Legendary IMS Radio Network Voice Palmer Dies At 75

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

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"Palmerisms" | Palmer Audio: 1977 Victory Lane / 1988 Win Call | Palmer Video: Newman Interview In 'Winning'


Note: IMS Historian Donald Davidson knew legendary IMS Radio Network announcer Lou Palmer for more than 40 years and worked closely with him on the Network and WIBC-AM in Indianapolis for more than 30 years. He shares his impressions and recollections of Palmer in this obituary.

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Lou Palmer, whose rich, stirring voice was heard over the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network for more than 30 years, died Jan. 19 in Indianapolis. He was 75.

Palmer was the Network's chief announcer in 1988 and 1989.

Born Louis A. Perunko Jr., in 1932 in Wheeling, W. Va., Palmer was raised in Syracuse, N.Y. He had been an Indianapolis resident almost continuously since 1953.

Palmer first appeared on the IMS Radio Network in 1958 at the invitation of then-chief announcer Sid Collins, shortly after Palmer had joined the news department at radio station WIBC. He was assigned to Turn 3 for his first race because "nothing ever happens over there." Contrarily, a massive, multi-car accident played out in front of him on the very first lap, all but blocking the track as the popular Pat O'Connor sustained fatal injuries, and rookie Jerry Unser completely cleared the outer wall to sustain a dislocated shoulder just yards away.

Palmer's masterful call of that accident has been heard in numerous retrospectives.

For approximately 30 years, Palmer would take a hiatus from the WIBC news department and spend the better part of May at the track, feeding daily reports every 30 minutes and anchoring WIBC's day-long qualification coverage with a fascinating, unique style. By 1963, he had moved to the pits for Race Day, and he stayed there until 1988. For many of those years, his voice would be heard over the public address system as he conducted the winner's interview in Victory Lane.

To say that Palmer waxed poetic would be an understatement. Normally dressed in a tight-fitting short-sleeved polo shirt and khaki slacks - and becoming steadily more tanned as the month wore on -- Palmer would typically work qualifications standing up, usually with one foot up on the rung or the seat of a metal stool. Nervously drumming a ballpoint pen on a bench next to his thigh, his whole body would jerk and contort as he delivered a rapid-fire, basso-voiced potpourri of heavy drama punctuated with wit, biting satire, uncredited quotes from Shakespeare and Rudyard Kipling, and an occasional sprinkling of early 1950s jazz jargon. It was a pure joy to listen to, and, for those fortunate enough to be in close proximity, a joy to behold.

Even his year-round newscasts were delightfully unorthodox.

But Palmer was a very private man. He shunned all publicity and avoided public appearances. He would joke all day with colleagues at the track and chat cheerily with diehard fans in the first few rows of the grandstands during daily practice, but the very moment his final report of the day was completed, he was gone, home to the solitude of his residence and with the phone off the hook for the rest of the evening.

A memorial gathering will take place from noon-1:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 26 at Camby Community Church, located on the southwest side of Indianapolis at 8604 Camby Road.

Palmer's first wife, Cal, died in 1997. Survivors include his second wife, Beverly; son, Al Perunko; and daughter, Laura Scott.