True confession time, folks. Yep, let’s get real for just a moment. How many of you like your work? When that alarm buzzer goes off, which of the following is your first reaction?
- A) Roll over, tap the “off” switch, then hit the floor with a smile.
- B) Roll over, hit the “snooze” button, then go back to Dreamland for a few more moments.
- C) Roll over, pick up the clock, throw it at the dog, then pull the covers over your head.
Guys, let’s be honest. On Fridays, lots of us are more likely to choose “A”. Thursdays can be kinda sorta OK as well. The other days? Well, dogs are pretty quick learners, and they know that once the buzzer sounds, it’s “duck and cover” time! Yep, going to work…well, it’s not exactly on the Top 10 list of many folks.
If you’ve ever watched the Fox 1 Sports coverage of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, you’re friends with Dave Rieff. For three hours on Sunday afternoons or evenings, he guides all of us through the wild, wild, world of NHRA Elimination Sundays, and from first-round matchups to the final race of the day, all of us get a PhD in Drag Racing from a master storyteller and commentator. Simply stated, the guy is dang good at his job.
But, I’m gonna let you in on a little secret about ‘ol Dave. He doesn’t like his job. Nope. The 10,000 horsepower land rockets, the distinctive smell of nitro, the drivers that take their lives in their hands every time they strap in their ride…he really doesn’t like reporting about it to viewers.
However, there’s a really good reason.
Because he LOVES it. Absolutely, positively, completely, totally…if the letters that just spelled out “love” could be made any larger on this page, I would make ‘em that way. See, calling this his “job” is unfair. It’s Rieff’s passion. He truly enjoys visiting with us each week, and his enthusiasm practically pours out of the big screen. The excitement you hear in his voice on telecasts? It’s real, and for this resident of Omaha, Nebraska, it’s something he’s felt for years, beginning in 1993, when he co-produced and reported in Iowa Auto Racing Weekly. In 1996 he moved to Florida, serving as an associate producer and pit reporter for Diamond P sports, while also gathering broadcast experience with the World of Outlaws and the Discovery Wings channel. Since 2000, Rieff has been involved in drag racing, and in 2013, took the lead role for ESPN’s coverage of the NHRA before moving to Fox Sports in 2016.
A man with deep-rooted Midwestern values, Rieff is as solid as the Nebraska soil, and in this installment of “Getting Off Track”, you’ll learn that whether he’s hanging out in New York City, dreaming of a future vocal career with one of the world’s most timeless bands, or telling the truth about Salisbury Steak, Dave Rieff has passion for life…though he’s not absolutely sure about the Salisbury Steak…
GOT–Your autobiography has just been published. When someone reads it, what will the first line say?
DR–I hope it says that no matter what I’ve involved myself in, that people understand that I’m a fan. Just a huge fan of whatever it is that gets me passionate, and usually it doesn’t take too much for me to find passion in whatever it may be. You know, when it comes to drag racing, I’m not the most polished announcer. I’m not the “biggest, deepest pipe-guy”, (He speaks in a very deep, stereotypical announcer voice) but I love what I do, and I hope that shows through. I’m a very passionate guy.
GOT–What person just absolutely cracks you up? Who makes you laugh the hardest?
DR–What person cracks me up? Probably my kids. I have three daughters, and by the end of their birthdays this year Carly will be 19, Abby will be 17, and my youngest Josie will be 11, and it’s just kind of taking me back to when I was that age, and some of the things that quite honestly as a 49-year-old now…I still kind of have…I’m gonna call it an immature mind, a youthful immature mind, and I see what my kids do, and they constantly crack me up with the things that they do.
GOT–Talk about the gift that Santa never gave you.
DR–The gift that Santa never gave me…
GOT–You asked for it, you begged for it, but it just didn’t show up.
DR–Whew…probably that winning lottery ticket. (Big laugh) You know, I…you hear about all the lottery winners and the professional athletes that get the big paycheck, and about how they end up finding financial difficulty late in life. Now, I’m not saying that I wouldn’t be that guy, but I’d like the opportunity to try. (Laughs) Just to see how I’d handle it. That would be cool. Santa, you can still send that lottery ticket. I’m good with it anytime!
GOT–Talk about the best vacation you’ve ever had.
DR–(Immediate response) Aaah, vacation. You gotta go right back to family again. It’s really wonderful to see and experience your kids’ joys, the things that you used to love to do. I used to love going to a theme park. Nothing wrong with a good roller coaster, but as you get older that sorta starts to fade, but when you take your kids to those kinds of things, and you see the joy in their eyes…having said all that, probably one of the best vacations I’ve ever taken was a Christmas cruise with my family, again, just to take them out in the open seas…to see the look in their eyes down in the Caribbean. Secondly, another Caribbean spring break trip to Cancun. Just to see the joy in their eyes and watch the things that they do and experience…really, that’s what brings me the best joy.
GOT–What is a movie that you can watch over and over and over?
DR–(Another immediate response) Aww… “Top Gun.”
GOT– “Top Gun”?
