Dustyn Stortzum grew up around horse racing his whole life. Some would argue that it is in his family’s blood.
Stortzum’s mom, dad, uncle, grandma, and grandpa have all been a part of horse racing. Their jobs have included working at the track, helping horses load into the starting gate, and owning a couple of horses.
For Stortzum, it was something that he never thought ever be doing at this moment in his life.
“I always wanted to end up announcing for a major league baseball team or a professional basketball team,” he said. “Never really thought of horse racing even though I grew up in the sport.”
That thought changed when he got the call in February to be the track announcer at Fonner Park for this past spring season. Stortzum admits that he didn’t even know if he would take the job, but he was ready for it.
“I had a really great job when I got the call announcing high school sports in South Dakota,” he said. “But I am always up for a new challenge and trying new things, so I decided to come back.”
Storzum became one of the youngest full-time track announcers in the country at just 24 years old. That was an important factor for Fonner Park CEO Chris Kotulak, who also has broadcasting experience.
“Dustyn has a solid foundation in broadcasting for his age,” he said. “His confidence behind the mic is obvious.”
Stortzum filled some pretty big shoes at Fonner Park. He stepped in for Steve Anderson, a local legend to many, not only in the horse racing community but in the community of Grand Island. Anderson called races the previous 19 seasons at Fonner Park, but passed away in 2022 from cancer.
“Definitely some pretty big shoes to fill,” Stortzum said “I think they are almost size 13, and I’m only a size 11, but I am getting better each day.”
It was Anderson who inspired Dustyn to become a horse track announcer possibly. Stortzum had the opportunity to follow him around for a race day, which led him to become really interested in the sport.
“After I shadowed Steve and watched him go throughout the day-to-day process,” he said. “That’s when I was like, I can do this thing.”
Horse racing is one of the toughest sports to call in all sports. The names of the horse are long and filled with many different vowels that look one way and sound another. Each horse has its own jockey that the announcer has to know the name of. Every horse has an owner and it might be bread in a different state. Track announcers must think of this all while the horses are blazing around the track in under a minute and 45 seconds.
While he has had plenty of help along the way, Stortzum said it took him a few races to really understand how to call the sport. When he shadowed Anderson around, it was then that he saw as well that it isn’t just about calling the race many different things go into being the track announcer.
In Nebraska, each jockey is required to wear a single-colored silk or jersey. This is different than any other state in the country. Most jockeys wear the colors of their owners or trainers and it could have a pattern or be multi-colored. This rule in Nebraska is something that helps Storzum out a lot when calling races.
For one race a year at Fonner Park, the Bosselman Pump & Pantry/Gus Fonner Stakes, those rules go away, and jockeys are allowed to wear their owner’s colors. Storzum said that it was this race that really showed him what being a track announcer was like.
“(It’s) knowing the program and knowing each horse and how they run,” he said. “Getting to know the little things about each racehorse really helps you call the race and perfect your craft.”
Storzum’s time in the booth ends tomorrow with the conclusion of Fonner Park’s spring racing season. But the rookie announcer already has more duties set up. Stortzum just announced that he will be the track announcer over the summer in Arapahoe, CO, at Ballys Arapahoe Park.