The passing of Dave “ Big Mac ” McClelland in May of 2022 marked the closure of one of drag racing ’ s most remarkable careers and lives . Many thousands of words have been used to talk of a man whose voice and presence literally personified the sport for me and millions of other fans over a 40-plus-year span in the world of straight-line competition .
Over the course of time people have recounted his myriad of successes in life from his devotion to Louise , his wife and soulmate ; a winner at the famed March Meet , a publishing executive , the guy that literally started Super Chevy , an owner of radio and tv outfits , a track manager , an NHRA executive level manager , and the list goes on and on . Perhaps the most commonly said thing about the man is that he , “ WAS drag racing .” It ’ s a statement that cannot be refuted .
One of the things few if any have actually delved into is why he was such an iconic presence for more than a generation of drag racing fans . To speak only of his voice , as incredible as it happened to be , really shortchanges a guy who took the act of talking about drag racing and elevated it to a form of performance art that has had a profound influence on anyone and everyone who ’ s attempted to ply the same trade . Make no mistake , Mac had peers and those peers were also of incredible ability , namely guys like Jon Lundberg . The major difference ? Mac had a platform that delivered him to our TV sets on what seemed to be a weekly basis . He didn ’ t squander it .
Much like the best quarterback in the NFL and the worst in the league can both claim to do the same job , so can I with Mac . And much like musicians and artists claim that they are influenced by many things , including those that they admire , so can I with Mac .
See , I think the reason so many of us were enthralled with his work is because he took mere mortals in dragsters , Funny Cars , Pro Stocks , and anything else that rolled by , and turned them into heroes . Not with hyperbole or exaggeration , but with gravity , respect , and at times , reverence . I ’ m certainly not saying that Mac had
The Thunder and Class of Drag Racing
A tribute to Dave McClelland By Brian Lohnes
any favorites out there , but the man could really grab another gear when Don Garlits was running roughshod over the competition . Some of his most iconic work , like Indy 1984 , 1987 Gainesville , and a handful of others , were Garlits triumphs . One legend celebrating the ever-growing legacy of another .
If there is one thing I have learned in announcing drag racing for more than half my life now it is that genuine excitement , genuine engagement , and genuine pride in your craft is not something that can be faked . Drag racers have the innate ability to smell out a fraud at way more than 1,320 feet away . Mac ’ s nature , his near brotherly relationship with Steve Evans , and the way he carried himself while succeeding for decades in drag racing and the high-performance aftermarket speak to the reasons fans loved him .
Having access to the NHRA ’ s near endless , and ever-growing digital archive , I have watched many , many hours of Mac ’ s work . Some to find historical moments for our NHRA on FOX shows , but mostly because I have just wanted to soak in as much as possible . The idea isn ’ t to copy his work , but as an artist looks at Monet or Van Gogh in study , I do the same .
Mac never relied on catchphrases . Well , I should correct that . He used two . He began every broadcast with , “ Hello , everybody !” and closed every broadcast with , “… so long for now .” But as far as calling a race ? He did not rely on the crutch that so many announcers do . It ’ s an impressive thing when talking about a sport that tends to be as repetitive as drag racing , but that ’ s why he serves as a model for the craft of drag racing announcing . Use your brain , put in the work , be creative , and don ’ t simply lay back on something you said last week and regurge it up again .
In 2019 I started and continue to drop Mac “ Easter Eggs ” into my work on our broadcasts . It ’ s a fun way to give tribute to the man , and certainly a fun thing for hardcore fans who often reach out when they hear a recognizable line from drag racing ’ s past .
Mac was a friend to virtually all that met him . He had both indirect and direct influence on the course of my life . There are likely hundreds , if not more , that can say the same thing . If the measure of a man is the lingering respect people have for him after he has left the bonds of this Earth , Dave McClelland is standing shoulder to shoulder with Paul Bunyan . An example of excellence , we shall forever be standing on his shoulders , seeking to take the sport of drag racing as far as we can with class , excitement , intelligence , and fun . Rest easy , Mac . You sure earned it . DI
PHOTOGRAPH BY AUTO IMAGERY
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