DR–(Very direct) “Top Gun, Top Gun.” (Quotes the following line) “Maverick, you just did an incredibly brave thing. You should’ve landed the plane. You didn’t, and the taxpayers…” I know the whole line, but I screwed it up already, but I can go through it, I can watch it, I can…(Provides another quote) “You screw up this much…” I know the whole line.
GOT–Let’s say you’re having a fantasy dinner party. But, no family members. This has to be three people that you would love to have at your house for dinner.
DR–(Long pause) Three people, huh? Ummm…one of my other passions that I never got the opportunity to work in was hockey, and so…ummm…you know, this is definitely gonna be somebody from hockey. I’m a Tampa Bay Lightning fan, and I think Phil Esposito, the guy who brought the Lightning franchise, would be wonderful. In fact, I’m gonna make it a Tampa Bay roundtable. Phil Esposito, the guy who brought the Lightning to Tampa Bay, John Cooper, the current coach who’s an attorney and really has done some amazing things with some amazing players, and then the mastermind, the General Manager, Steve Yzerman. How they wrangled him out of Detroit and brought him to Tampa…it doesn’t matter what move that man makes, whether you agree with it as a fan or you don’t, it seems like it’s turned out really, really well. So, I guess that would be my hockey roundtable, for sure.
GOT–What question would you most want answered at that roundtable?
DR–(Sighs) I’d really love to dig deep about the passion of each one of them, because they have three unique roles that require unique skill sets, and…Yzerman? Just as cool as the other side of the pillow, to take a phrase from another sportscaster. (The late Stuart Scott from ESPN) He’s amazing. Cooper? How to balance and manage all the mega-stars and superstars and multi-millionaires and attitudes and everything that’s prevalent in a locker room. And then of course, Phil Esposito, just…his continued passion for this game after so many years, after the great USA-Russia battles from back in the day, his NHL career, and the fact that he brought the NHL to a city that…you know, everybody looked sideways at, still to this day, and said, “Wait a minute. Hockey in Tampa? How does that work? So…”
GOT–A lot of people don’t always appreciate the skills of hockey players until they’re sitting up close and personal at a game. TV just can’t do it.
DR–TV absolutely doesn’t. Same way with the speed and the sheer power we have here in the NHRA. It…I know a lot of people that don’t care to watch hockey on television, but if the opportunity to…we have a couple of leagues in Omaha. (Rieff’s current home) We have a Juniors program, a Tier 1 Juniors program, 17 to 19-year-old kids trying to get college scholarships. We have a college team that was in the Frozen Four a few years ago. My favorite seats, bar none, are going to be on an endcap, right behind a goalie. Again, you get down there, you get next to the boards, you see these big bodies come in, they come crashing in…just about how physical, how hard it is, how fast it is…umm…so, you factor in all those things, and…you, you have to go, to see, to experience it. The hands, the skating ability. Same way with soccer. My 16-year-old plays soccer, and so to watch a Premier League game…to watch these people and what they can do, magicians if you will, with their hands, with their feet…it’s second to none.
GOT–Talk about the band or the singer that you’d love to go on tour with.
DR– Ooh. I’m a product of the 80’s, and some of my favorite iconic singers of that time have gotta be Steve Perry, (Journey) it’s gotta be Dennis DeYoung, (Ex-frontman of Styx) some of those names…Don Henley. Glenn Frey, (The Eagles) are names that stick out. I guess now that I’ve rattled off all of those, all of those bands would be good, but I think I’d come right back to The Eagles, because they have such a unique sound…the harmonies, ummm…the camaraderie, the bickering, the fighting…I mean…it sounds like your typical American success story, and that fact that these guys, even in Glenn’s passing (Frey died in 2016) a little bit more than a couple of years now…the fact that his kid is playing in the band. The fact that they reincarnated, and…they just go out and they put on a whale of a show. No doubt. I’d love to sing for The Eagles.
GOT–So…The Eagles ask you to walk out on stage and sing with them, but the kicker is…you’re singing solo. But, you’re doing it for $10,000. Would you sing?
DR–Is that a low figure or a high figure?
GOT–You’re making $10,000 to come out and sing “Desperado.”
DR–(Immediately) You put my butt on stage and I’ll sing it for nothing. Right now. In fact, that’s how we…I’ve never said this to my wife…umm…again, some of the affiliations you meet out here…I’ve become good friends with James Young (JY) of Styx. I’ve always had a pipe dream, and I’ve never said this to JY, but I’ve always wondered if there’s ever a time where maybe during a soundcheck, maybe I could come out and sing “Lady” and record it, then send it to my wife. (Laughs) Oh, I’m a sap. A sick sap! They’re (Styx) still bringing it. As long as JY and Tommy Shaw (Band guitarist and vocalist) are both still there…Tommy Shaw is second to none…Todd Sucherman back on the drums is incredible. Oh my gosh, Ricky Phillips from the Babys… (Bass player) we could go on and on. And the new singer, Lawrence? I just love Lawrence Gowan! I happened to catch…I don’t know, it was on YouTube somewhere, Dennis DeYoung singing the songs of Styx with a bunch of guys that ironically/coincidentally almost look like Tommy Shaw and some of the guys, but you know, Dennis DeYoung still has it all these years later. This was probably three or four years ago. Man, I’ve got no problem with Lawrence, I’ve got no problem with the group currently, but then you just shut your eyes and Dennis hits that first note, and you’re like, “Oh my God.” He still has it.
