.