May 1, 2018 07:11 AM EDT
MEL THOMAS AND PAUL SZMAL
MEL THOMAS AND PAUL SZMAL
The men behind the microphones at Outlaw Speedway
(Dundee, NY) Exclusive story by Kenny Shupp Jr.
There is no substitute for experience and no truer words were spoken when it comes to the two men who handle the announcing duties at the Outlaw Speedway in Dundee, NY.
Mel Thomas and Paul Szmal both reside in Geneva, NY and both have broadcasting credentials as long as your right arm. Each man is more than capable of entertaining large crowds of race fans and although Thomas is twenty plus years older than Szmal, both men have a unique style and knowledge of the sport well beyond their years.
Mel Thomas is best known for Thomas Video in Geneva, a company that he founded over 40 years ago basically to tape races at numerous venues throughout the area for re-sale to fans and drivers alike. From there the business exploded into a full time effort where Mel , his son Matt and very talented crew of videographers have covered virtually every track in the state as well as such high profile events as Super Dirt Week in both Syracuse and Oswego. Thomas Video has received numerous awards from a wide variety or race organizations for excellence in videotaping, something that he takes great pride in. However, Mel Thomas’s expertise extends far beyond the camera and production room as he is also an accomplished journalist and one of the most recognizable voices behind the microphone having announced at one time or another at almost every track that his crew has videotaped.
Previously announcing at the Dundee Motorsports Park in the 1980’s and the Black Rock Speedway then under the ownership and promotion of Lin and Cindy Hough, Mel Thomas is no stranger to the broadcast room at Outlaw Speedway and when Tyler Siri purchased the speedway three years ago he immediately summoned Thomas to head up the announce team. It is a perfect scenario for Mel as he not only brings his numerous years of knowledge and interest to the show, while Bob Miller handles the camera work for most of the events at Outlaw. This helps the speedway two fold as the camera work feeds the closed circuit televisions throughout the venue and they produce the footage into a DVD for re-sale as fans and drivers can’t wait to get their hands on the videos which provide top quality workmanship.
When on the microphone, Mel Thomas has a mellow voice and a bit of a laid back attitude when calling races and you can always count on him to interject behind the scenes information particularly when talking about drivers that have been around the sport for a while. Having spent over 4 decades on the microphone and traveling to race tracks all across the state, Thomas has forgotten more than most announcers will ever know and his vast knowledge of drivers and their backgrounds brings another dimension to entertaining the fans.
At the beginning of the 2017 season, Siri beckoned the help of Paul Szmal to work with Thomas in the broadcast booth. The timing was perfect as the highly sought after Szmal was available on Friday nights and jumped at the opportunity to work at Outlaw Speedway as he was well aware of the potential of the historic Yates County Speedway. Like Thomas, Cowboy Paul Szmal also resides in Geneva, NY just a short drive to Dundee, NY and he too has a wealth of knowledge having spent all of his 3 decades traveling to most every venue in the upstate region as both a top announcer and one of the most recognizable faces on television. Having spent most of his professional life in radio and television broadcasting, Szmal is currently the Program Director at Finger Lakes Radio Group with stations in Geneva, Waterloo, Dundee, Auburn and Seneca Falls. Where Thomas is comfortable behind the camera Cowboy Paul Szmal is equally comfortable in front of it and like Mel Thomas, Paul Szmal has an absolutely wonderfully smooth voice on the microphone. Not nearly as laid back as Thomas, Szmal is at his best when he gets right up on the mic like a driver gets up on the wheel when coming thru traffic. His rapid fire announcing can really get the attention of the fans and like Thomas he too can interject information relevant to the drivers, their families, crew members and sponsors. And although he will never admit it Paul Szmal has what many refer to as a photographic memory. He can look at a driver roster one time and it is etched in his mind for the entire night of action. Where many of the best announcers have to look at notes and rosters, Szmal just has that 6th sense of having vital information etched in his brain. Paul Szmal’s talents don’t stop there as like Thomas he too is an accomplished journalist and in addition to his announce duties he also handles the quick results and full race story on race nights.
According to Outlaw Speedway Track Owner,” When I put Mel and Paul together I know that they knew each other well and one had a great deal of respect for the other. Little did anyone know that the two would jell like a well-oiled machine. The two men work extremely well together as a team and there are no big egos between the two. To them it’s all about entertaining the fans and keeping them on the edge of their seats and providing valuable information about the competitors. Like so many of the tracks employees I don’t have to worry about what they are doing and the fans just rave about their ability to keep them entertained.”
Fans and drivers alike that attend race events at Outlaw Speedway can consider themselves lucky to have Mel Thomas and Paul Szmal as their track announcers. The age difference between the two is meaningless as their unique styles mixed with their years of experience and knowledge is priceless and adds another dimension to the program. Tyler Siri has put a tremendous amount of time and money into resurrecting the track and it has put Outlaw Speedway into an elite group of premier race venues in the northeast quadrant of the United States. Having a crack announce duo like Mel Thomas and Cowboy Paul Szmal puts an exclamation point on that fact.
Having worked my first night alongside of Mel Thomas at Black Rock Speedway in August of 1994 as a last minute substitute to help in the broadcast tower, I was in complete awe of his vast knowledge of what was going on in front of him particularly with the Dirt 358 Modifieds which were the headline division at that time. For many years to follow it was a privilege for me work with Mel either in the tower or as a roving reporter handling the on-track microphone duties. Mind you, I had over 20 years of experience myself at that point handling announcing duties at various race tracks throughout the region, but there is no doubt that the experience I gained while working alongside of Mel Thomas has been invaluable and I know I speak for a lot of other broadcast personalities when I make that statement.
I have only had the opportunity to work with Paul Szmal a handful of times over my 45 years in broadcasting, but Paul is certainly a very rare breed. I mean this guy works magic when he has a microphone in his hand. Paul can be announcing a feature event and typing up the quick results and full race story from the previous feature on his lap top computer all at the same time without skipping a beat. Talk about multitasking! He has a natural ability as a broadcaster and he can really hold the fans attention with his vibrant, rapid fire style of announcing. It is no wonder he is without question the most sought after broadcast personality in the region. Race cars at any venue, moto cross, flat track bikes, snow cross, go karts or off road trucks, you name it and Paul has announced it all over the northeast. He is also as comfortable in front of a television camera as he is in a broadcast booth having a long list of credentials for a number of high profile motorsports related TV broadcasts including This Week on Dirt.