Perhaps you've heard of him. Or at least his voice.
Anyone who rides dirt bikes in the Pacific Northwest knows "The Voice of Washougal." Brian Barnes is the name behind that voice and he's as much an institution to the sport, at least in Oregon and Washington, as the Washougal Nationals is to Motocross. Barnes' rich gravelly baritone can be heard every year at the Washougal Nationals and just about every race held in between.
He got his start writing articles for drag racing events at the Portland International Raceway in the mid-1970s but sometimes when the primary announcer left the booth to address other matters, Barnes took over the microphone. The rest as they say is history. Barnes announced at Woodland Park and then in 1981 started announcing at Washougal where his voice is now a staple for Motocross fans everywhere. He also takes the mic at Thursday Night Motocross in Portland, OR.
Nearing 40 years in the industry, Barnes said he has no plans to leave the sport he loves so much. He stopped smoking three years ago and feels stronger today than he has in years and as long as his voice holds up, and he holds up, race fans can expect to hear his familiar pitch from the top of the tower for years to come.
The 2014 Motocross season is right around the corner so we caught up with Barnes earlier this week to find out just a little bit more about him.
Photo by: Jon Currier
Year started in the industry: 1976
Hometown: Vancouver, WA
Career Announcing Highlights:
- Washougal Nationals
- Gold Cup Series
- 4-stroke National Series
- Clean and sober since 2000
Day job: Electrician
Other hobbies/interests: Photojournalism, publicity and publicist, fishing, family, music - huge blues fan
Photo by: Jon Currier
1. How did you get involved with Washougal MX Park and being the announcer there?
Funny story - my dad knew a buddy of his in drag racing and I was a journalism student in high school so I wrote articles for national dragster events at Portland International Raceway. I was introduced to guys who ran Washougal and they asked me if I would do articles for Cycle News.
At the time, my brother had started riding dirt bikes and occasionally I was handed the mic at PIR. After that happened, I was asked to man the mic at Woodland Park for dirt bike races and then they asked me to do the announcing at Washougal Park around 1981. I've probably announced at every park in the Pacific Northwest.
Somehow I got the nickname "The Voice of Washougal" or "The Voice of the Northwest." A lot of people have said my announcing career spans four generations of riders. I know some families that have a granddad, a dad, a son, a grandson who have all raced at Washougal.
2. Is it the sport you like, announcing or a combination of both?
Both. I love the people and the family aspect of the sport. You can't go to a motorcycle race and leave your kid and pick him up later. Your whole family is engaged in the sport. It's not like a stick and ball sport. You've got to be engaged. It may be expensive but it derives the best family values out there. Everything important in life is engaged in our sport. I still get goose pumps on my arm when the national anthem is played at a motorcycle race.
3. You've seen legends come and go - who are the more memorable riders for you?
Bob Hannah has always been one of my favorites. No doubt my favorite rider of all time. Ricky Carmichael and James Stewart are others and Ryan Villopoto in this day and age. I still think James Stewart is one of the fastest guys on earth and will be forever. Doug Henry is another rider, too. Broc Glover, I'm really fortunate to call him a friend. (Barnes named his son Broc, after Glover.) Johnny O'Mara, Jeff Ward and Glover are definitely huge as far as icons in the sport. Rick Johnson. Larry Ward is another guy I loved watching.
It's hard to compare generations, but I really think Bob Hannah was a brash young guy when I met him and he's definitely one of those guys where no one was like him and no one will ever be like him - pure and simple he was a competitor.
Brian Barnes and his son Broc at 2014 Seattle Supercross
4. You've certainly also seen memorable races - what race sticks out as the one you were glad you were there?
I think the Ricky Carmichael, James Stewart battle at Washougal. Kevin Windham and Ricky Carmichael battle at Washougal was another good one. Larry Ward - both of his Supercross wins in Seattle were epic. In 2007, I worked at Budds Creek for the Motocross of Nations and watched Ryan Villopoto make history. Jason McCormick's moto win over Ricky Carmichael in 1999 at Washougal was incredibly special. I knew him and hung out with his dad and to watch him beat Carmichael straight up is a moment no one who was there will ever forget.
5. You've got a great voice for announcing - did you ever look into a radio career?
I've done commercials for our events and other companies over the years. I did have an offer to do radio but it doesn't pay well. With my current career and having a pension, healthcare and an annuity and all that goes with it, our union offers an amazing deal I'd never give it up. If I had that in the motorcycle trade I probably would have jumped over.
Brian Barnes circa 1982 or 1983 at the Seattle Kingdom
6. What's the hardest part to announcing a Motocross race?
At my age, seeing the number on the bikes anymore. Either the towers are getting farther away or the numbers are getting smaller! The biggest thing for me is everyone deserves to have their names announced whether first or last place. Hearing their names gets them excited and they want to continue. I was told that years ago by Larry Maiers, one of my idols, that everybody needs the credit at throwing their leg over a motorcycle. They are the ones who deserve the credit. Being able to make that happen at every event has always been a passion of mine.
7. Are you involved with anything else at Washougal?
I take care of all the vending for our national events, I'm the spokesman for the track on media days, I help to entice sponsors and I've helped set up the presenting and title sponsorships. I just try to be good role model for the track and the sport. I've helped set up race orders for years, I'm also a referee and involved with risk management for the track.
8. Your passion for the sport may only be eclipsed by your love of the park - why are you Washougal's biggest fan?
I get to stand at the top of a tower in a motocross national park. I have the coolest job in the world in my opinion. It's the coolest sport at the coolest place in the world. It all equates to a dream come true. I've been lucky enough to live that dream for 35 years calling motorcycle races and the icons of the sport. To me it doesn't matter if it's a National or a smaller event like the Loretta Lynn's qualifier. For me, I feel like (Portland Trailblazers point guard) Damien Lillard hitting that last second shot against Houston a few weeks ago.
I am very grateful to the Man upstairs for giving me 35 years in such a great institution. I'm overwhelmed I've had this opportunity. I almost squandered it with my substance abuse and was lucky enough to do something about that. The prayer that I recite before every race I wrote in a treatment center and it's about safety and being grateful for what we get to do in this world.
Barnes with Ryan Villopoto
9. Did you ever get a chance to race at Washougal?
I've never raced at Washougal. I only raced once years ago at Woodland.
10. Is racing at Washougal something you'd ever want to do?
I've lost 45 pounds and I've got people who really want me to do that so racing at Washougal is on my bucket list.
Written By: AndrewT