If you’ve been to the harness races or at the fair during the races in the last 50 years, you’ve heard the voice of Doug Ballinger.
Doug Ballinger has been announcing the horse races at the Darke County Fair since 1974. He’s announced about 35,000 races in his life.
Ballinger got his start when he was 16. In 1969 he was at the Champaign County Fair in Urbana, Ohio, grooming for a horse named Katfish. There, he heard Roger Huston announcing and decided he wanted to be an announcer.
“His voice was just like no other, and I wanted to be an announcer after I heard him calling the race,” Ballinger said. “So He took me under his wing in 1970, and I called my first race in Lima, Ohio, 1970 at the Allen County Fair.”
“At that time, I was selling recordings of the races,” Roger Huston said. “So he got a recording, and he played it over and over to the point he had the entire race memorized without looking at any cheat sheet.”
The following year, Huston heard Ballinger announcing.
“I think it was the next year; he was at Scioto Downs for some reason, announcing the qualifier,” Huston said. “I heard him do the qualifiers, and that’s when I decided to use him at the county fairs as an announcer.”
Roger Huston also has a bit of history announcing at the Darke County Fair.
“I started announcing here in 1963,” Huston said. “I announced here until 1973, and then I had to do races in Florida, and that’s when Doug took over.”
In 2022, Ballinger received the Rambling Willie Award from the Ohio Chapter of the United States Harness Writers Association. This award is presented to those who have worked in the sport for a long time and who have done a lot for the sport.
Ballinger received this award 50 years after announcing a race with Rambling Willie.
“In 1972, I was a senior in high school going to graduate the following week,” Ballinger said. “In Celina, Ohio, where I’m from, the Mercer County Harness Horseman’s Association Matinee, and I didn’t know it at the time, but I called his very first race. He finished dead last at 2:23, which is a very slow time.
“He was an old iron horse. He went on and made $2.8 million in his lifetime and won 128 races. They wrote a book about him called The Horse that God Loved.”
Quite a few people are up in the crow’s nest with Ballinger, including a judge, timer, and clerk. They give him the final results to announce.
Ballinger says announcing is a lot of quick memorization.
“I couldn’t tell you who’s in the first race until they come out, and then I do a quick memorization,” Ballinger said. “It’s like an athlete; some nights, you’re on your game. I’d rather have eight horses than four any day. There’s more excitement.”
Doug Ballinger has loved calling the races and hopes to continue.
“It’s been a great part-time job for me for 54 years,” Ballinger said. “The people you meet around it, it’s just in your blood you wanna do it. I just enjoy it. I hope to do it for ten more years.”
Congratulations on 50 years at the Darke County Fair, Doug Ballinger!