Sam McKee Passes; Arrangements Set

Published: March 8, 2017 12:35 pm EST

Communicators Hall of Famer Sam McKee, one of the most well-known and respected announcers in horse racing, passed away during the early-morning hours of Wednesday, March 8 as a result of complications after suffering a major stroke early last month. He was 54.

McKee was the announcer and simulcast director at the Meadowlands Racetrack, leaving his home state of Michigan in 1998 to work on a fill-in basis at the New Jersey racetrack. Soon after he was hired as full-time announcer, later adding the title of simulcast director.

Born on March 24, 1962, in Mount Pleasant, Mich., McKee grew up on his family's 32-acre farm in Linden, Mich. Raised in a harness racing family, McKee played with toy horses and gave imaginary race calls.

"From the time I was four or five years old, I was fascinated by announcers," McKee once said. "When I was 10 I went on a big letter-writing kick, and it blew me away to get something back from a star horseman. I had a very nice handwritten note from Billy Haughton that said something like ‘In this age of jets and machinery, it's nice to see young people interested in harness racing.' Stanley Dancer was very nice and sent me pictures of Albatross and Super Bowl."

At age 12, McKee began training and jogging horses over the half-mile racetrack on his family's farm. When he was 18 he received his 'P' drivers' license, and that year he won two of 38 starts at the Michigan fairs.

It was at age 14 though that McKee's dreams of becoming a race announcer came to fruition. In 1976, at the Clinton County fair in Ohio, track announcer Roger Huston persuaded U.S. Trotting Association supervisor of officials Dennis Nolan to give the young teenager a chance to announce the races.

"I said he'd have to pay Sam $50 a night plus expenses," recalled Huston. "He said, ‘I'm not paying a 14-year-old kid $150.' I said, ‘Yes you will. He's good, and you'll get the money back through the publicity of having him there.

"He had written to me, and we went back and forth, and then he finally had the guts to introduce himself and talk to me. He would go to Hazel Park and other places, and sit in the stands with a tape recorder and call races and send me the tapes."

McKee graduated from Lake Fenton High School and the day after he was hired as track announcer at Saginaw Valley Downs and later at Sports Creek Raceway. In 1983, he moved to Toledo's Raceway Park, where he announced the races through 1988. In addition to his race-calling duties, McKee also worked as director of group sales, and was involved in the track's publicity and television departments.

McKee went on to work in the publicity department and announcer at Ladbrokes Detroit Race Course, also adding the title of simulcast director. In the early 1990s he also served as director of operations at Northville Downs.

It was while at Northville McKee was asked if he could travel to the Meadowlands to announce on a part-time basis, which soon led to his full-time hiring.

"We were looking for an announcer to go with Ken Warkentin," remembered Chris McEarlean, the Meadowlands general manager at the time. "Sam left a very favourable impression from his first stay here. When the opportunity came up for a full-time position, he was our first choice."

When new ownership took over the historic Red Mile, they hired McKee as announcer. He made many racing moments there iconic, including his call of Always B Miki's record 1:46 mile last fall.

McKee was elected to the Michigan Harness Horsemen's Association's Hall of Fame in 2009. In 2012, he received the sport's highest honour when he was elected to the Communicators Hall of Fame in Goshen, N.Y.

He is preceded in death by his mother and survived by his wife Chris; three daughters Meagan, Melissa and Lindsey; sister Sally; father Alton and step-mother Theresa.

Visitation will be held Sunday, March 12 at the Newbaker Funeral Home in Blairstown, NJ, from 1:00 - 5:00 p.m. and 7:00 - 9:00 p.m. A service will be held Monday, March 13 at Lutheran Church of the Good Shepard, also in Blairstown, at 12:00 p.m.

Memorials may be made to the Harness Horse Youth Foundation, 16575 Carey Road, Westfield, IN 46074 or the American Heart and Stroke Association.

Please join Standardbred Canada in offering condolences to the family and friends of Sam McKee.




Honouring Sam McKee

Sometimes finding the right words to express myself is hard to find.

2016 was my first trip to the Little Brown Jug. I was going to the log cabin to meet the marketing manager. As I was seeking help to find him, I recognized Sam's voice. I waited for him to finish his conversation. I said "Sam! I have something to show you." Sam said "That is the greatest shirt I have ever seen!" He made my day as pride coursed throughout my body. He asked if he could take a picture of it.

