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Evans living childhood dream
Phantom calling races in his childhood bedroom is a key memory for Justin Evans and he is pinching himself that he is now able to live out his lifelong dream of being a race caller.
March 15, 2024

Evans living childhood dream
By Joshua Smith, LOVERACING.NZ News Desk
Phantom calling races in his childhood bedroom is a key memory for Justin Evans, and he is pinching himself that he is now able to live out his lifelong dream of being a race caller.
Growing up in Palmerston North, Evans became hooked on the sport after attending race meetings with his family at Awapuni, and his senses were captivated by the event.
“I don’t have any family in racing, but I would go to the races with my family as a kid,” Evans said. “I just got the bug madly and loved everything about it – the sights, the sounds, the smells.” 
While many budding racing fans are fascinated about becoming a trainer or jockey, Evans was more intrigued by the voice coming out of the speakers and the theatre behind describing a race.
“For some reason as a young fella I cottoned on to this idea of being a race caller,” he said. “As far back as I can remember that is what I wanted to do. I was just mad on it from a very young age.
“I would sit in my bedroom and practice race calling as much as I could. I would go to the races and sit at the back of the stand and call the races to myself. It is all I have ever wanted to do.”

Intent on pursuing a career in race calling, a young Evans plucked up the courage to pen a letter to local commentator Alan Bright, who fostered the enthusiasm of his young fan and invited him up to the commentator’s box.
“I wrote Alan Bright, who was the CD (Central Districts) caller at the time, a letter when I was nine-years-old telling him I wanted to be a race caller,” Evans said. “I met him and he took me up to the Awapuni race callers box and I met all of the jockeys and had a great time.”
While Bright was his introduction to race calling, Evans said it was his successor Tony Lee who made the biggest influence on him.
“It was really when Tony came along a few years later that really lit the fire in me,” Evans said. “I was lucky enough to be taken under Tony’s wing, he was very much my mentor. I would do all of the trials and helped Tony out as a teenager going into my early twenties. He really nurtured me.”
While his ambition and passion for race calling never wavered, opportunities did, and Evans was forced to turn away from his dream vocation to pursue a career in radio.
“I got out of racing for an extensive period. There was no gig happening, so I needed to pay the bills and get on with life, so an opportunity came up to get into music radio, so I took it,” Evans said. 

“I spent 15 years in a really rewarding and fun career on the air at various stations and I had an absolute blast, it was great fun.
“In radio you learn so many skills and how to think on your feet. It is just a really fast-paced, dynamic job, and I loved it.”
While he enjoyed his time in radio, the pull of race calling was always there, and he decided to chance his arm once more and put out feelers to test whether he still had the talent to pursue his passion.
“I got in touch with both Mark Rosanowski and George Simon (commentators). I knew George from years ago,” he said. 
“Initially it was purely could I even call again? I hadn’t called a race for 15-odd years and I just wanted to see if I could still do it and I still had it. People said it was like riding a bike and I wasn’t so sure, but it turns out it was. 
“George was very accommodating and fed me a lot of trials. I was back in Palmerston North at the time and I remember driving up to Te Teko at 3:30am to call 30 heats there and then I was back in Palmy by about midnight (ready to head back to my radio job the next day). I did that for a year or so. 
“I was then given the Manawatu trots to call and it just picked up from there. The big opportunity came through a full-time (race calling) job in the south, which I took with both hands.”

Evans took up his southern commentating role in 2020 and enjoyed more than three years calling in Otago and Southland before the opportunity came to return to his home region earlier his year and take over the Central Districts commentating reins from his mentor Tony Lee.
“I can’t put into words how much Tony has meant to me and has done for me,” Evans said. “He was my absolute hero and I idolised him. I would record all of his race calls on Radio Pacific and listen to them over and over again.
“When I got to be under him, he really did take me under his wing. I would describe Tony as a father figure, a mentor, a friend and co-worker. His influence on me has been enormous. It was very special, albeit daunting, to take over from your hero.
“I really stand on his shoulders as I do the job. There wouldn’t be a more influential person in my race calling career than Tony. I will be eternally thankful for what he did for me and it’s a massive thrill to take over from him.”
Evans returned to his home region earlier this year and was honoured to share the commentating duties alongside Lee in his final day of calling at Trentham’s Wellington Cup Day meeting in January.

“That was Tony’s call to do that,” Evans said. “He really wanted me to share the stage with him on what was his day. It was a surreal day as I very much remember the boy who would follow Tony up to these boxes like a lapdog. 
“The Wellington Cup might no longer be the enormous race it once was, but from a traditional point of view that was always the biggest day when I went to the races, it was a big deal and there is something special about Trentham. It was a massive privilege to share that stage and day with Tony.”
Evans has enjoyed being the new voice at many of the tracks he frequented as a young racing fan and his biggest test awaits him this weekend as he gets set to call at New Zealand Oaks Day at Trentham on Saturday.
“It will be the biggest day so far,” he said. “I called my first Group One a couple of weeks ago at Otaki, but the Oaks is a big race and is one of several (Group Ones) I will get to do.
“In terms of the courses, I think there is something special about calling at Trentham, and I know it was Tony’s favourite track. The Oaks is a great race with a big field on a big track, so I will need to be on my toes. I am very much looking forward to it.”
While Evans didn’t take his desired direct path into race calling, he is glad the way his career has panned out and is grateful to have finally secured his dream job in racing.
“Race calling was my childhood dream and I love the game,” he said. “I am glad I had that radio life because the experiences you get to do when you are in that job are unbelievable, and now I am back doing my initial love.” – LOVERACING.NZ News Desk