The voice of the trotters

Harness racers make their way along the clubhouse turn during the third race Wednesday on opening day of harness racing at the Shenandoah County Fair. Rich Cooley/Daily

WOODSTOCK – For Richmond, Virginia-raised Michael Carter, being a voice of competitive harness racing is far from a job – or even work.

Since 2013, Carter, 27,  has been the voice calling the ever-popular harness racing at the Shenandoah County Fair in Woodstock. On Wednesday, Carter was once again in the booth and calling the first day of racing action.

As an announcer, Carter said, “Fair racing, I put maybe a little bit more excitement than I normally would over, say, a pari-mutual racing where I gotta be really professional at all times.”

When asked what he enjoys about the sport of harness racing, Carter said he thought it was “exciting.”

“When they are coming down to the finish, it’s close and they’re neck-and-neck, it’s like a running race almost. It’s a lot of fun just to watch,” Carter said.

Charlotte Johnson, 83, left, of Richmond, Sue Hughes, 68, center, of Woodstock, and Jane Burner, 66, right, of Harrisonburg show their excitement and disappointment at the end of the seventh race during harness racing at the fair. Hughes was the only winner out of the group. Rich Cooley/Daily

Lisa Martin, of Honsedale, Pennsylvania, worked in the booth Wednesday as a licensed charter – keeping track of the race results for the United States Trotters Association. Martin, 25, said she was “born in a barn” and has been around harness racing all of her life.

She said a track announcer is not a part typically played by a younger man like Carter.

“You think of an older man who has been around the business his entire life, probably was a trainer at one point, and probably even a driver, too,” Martin said.

Carter said he was first exposed to the world of harness racing when his father, a fan of the sport, took him to a few races around the age of 3.

He said he eventually saw announcing as a potential calling in life, and began preparing for a career in announcing around the age of 16.

Michael Carter, 27, of Hamburg, New York, announces the harness races from the crows nest at the Shenandoah County Fair on Wednesday. Rich Cooley/Daily

“I was good at it,” Carter said with a slight chuckle. “It was something I loved to do, and it was a cool job. It was different.”

Carter said he would practice and create demo tapes by calling races in the nosebleed sections of grandstands or on the roof, with nothing more than a standard-issue voice recorder.

It took nine years of practice, demo-reel submissions and announcing at fairs for Carter to get his first break at the Buffalo Raceway in Buffalo, New York, two years ago.

“My family thought I was crazy sometimes because I used to live in south Mississippi,” he said. “I would drive from South Mississippi on Friday to Rosecroft Raceway (in Fort Washington, Maryland), call the races on Saturday and turn around and come home on Sunday.”

Carter said he made this 16-hour drive twice a year when he was about 21 years old. He estimated that, after expenses for food and gas, he would lose about $100 during these trips.

Donald Dirting, 83, of Edinburg, watches the harness racing during opening day at the Shenandoah County Fair. Rich Cooley/Daily

“It didn’t matter. I was trying to get where I needed to be in this job,” he said.

Carter now resides in Hamburg, New York, where he primarily calls races in nearby Buffalo from January through July, but also fills in at tracks in Ohio and also calls races at venues like the Shenandoah County Fairgrounds.

The 2015 fair marks the third year that he has called the harness races here.

During the different races, Carter acts as a vocal guide for a captive crowd whose view is sometimes obscured to the heated racing occurring on the back half of the track.

“I try to keep my voice at a certain level of tone, until they hit a certain point,” Carter said. “People can tell from my voice that something exciting just happened.”

Earnest Taylor ,of Fort Washington, Maryland, wipes the sweat off his face between harness races at the fair. Rich Cooley/Daily

This was evident during the third heat of the day when Peanut Butter Cup, a horse owned by Ashley C. Page of Loris, South Carolina, overtook Flash Lauxmont, a horse owned by Maurertown resident Alvin Lineweaver, in an exciting photo finish.

As Peanut Butter Cup made his move in the final quarter-mile, Carter’s voices excitedly escalated to a fever pitch, furiously documenting the fast-paced jostling of the two horses.

“I’ve got to call the races as if you are blind and can’t see what’s going on … so I want to be as descriptive as I can,” Carter said. “I’ve got two minutes to tell everyone what’s going on.”

And despite the fact that Carter has only been announcing at Shenandoah for three years, he noted that many fairgoers have recognized him his week-long stays in Woodstock.

“I have no clue who these people are, but they’ve seen me on TV up (in Buffalo) or something, and that’s how you get recognized,” Carter said.

Cecil Andrick, 82, of Winchester, watches harness racing Wednesday afternoon from the grandstand. Rich Cooley/Daily

“That’s another reason why I like it, too,” he said. “It’s down-home.”

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kgreen@nvdaily.com