GOT–You are asked to create your own talk show, and it can be named whatever you want. Who is your first guest?
DR–(Whistles) Whew. (Long pause) Who is my first guest? Can I have it be my co-host? I’d have that guy right over there. (Points to “Stat Guy” Lewis Bloom) I’d have Lewis Bloom. I love Lewis Bloom. He and I have developed a pretty unique relationship over the years…a point/counterpoint, friend/foe, brothers-in-arms…bickering cousins…whatever you want to call it.
GOT–So, on your show, what’s the first topic the two of you bicker/discuss is…?
DR–Probably anything other than drag racing. (Laughs) We live this life out here enough…I was listening to what you were saying. (During the “Getting Off Track” interview with Bloom about baseball) I was fortunate enough to go to a baseball game with Lewis a few years back. My wife’s a tennis official, and this coming September will be her 5th U.S. Open, and it fits conveniently between Brainerd and Indy for us, so I get to be a tourist in New York City, which, five or six years ago scared the heck out of me. I’m a small-town Midwestern kid. 3,000 people…the thought of New York when I started going to Englishtown for the races intimidated the heck out of me, so to go up there…don’t have to have a car, rely on subways, trains, and to see everything that Broadway has to offer…the Mets, the Yankees, and to hang out with Lewis and watch him in his environment. We sat down the third base line and…yeah, the Mets didn’t win that night, but it was a great game and they had a shot at the end. The bases were loaded and we were sitting on the edge of our seats…it was great.
GOT–What’s your comfort level now when you go back?
DR–Oh, I love it. I tell my wife, “I don’t care if we have to pay for you to go. As long as I can come out and spend several days with you in New York City…it’s perfect.” Love New York.
GOT–Let’s say you have a time machine that will take you anywhere you want to go. The only catch is…it’s a one-way trip. Once you get there, you can’t come back. Ever.
DR–(Immediate response) I’d probably go back to 1996. That was just a great time in my life. It was really the infancy of motorsport announcing. I was hanging out in central Iowa. I was involved in a 30-minute weekly show that did a lot of different dirt track stuff, it didn’t matter if it was Dirt Modified, Late Models, or Sprint Cars at Knoxville. Then, the other side of that job was being a track announcer at the Knoxville Raceway, the Sprint Car Capital of the World, and doing a 30-minute show there. Just the opportunities to do different things, to travel here, to travel there, to do TV, track announcing. It was probably the single best year of my life, 1996. It was truly incredible, it really was. And (Laughs) I’d get to re-do the last 22 years of my life!
GOT–Alright, beginning tomorrow, you start a brand-new career doing anything you’ve always wanted to do. You don’t have to have the training because you’re already prepared. What would you want to do?
DR–If I was already prepared and pretty much fiscally and financially set, I would love to be…this is crazy…I would love to be a farmer. A farmer. Just something about the ability to call your own shots, to do your own thing, because…I…my grandfather was in agriculture. I grew up as a 4H kid, showing cattle, and so I’d spend my summers usually on the farm raising those cattle with him, and the whole idea of providing for people, the whole idea of doing it at your…granted, I don’t want to say at your pace, but you’re kind of calling your own shots, and when you’re going to do this or that. I love repetitive, kind of mundane things, you know, combining, mowing grass, I just like doing those kind of things. Plowing, bailing hay, all that stuff. I’m not sure if I’d be physically ready for that, but I would love to be a farmer, for sure.
GOT–Here in Texas, all of us supposedly have oil wells in our front yards. What’s the belief about folks from the Midwest such as yourself?
DR–It’s funny. Probably the biggest thing from traveling around the country is that somebody can hear me speak and say, “Are you from the Midwest?”, and I’ll say “Yes, why do you ask?” Their response is, “Your accent.” I actually think Midwesterners are kind of void of accents, and maybe that’s what it is more than anything else. But, there’s a lot of interesting questions that come up when you tell people that you live in Omaha, or Iowa or Nebraska. They ask, “Why do you live there?” Well, it’s a great place to raise a family. Omaha’s a great town. There’s a lot of things that go on there, and as far as doing this NHRA package, it’s probably the perfect place to live, because there’s no place that’s overly far. There’s not really any long travel days. Yes, we have occasional tornadoes. They’re small in nature. We have great steaks. It’s a great place to live.
GOT–Final question. Let’s go back to your love of steak. That means you’re a meat lover. What was really in the Salisbury Steak they served at your school?
DR–(Quick response) Oh, gosh. That’d be scary. I’m sure there was a lot of soybeans and plant-based products. (Laughs) And the funny thing is, I still ate it. (Big laugh) Fortunately I grew up and realized that there was better than that, but…there was a LOT of ketchup on it, I guarantee you that, too! (Biggest laugh of all)