Jason Beem's Thursday Column for Aug. 25, 2022

August 25th, 2022

A good Thursday to you all! I’m excited for the big Travers weekend, also excited to make my first visit to the races at Timonium! The Big T! I don’t think I’ve visited a new track to add to my list of track visits since Tampa Bay Downs last summer. So I’ll give a full report Monday.

Last week, I got a message from an old friend mentioning that it was the anniversary of the passing of a mutual friend of ours, Rory Bushelman. It’s been 16 years since Rory passed away, and I wanted to tell a bit of his story, because I knew him from the track. My first year announcing was at River Downs in 2006 and along with announcing, they wanted me to work in the racing office to help take entries. Now, racecalling was my only real focus; however, it was some extra money and as it turned out, actually a really good learning experience.

My first day working in the race office, I was given a desk on the side of the room. The race office folks who had been there for years got the desks up front to help the agents. The assistant secretary had the center desk. The two side desks went to the two new guys, which were myself and Rory. Rory’s uncle was Humie Johnson, a former trainer, and now the stallman who had the office over by us. Now, he and Rory, of course, already had a relationship. My first day there, Humie called over to me, “Hey, Mr. Announcer, come here.” Humie was probably 70 years old or so and was a total comedian. He was hilarious. But I didn’t know him yet when he called me over.

“So where’d you come from?” he asked. “I came here from Portland Meadows in Portland,” I said. Humie paused, I could see his brain doing some geography work as he finally replied, “Portland, huh? That’s in Seattle, right?” I nervously laughed figuring he was making a joke, but he was serious. I went back and took my seat next to Rory and we began taking entries. Rory and I were close in age and found we had a mutual interest in poker. Over the course of that summer we became buddies. He always stayed on the backside and never came up front to watch the races.

When the weather got nice in the summer, Rory would ride his beloved motorcycle to work most days. He’d walk into the office with his leathers on and sit down to take entries. On Aug. 17 that year, the meet down to its final few weeks, Rory didn’t show up to work on time. A couple hours passed and another race office worker, Jeff, got a phone call. I’ll never forget this moment because I didn’t really worry that anything seriously was wrong. But Tim, the assistant racing secretary, walked over to Jeff who was still on the phone and said, “Is it bad?” Jeff just nodded yes then went back to listening to the other end of that line.

Rory had been killed in a motorcycle crash that morning on his way to the track. He was 27 years old. I don’t remember much about that day other than the phone call. I do remember hearing the replays the next day and noticing how lethargic my race calls were. I blogged about Rory that night and a friend of his found my blog and emailed me in response to it. They wanted to know if they could sit with me at the funeral since they knew Rory but didn’t know anyone else of his family or friends. So we sat together and have stayed in touch ever since — usually just a couple messages a year saying hello and seeing what’s new.

That was the only year I actually worked in the racing office. But every track I’ve worked at I always make a point to go back there as often as possible. Race office teams are just that, a team. Trying to hustle horses, dealing with agents and trainers, working together to put together a good card for the public. You feel like you’re in the trenches with them, especially when entries are slow. So shout out to the racing office workers out there. And a prayer for Rory and his family. Have a good weekend everyone.