PHOTO: Troy Germain steps away from the microphone at Thunder Road after this weekend. Steve Longchamp (right) is one of three announcers who will take over for him in 2011. (Justin St. Louis/VMM photo)
BARRE — The Milk Bowl is the toughest challenge drivers face every year at Thunder Road. For Troy Germain, though, this year’s event is likely the toughest challenge of his professional life.
After ten seasons behind the microphone at the “Nation’s Site of Excitement,” Germain will sign off on Sunday evening for the final time as the voice of the Barre track. He says that his time at Thunder Road has not only been well spent in developing his career, but also in developing his lifestyle — as a gay man in a straight man’s world.
LOOKING FOR MORE
Germain is moving to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to pursue, as he puts it, “social and cultural opportunities” not found in rural northern New England. He came out in the open about his sexuality not long after he began announcing with the American-Canadian Tour and Thunder Road in 2001.
He says that now, at 35 years old, he’s become increasingly ready to find something new, both professionally and personally. Not only does Florida present more opportunities to advance his announcing career, but finding a partner in the St. Johnsbury area where he has lived for several years — or for that matter, the whole of Vermont or his native northern New Hampshire — has been difficult.
He will spend the days immediately following the Milk Bowl in Florida at his new home before returning north on Thursday to load a moving trailer. He will then drive the trailer to the American-Canadian Tour championship finale at Waterford Speedbowl in Connecticut on Saturday; after his announcing duties are done on Sunday, he leaves directly for Fort Lauderdale.
Germain has already landed a full-time job at a Miami radio network reporting news and traffic, and says he is “confident” that he will work anywhere between three and ten NASCAR events on the nationally-syndicated Motor Racing Network, at times alongside his Thunder Road predecessor, Dave Moody. Germain has a handful of MRN broadcasts on his resume including the Nationwide Series event at Road America and a Grand-Am Road Racing event at Watkins Glen, both in June.
“The down side about moving to southern Florida,” Germain says, “is that there are no short tracks within two hours of where I’ll be living.”
STANDING “OUT” IN RACING
Germain said that despite any anti-gay stereotyping that some feel stock car racing carries with it, he has never felt any pressure to leave because of his sexuality.
“If there’s any pressure on me, it’s pressure to stay in Vermont and keep working here,” he says. “Some of that is from within myself, but it’s mostly from my co-workers or from racers. I’m leaving with the understanding that the doors are always open, but I’m not planning on walking through them.”
Germain says that he’s been interested in moving to Florida for several years, but has stayed in Vermont because he loves his job.
“I use this as an excuse to stay every year, but the winters are long and I’m enjoying them less and less,” he said. “I’ve had more fun and enjoyed this season more than the last five. I feel like I’m probably in my prime and I’m probably the best I’ve ever been. I don’t want to sound arrogant or conceited, but I’m starting to realize the recognition I’ve been getting. I don’t do it for the ‘Hey, nice job,’ but it’s nice to hear.”
Part of that recognition has been from the “underground gay racing community”, which Germain says is a lot larger than most people understand. It’s his hope that by not hiding his sexuality while in the spotlight, others might follow his lead and come out.
“I’m hoping that by me being out and being who I am that it will encourage others locally to come out,” Germain said. “There’s a ‘20 percent rule’ that one out of five people in almost any community is gay. I think I’ve probably helped about a half-dozen people come out. It’s not as many as I’d like, not as many as I know. Facebook has been a huge tool in helping bridge fans to my lifestyle.
“I think in the industry of stock car racing, people are scared to come out, no matter what. People in prominent positions — people that I know are gay and have yet to come out publicly — we need them to say something. There will always be people up in arms about it, but the people closest to you will be relieved that you can put your trust in them and put your trust in the sport.”
Germain, who is also an accomplished flagman, says that the 2008 season went a long way for his lifestyle being accepted in a sport that “traditionally” doesn’t see many homosexuals out in the open.
“The season that I flagged the [ACT] Castrol Series, I got to know a lot of the officials better because we were always on the road together, and there were some that were pretty homophobic at the beginning. At the last race at St-Eustache, I couldn’t see over some billboards in the infield and I asked one guy to spot for me on the backstretch. He said, ‘Do you want me to go get your heels for you so you’re taller?’ and I said, ‘I think I left them at your house.’ Everyone thought it was hilarious, and I was happy that he had become comfortable enough with me to joke about it. I read people and I can tell when they’re not comfortable, and he really wasn’t at the beginning of the year.”
Germain says that the more people know that he’s gay, the more people he finds have no problem with it.
“I’d like to think that someone’s sexual orientation would not be the first thing on people’s minds,” he said. “I want to eventually be remembered as a great short track announcer who was gay, not a great gay short track announcer.”
AN EMOTIONAL EXIT
Leaving Thunder Road, Germain says, is “one of the hardest things I think I’ve ever done. I have incredibly mixed emotions. I’m excited and anxious, and I can’t wait to go to Florida, but I get emotional when I think about ACT and Thunder Road. I wish I could pick up the whole thing and move it with me.”
The hardest part of the move, Germain has realized, is that after 20 years in stock car racing — he started working at Riverside Speedway in Groveton, N.H., when he was 14 years old — there are people he has become close with that he is leaving behind.
Germain built a friendship with the family of Thunder Road champion Nick Sweet several years ago, helping the team land a high-profile sponsorship from the Saint J Auto dealership group in St. Johnsbury, where Germain has worked for the last three years. A phone call two weeks ago hit hard.
“Nick had me in tears,” he said. “He called me and said, ‘You know, I realized after the Milk Bowl that we’re not going to see you anymore. We really don’t want to see you go.’ To hear someone like that say those words was hard.”
A season-long contest at Thunder Road has also been excruciating for Germain, as nearly a dozen people auditioned for his job in 2011. Two people, Aaron Maynard and Mike Stridsberg, were the finalists and will join Germain’s co-announcer, Steve Longchamp, next year.
“The Labor Day Classic was extremely hard for me. I was training my replacements. I was training people to take over the job I’ve enjoyed for ten years,” Germain said. “That’s not an easy thing to grasp emotionally.”
He says that as hard as the Labor Day race was, the Milk Bowl — his final performance at Thunder Road — will be harder still. He admitted that he initially doubted whether he could get through it.
“I have no choice,” Germain says. “I guess I’ll just have to keep my sunglasses on all weekend. Not many people at the race track know it, but I’m very emotional. I think it makes me the announcer that I am.
“It’s going to be hard to keep the emotions back.”