Yesterday, Saturday March 11th 2017 at Woodbine Raceway, I held my shirt up with winners of race 7 and 10. On the way home it hit me that without my journeys with my shirt I never would have met Sam. That race 10 winner was Machal Jordan. Sam, you meant as much to the Meadowslands Racetrack as much as Michael Jordan (Machals name sake) did to the Chicago Bulls. I had planned on continuing onto more winners circles with my shirt, but I feel that this would be a fitting time to retire my shirt to honour the memory of Sam McKee.

Being an occasional visitor to the Big M in recent yrs due to my own severe injuries from a fall down stairs, I only got to know Sam in the last year or so. Some of my friends are regulars & The Big M & they along w/ me more recently can say he was a super super nice guy. So sad to hear & see. We thought he would fully recover & 54 yrs old is too early to leave us all. Hollywood said a recovery was expected. Sometimes life is very unfair. So sorry for his family. RIP Sam!!

I agree with Joe Riga that Sam Mckee and Ken Warkentin were the two best race callers in the game. I, like many others, hoped Sam would make a full recovery. Not only was he a great race caller but he was a great ambassador for the sport. He was both knowledgeable and passionate about the race game. I not only loved to hear him call a race, but on the nights he wasn't announcing he was a pleasure to listen to, on the racing program along with his sidekick Bob Heyden. I never met him, but from all accounts it sounds like he was a good man. Life is precious, and this shows how quickly your world can be turned upside down. Good health is not to be taken for granted. I wish his family all the best thru this very difficult and sad time.

I was totally shocked and saddened to hear that Sam McKee had passed away. As with so many others I was checking this site regularly to get updates on his condition and was confident that he was on his way to a full recovery. I was actually looking forward to hearing him call races again. Sam McKee and Ken Warkentin are in my mind the best race callers in the game bar none. I loved listening to Sam's race calls because he could make any race even a 5K claimer exciting. Because of that, this sport has suffered a huge loss. Sam simply can't be replaced. More importantly however, this world has by all accounts lost a wonderful man, father and human being. I did not know Sam personally but this was evident when reading what others who did know him personally had to say about him. Many of us horse racing fans almost feel like we knew Sam. He provided us all with many nights of entertainment and he will be missed for sure. I extend my sincerest condolences to Sam's wife, children and all others who knew him personally and are feeling a tremendous loss right now. I offer my prayers for Sam's immortal soul and pray he is resting in the loving arms of our Lord Jesus Christ and His mother the blessed virgin Mary.

One of the best human beings and the very finest race announcer and pedigree reader it has been my privilege to know.
His loss to anybody that knew him and to many that didn't is incalcuable.

My sincere condolences to the family and friends of Sam McKee. I have been checking for updates and I was shocked to read the tragic news.


I was absolutely shocked to hear that Sam McKee has passed away. I had been reading all the updates on his condition, and thought for sure he was on the road to recovery. I feel terrible for his family, he will be dearly missed and his passing is just very sad news to all of us who got to hear his wonderful and passionate race calls, and to those who were fortunate enough to call him friend.

This is a very sad turn of events. At times like this our words become very inadequate. We will pray for the family of this wonderful man; they are the ones who will miss him most .Our sport has lost a wonderful man.

For the past 34 years, Sam and I played the old 'give and go'.
In the mid 1980's, way before satellites and Internet, he would watch A Night At The Races from Windsor Raceway on CBC-TV Windsor. He marvelled how we were able to present harness racing in an entertaining 1-hr format featuring the 10 race card, drivers, trainers, backstretch interviews and hosted by Frank Salive. He tried to re-create parts of our format when he moved to the Meadowlands, but the semantics were not the same.
He was able to return the favour in 2013 when he provided a glowing reference for me when applying for a US work visa that allowed me to call at Hazel Park.
In the end SAMs dedication to the sport he loved is unparalleled!

My Sincere Condolences...We Will Never Forget The Somebeachsomewhere World Record 1:46.4 Race Call...
"What We Once Enjoyed, We Can Never Lose"

Not only was he one of the best racecallers he was a gentleman and a true friend. For you that only heard his voice missed a privilege that was a very special thing.

Was so hoping for his recovery.. easily the best race announcer in the world be it harness or thoroughbred.Prayers for his family..

This is without a doubt, one of the biggest tragedies in the world of harness racing. He was a fine gentleman and one of the greatest announcers ever !!! R.I.P. Mr. McKee !!

It kind of shocked me when I opened the Standardbred Canada site to read of the passing of one of best race callers I have ever heard... condolences to Sam's family and friends. R.I.P. Sam.

Such very sad news. My sincere condolences to his family and loved ones.

R.I.P. Sam.