Jason Beem's Thursday Column for July 28, 2022
A good Thursday to you all! I got an email a couple of weeks ago from someone telling me that they wanted to work in the racing industry and asked what my thoughts were on it. So I thought it might be fun to tackle that question here in the Thursday column. I might actually stretch it over a few weeks because it is a big topic that I have some feelings on.
The first topic I want to write on is the lifestyle that can be involved. This person mentioned wanting to pursue a part of the business that would likely require moving away from where they currently lived.
There are a lot of jobs in horse racing that require you to move to make a living. The seasonal nature of the business means that many folks will look to find a circuit of tracks to fill out their calendar of employment. Of course, there are a few year-round tracks or circuits that are close enough to live in one place (Maryland, New York, Southern California, for example), but a majority of tracks run seasonally and are the only tracks in their respective metropolitan area.
I’ve had a love-hate-love relationship with moving, and it’s something I’ve done a ton of in my time in horse racing. I got my first announcing job at River Downs in 2006, and I’d never been to Ohio in my life. I was 25 years old, packed my car up, and drove from Seattle to Cincinnati. I was lucky enough to get hired at Portland Meadows that next fall and for the first couple of years of my career, I worked in Cincinnati from April through September, then to Portland October to April.
The first year of doing it I truly loved it. It was so fun having a fresh start every few months. I made friends in both places. Before that first job, I’d never been to the Midwest so I was able to travel and explore that area and visit a ton of racetracks.
But a couple of years into it, the moving started to become a real drag. Storage rentals, apartment leases, buying a condo before the 2008 market crash (oops), it all got very stressful. I left River Downs during the 2008 season and was offered a year-round position in Portland. At the time, having some structure and stability seemed very important so I took the job doing marketing/media and being the announcer.
Portland was still not “home,” but it was a lot closer to my family than Ohio was. I worked year-round in Portland for six years from 2008 to 2014, which I fondly remember as the only time in my career I’ve ever had employer health insurance! That’s another thing about the moving life, you’re usually either seasonal or a contract employee, so benefits and health insurance are not a thing.
In 2015, I took a job at Louisiana Downs as the racecaller and moved to Shreveport, continuing the tradition of taking jobs in cities I’ve never even visited. I was only there for four months but never met any friends and really just isolated in my apartment.
Another tough part about moving is making friends. The racetrack usually helps to provide a little bit of a social circle, but at Louisiana Downs I just never met anyone. I quit the job and moved back to Seattle, once again feeling like a failure for not being able to handle the moving around lifestyle that my occupation required. A friend and colleague once told me after that stint, “You’re like the John Sadler of announcers, you’re great at home but you struggle on the road.”
Well in 2018, John Sadler shattered his road demons when he went to Churchill Downs and won the Breeders’ Cup Classic. And in 2018, I took a trip to Miami and got back on the road. 2019 I was away from home for seven months announcing. Now I’m basically on the road all year long. What has changed for me?
Well, first, I’m just healthier, in general, both mentally and physically. I learned that moving and being in new places requires some work and self-care that I used to not practice. When I got to Tampa, I made sure to make plans with the people I did know. And I sought out meeting new friends and really worked hard to try to build some community there, as I’m there the biggest chunk of my year. I try to stay active and take advantage of local travel opportunities to keep my schedule full and my mind and body active. It’s just so easy to isolate when you’ve moved to a strange new place, but it’s something I really try to push back on when I’m on the road.
Another thing that is different than earlier in my career is that I’m working at jobs that I want to be at for the long haul. My entire time at River Downs and Portland Meadows, I was always waiting and hoping for a bigger opportunity. So it was just this constant feeling of not getting too tied down or committed to any city or relationship because you had to be ready to take off at a moment's notice if a new job came up.
There will always be some loneliness with this lifestyle. There will always be unexpected financial things that will pop up. I generally put around 30,000 to 35,000 miles a year on my car. Relationships are hard to start or keep going when you’re gone half the year or more.
But overall right now, the positives outweigh the hard parts. I absolutely love announcing races and get to do it most of the year. I have gotten to see all of the lower 48 states and been to every one of the 50 biggest cities in the country, except for Tulsa and Charlotte. I have friends in various places all over the country who I get to see regularly. I’ve been able to see and experience more in the last four years of travel than I did my previous 38 years of life. The traveling lifestyle in this business can be very hard but also very rewarding. I think it’s one of those things you don’t truly know how you’ll do with it until you do it.