ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Jan Gabriel died on January 10th at age 69. You might not know of the Chicago-area racing promoter, but you may very well know of his vocal signature. It has been copied for decades by other racing announcers across the country.
Mr. JAN GABRIEL (Racing Announcer): Sunday, Sunday, Sunday at smokin' U.S. 30 Drag Strip where the great...
SIEGEL: Jan Gabriel is credited with being the first to write radio ads featuring what would become a clich�.
Commentator Bob Cook takes a look back at the life of Mr. Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!
BOB COOK: On Jan Gabriel's own Web site, it did not go without notice what day he died. His death notice was headlined: The Last Sunday. It was appropriate because Jan Gabriel promoted Sunday better than any preacher.
Jan Gabriel started as Chicago's youngest teenage DJ at record hops in the 1950s, moved into commercial work, then combined his love of show business and racing beginning in 1968, when he became the track announcer at the Santa Fe Speedway in Hinsdale, Illinois. By his telling, most track announcers sat up high in a booth and talked with little cadence. Gabriel put himself on stage in the middle of the track and went crazy.
Gabriel did a lot more than Sunday, Sunday, Sunday. With his syndicated show, "The Superchargers," he put NASCAR and the National Hot Rod Association on television when most everyone else would not.
It seemed like you heard other announcers mimic the Sunday, Sunday, Sunday shtick endlessly until suddenly you didn't hear it anymore. That's because as auto racing got bigger, the small tracks where Gabriel did his most famous work disappeared, victims of underfinanced owners, high insurance costs and real estate development. Santa Fe Speedway, where Gabriel got his start, is a housing subdivision. The U.S. 30 Drag Strip is weeds.
Still, Gabriel never gave up the ghost of promoting small-time events like they were big-time. He took one Santa Fe Speedway standby, Team Demolition Derby, and transferred it to Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Illinois, a small track affiliated with a complex that hosts Indy car, NASCAR and NHRA events. For four Saturdays every summer, Gabriel's event filled the 10,000 seats with fans eager to see what Gabriel called roller derby on wheels.
Gabriel continued his work despite his polycystic kidney disease, which necessitated a transplant in the 1980s and his legs to be amputated below the knees in 2005. But that didn't stop him from promoting and announcing Team Demolition Derby, giving it the reflected glory of Mr. Sunday, Sunday, Sunday, even if he could no longer stand in the middle of the track and go crazy.
The Gabriel family is hosting a memorial service open to the public at his home in Lombard, Illinois, where they can mingle with his family and with his favorite cars. When is that service? Why, of course, it's Sunday, Sunday, Sunday.
SIEGEL: Bob Cook is a writer. He's based in Chicago. If you'd like to comment on his essay, go to npr.org.
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