Golden-throated Dave McClelland, the voice of the NHRA through the 1970s, ‘80s, and early '90s, both on television and at the racetrack, passed away May 22 of natural causes. He was 85.
McClelland, whose skills, talent, and charm reached all corners of the motorsports world and was always everyone’s first choice as an emcee, was lauded throughout his career and honored with Hall of Fame enshrinements and awards that spanned his more than 60 years in the broadcasting business.
A student of both acting and singing, McClelland first hit the airwaves at Central Missouri State College, which led to a job as a studio cameraman at a TV station in Little Rock, Ark., in 1956 and, later, a radio job in Shreveport, La., where he worked until 1969, when he left to run Southland Dragway in Houma, La.
At the time, McClelland already was a member of the Ark-La-Tex Timing Association and had long been a fan of drag racing, attending his first race in 1955 in Kansas City, Mo., hometown.
“I was just finishing high school in Liberty, Mo., and the event was the kickoff of the new track — which hosted the NHRA Nationals in 1956. This first event was one of the stops in 1955 of the original NHRA Drag Safari, a group that toured the country for three years, bringing drag racing to all parts of the U.S.
“I was blown away by what I saw,” he said. “I had been attending oval track events for several years, but this was something totally unique — you could get close to the cars, the drivers, the action. What a far cry from being in the grandstand at a midget dirt track. Not that oval racing is bad, but drag racing is something I could see myself doing — and I did.”
He began announcing drag races in 1959 and worked his first event, the NHRA Nationals, in 1961.
In early 1971, NHRA Division 4 Director Dale Ham approached McClelland about taking on the role of vice president and general manager at the fabulous Dallas Int'l Motor Speedway, though the role was short-lived as it soon left the NHRA family.
The track’s loss was NHRA’s gain as McClelland joined the NHRA full time in the promotion and public relations department. In 1973, he became the on-camera, play-by-play host of the NHRA Drag Racing series on television and also announced NHRA national events.
He left NHRA in 1978 for a job in Advertising Sales for Popular Hot Rodding magazine and helped launched the popular Super Chevy Sunday events and worked there until January 1985 to form Dave McClelland Enterprises and remained the go-to guy for scores of companies and events in need of his famous voice, including many events for NHRA, a company for whom he worked in one fashion or another for 44 years.
He continued to be a master of ceremonies and do voice-over work for clients like NHRA, SEMA, NASCAR, ISCA, AARWBA, PWA, Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum, R.J. Reynolds, Petersen Automotive Museum, International Drag Racing Hall of Fame, Championship Auto Shows, Petersen Publishing Company, Emap, Primedia, ProMedia, General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Castrol, Mopar, Toyota, Shelby Automobiles, Meguiar’s, The California Highway Patrol 11-99 Foundation, Los Angeles Orthopaedic Hospital and many other organizations.
McClelland is survived by his wife of 64 years, Louise; son Kevin and his wife Lisa; son Mike and his wife Laurie; daughter Melissa Knight and her husband Tony; granddaughters Ashley and Sara McClelland; grandsons David McClelland and his wife Brittiney; Daniel McClelland and his wife Shirley; Matthew and Ryan Knight; and great granddaughters Alana and Mylah Knight.