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When he closed the door to his office -- the highest perch in the place -- no one was allowed in for the next six to eight minutes.

In fact, don't even knock.

Those minutes were the most important in the world to Terry Wallace. It was when he was prepping and calling a race at Oaklawn Park.

For 37 years, he closed that door. For 20,191 consecutive races, he brought life and personality to his calls and along the way naturally became the most recognizable voice in the state.

Wallace was an interesting person. He was a man of many interests who sometimes walked through the press box speaking fluent French, his second language. As a young man, he studied at the Sorbonne and made frequent trips to France.

But in his heart, he was a racetrack man.

Over the years, he took on the role of media relations director and unofficial public relations person. After the races, he often was seen showing people around the track or just visiting. Before the races, he gave handicapping seminars.

For him, it was always about the horses.

A few years ago, Wallace ordered a photographer from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette off the premises with the vow to never let him return. His crime? He took a picture of a horse that had broken down. That's all part of the game, but to Wallace it was a negative part that needed to stay private.

It took Wallace several years to accept the fact that covering the University of Arkansas Razorbacks was more vital to the statewide newspaper, but horse racing was almost as important. The acceptance came after he realized the sports editor had a real passion for the game.

In 1983, Sunny's Halo won the Arkansas Derby -- and later the Kentucky Derby -- and national media converged on the Arkansas Derby. Wallace wisely assigned seats in the small press area.

Mine was on the step to the ledge where the Daily Racing Form people made their notes. Somewhere in Oaklawn General Manager Eric Jackson's office is the picture of your scribe sitting on his step. Wallace thought it was a compliment because he trusted me not to make noise during the race and bother the Daily Racing Form people.

In 1985 when the Razorbacks went to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., Wallace was the track announcer at Ak-Sar-Ben (Nebraska spelled backward), and there was a media event at the track. There were maybe 20 sports reporters there, and Wallace drew three names to have their picture made in the winner's circle. Mine was one of them. At the precise moment the picture was snapped, the horse moved and my face was blocked out. That picture is in my office.

Wallace became not just the voice of Oaklawn but also the face. He was involved deeply in many charities and events in Hot Springs, a city he adopted and loved dearly.

In 2011, Wallace's streak of called races came to an end during the early part of the meet. Wallace gave up his office that race and went straight to the apron where he was surrounded by friends and co-workers.

Only a few knew he had been diagnosed with supranuclear palsy. He retired as the track announcer in 2011, but he continued to work year round at Oaklawn -- almost always with a smile on his face -- until last year when he stepped down completely.

He was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, Nebraska Racing Hall of Fame and received the Mr. Fitz Award for typifying the spirit of racing.

Exactly one year after the death of Charles Cella, former CEO and president of Oaklawn, Terry Wallace went to his racetrack in the sky and is probably calling races today.

Sports on 12/09/2018

Print Headline: WALLY HALL: Wallace spent years as Oaklawn advocate

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