Jason Beem never planned on writing a book, it just happened.
Beem, 34, is the racetrack announcer at Portland Meadows in Portland, Ore. He’s experienced many highs and lows in racing, and some of the lows are transcribed in his recently released novel, “Southbound”.
America's Best Racing caught up with Beem and asked him about the book and his life in racing. ABR ambassador Dan Tordjman also wrote a review of the book, which is posted here.
Tordjman: When were you first introduced to horse racing? What drew you to the sport?
|Courtesy of Jason Beem|
Jason Beem: My dad used to take me out to old Longacres Race Course in Renton, Wash. when I was a little kid. I was hooked by the beauty of the track, all the characters, the horses, the jockeys and, of course, the gambling. I think I was making exacta wheels before I could ride a bike without training wheels.
Tordjman: How did you end up becoming a track announcer?
Beem: I’ve always loved the announcers at the track. Gary Henson was the announcer at Longacres, and after the races I would go home and ride my bike around the neighborhood and replay his calls, pretending I was a jockey and my bike was a horse. Fast forward to July of 2005, I was in the Quarter Chute Cafe at Emerald Downs watching the American Oaks and this amazing animal named Cesario ran off the screen. Vic Stauffer’s call of that race moved me to the point the hair on my arms and the back of my neck was standing up. I bought a pair of binoculars the next day and started practicing on the rooftops of Emerald Downs and Portland Meadows.
Portland Meadows management let me call a couple races in the winter of 2006 and those calls caught the attention of River Downs, which was looking for an announcer. I was hired there and started in April 2006 and was hired at Portland Meadows a few months later. From 2006 to 2008, I did both tracks and came to Portland Meadows full time in 2009. Haven’t had to work a real day of work in almost 10 years now.
Tordjman: You've made it clear that “Southbound “is loosely based on your experiences in racing and, in particular, gambling. What compelled you to write about it?
Beem: For me, it was originally kind of a therapeutic exercise. I had about two years in recovery from betting and had lots of time off after our season ended. My fantasy was always to move south and make a run at being a professional gambler, so instead of actually doing it, I played the fantasy out through the eyes of my main character Ryan McGuire. It was both triggering and cathartic, and in the end was a great experience creatively as well as personally.
Tordjman: Was writing a book for the first time, especially one like this, more or less difficult than you imagined it would be?
Beem: The first draft was really easy. It poured out of me. I think it only took 2 ½ months to write that. I remember thinking “well let’s spellcheck this puppy and send it to publishers.” If only it was that easy. I was shocked how time consuming and difficult the editing process was, both before and after signing the publishing deal. I would read through it and make a bunch of edits, tThen read through it again and find 200 things that I’d missed. The editing part was exhausting. By the time the book came out, I was pretty tired of being in Ryan McGuire’s shoes.
Tordjman: What do you hope readers take from “Southbound”?
Beem: This is an interesting question because when I first wrote it I never planned on it seeing the light of day. It was just for me and for what I would get out of it. I think for readers, I hope that first and foremost they just enjoy the story and the journey. For horseplayers, I hope that they maybe see some things that he was doing and take better account of what they’re doing when playing the races and gambling. And, I think the undercurrent of the book is loneliness and the things it can lead people to do. So much of addiction and bad behavior is really just trying to fill a void. I’ve struggled with anxiety in my adult life and, at certain points, completely withdrew from society. I used gambling as a means to fill that empty void. I used other things that are discussed in the book to fill that loneliness. As it turns out, they are just Band-Aids.
Rapid Response Round
Tordjman: What’s your favorite race?
Beem: The Longacres Mile
Tordjman: Who is your favorite horse of all time?
Beem: Captain Condo … followed by Zenyatta.
|Courtesy of Jason Beem|
Tordjman: What was the biggest fashion statement you’ve ever made at a racetrack?
Beem: I have zero fashion sense. A funny instance was in 2012, when we ran in the summer, our AC unit in the booth went out. It was about 95 degrees upstairs, and I called the races in shorts and a tank-top undershirt.
Tordjman: You recently popularized a funny series of tweets with the hashtag #youmightbeahorseplayer if ... The tweets sparked some really funny comments, most of them by you. Where do you get this stuff? Which one is your favorite?
Beem: As far as where I get it, well, I’ve always had a reasonably quick and warped sense of humor. I certainly fancy myself an amateur horse-racing comedian. Those were so fun because they were not preplanned, I just kept writing as I thought of different stuff. One of my favorites, because I was totally guilty of this one, was: “If you’ve ever turned down ‘adult time’ with your spouse to watch one more from Australia B … you might be a horseplayer.”
Tordjman: You’re one of the younger personalities in racing. What do you think the industry can do to engage current fans and attract that next generation of racing fans?
Beem: It’s a question that I’ve spent a ton of time thinking about and have struggled to find the answer. Good news is there are many answers. In the simplest of terms, I think the racetrack needs to be an amazingly fun experience, a good bet compared to other forms of gambling, and people need to leave the track with good memories. I think racing lives off nostalgia a bit too much and could modernize a lot. One thing is so many of the facilities are dated. Look at baseball teams and how much their attendance goes up when a new stadium is built. People want to spend time in places that are nice and comfortable, even if the racing/teams aren’t that great. Also, bigger fields, lower takeout, and about 3,402,459 other things.
Tordjman: What do you hope to accomplish in racing?
Beem: I want to be able to make a career in announcing. I’d love to get to call at a big track someday, but if I don’t ever make it to the big leagues, I’ll be content just being able to make a living at it. And, I want to call the Longacres Mile at Emerald Downs. I’ve been watching that race since I was two, and it means a lot to us up here in the Northwest. My dad is actually buried on the hill overlooking Emerald Downs, so I’d like him to be able to hear the call.