You may know Jason Beem as the part-time announcer at Monmouth Park, or from the recently-ended Colonial Downs meet. Or, you may know him for his weekly racing podcast, broadcast first from BetAmerica and now by TwinSpires. Or possibly you've read his debut novel Southbound which he's currently converting into a movie script. But it's just as likely (or even more so) that you know him because of the Beemie Awards.
In December 2014, Beem was about to start a new job as an announcer for Louisiana Downs. It was the end of the year and thus, awards season. Anyone who has spent time on social media knows it can be its own strange microcosm and the oddly fractious, often-snarky world of Horse Racing Twitter is no exception. Beem, who is very active on the platform, got to thinking there were some tweets and exchanges so funny, so ironic, or so startling, they really should be immortalized with their own series of spoof awards.
And thus, the Beemie Awards were born.
The 2019 Beemies (which sadly lack tangible trophies but come with bragging rights) featured categories such as “Most Committed to a Really Random Cause,” “Best Mic Drop,” “Best Humblebrag” and the perennial “Moment of the Year.” After five editions of the satirical awards, racing fans have embraced the tradition wholeheartedly – and it has meant a lot of social media traffic for Beem.
“I actually have a screenshot of the US trending topics from one year: Rudy Giuliani and Beemie Awards,” said Beem. “it was the day he dropped out of the presidential election.”
But silly though the original intentions may have been, Beem is the first to point out that the project has changed his career trajectory. He had applied for a position with BetAmerica several years ago and while he wasn't the right fit for that role, the company was fascinated with his ability to engage users on social media and created the BARN podcast specifically for him. At the beginning of this year, Colonial Downs simulcast host Merv Huber and vice president of racing operations Jill Byrne were watching the Twitter storm over the Beemie Awards and Byrne was marveling over Beem's digital reach. A track that had been dormant for six years was going to need all the goodwill it could get on social media, and it was still missing an announcer.
“You know he calls races too, right?” Huber said to Byrne.
Beem's career as an announcer has taken him from Portland Meadows to the former River Downs and Gulfstream Park West. Beem grew up going to the races with his father, first at Longacres, and later at Portland Meadows. After he graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in sociology and a minor in English, he spotted a job posting from Emerald Downs. The track needed a publicity writer who knew racing and sentence structure – Beem proved just the ticket.
It wasn't until he heard Vic Stauffer's call of Cesario's 2005 American Oaks victory that he considered becoming an announcer. Beem began practicing race calling while watching the races at Portland until he got a shot to try it over the microphone. When the regular announcer was out sick one day, Beem got to call the whole card, and he made a demo tape that got him the announcer spot at River Downs.
Beem said his trajectory as an announcer might have been more linear if not for his struggles with anxiety. Though most racing patrons listening to his voice couldn't tell, the announcer's booth hit a lot of triggers for Beem – an enclosed space, away from home, high off the ground. At some announcing gigs, he would spend most of the day in his car and come out to call races from a ground-level office or an empty grandstand. Even leaving the house could be challenging on some days.
These days, Beem said he's doing better – thanks to a self-created regimen of what he calls “exposure therapy.” He confronted his fear of public spaces by taking a walk around the mall for ten minutes, then 20. He visited the top of the Space Needle to combat his fear of heights.
“I was picking everything I was scared of and worked my way up to it,” he said. “It was really fulfilling, getting out of what had been a ten-year downcycle. My motto was, 'I have to say yes to everything' because I'd spent too long saying no.
“All anxiety is just living in the future. You have to live in the present. Today is much less daunting than tomorrow.”
So far, it's working. In between announcing gigs and work on his podcast, Beem is on the road, visiting places he once would have been too anxious to see.
Beem is also still involved with his novel, which was published in 2014 and for which he recently sold the movie rights. The story traces the journey of a man suffering from a gambling addiction, and perhaps surprisingly for a racetrack announcer, Beem said it's semi-autobiographical.
Beem said he didn't acknowledge that his horseplaying and poker habit was an addiction for a long time but eventually he reached a breaking point.
“I had just had enough,” he said. “For me it was an anxiety escape and I could sit at home and do it. It was something to fill my time and I was just betting recklessly, I was just firing away. It was a bad combination of a lot of things so I just finally decided I needed to not do it anymore.
“I realized it would be an issue when I couldn't stop. I'd do a month or two on, a month or two off, and then it finally stuck.”
Beem was still at Portland Meadows at the time, and alerted his bosses to the issue, restructuring his workflow so he could physically keep away from the betting windows. He stopped bringing cash to work. And he started going to Gamblers Anonymous meetings. At one of them, attendees were asked to write about what they thought would happen if they ever had a relapse, and Beem found the early makings of Southbound flowing from his fingertips.
Of course, a big component of his job involves advising patrons on race picks or gambling strategy. He has managed to separate the process of handicapping a card from actually putting down the cash.
“I have no issues promoting gambling,” he said. “Once a year, during Problem Gambling Month, I'll tweet out saying if anyone needs to talk about this I'm here. I've had probably 20 people from Twitter write me over the years. A few of them you hear from once, but some you hear more often.”
Soon, Beem will transfer his binoculars to Monmouth, where he calls the races when regular announcer Frank Mirahmadi is at Santa Anita. It has not escaped his notice that 2019 was a tough year for horse racing. At 39, he has several decades of work left ahead of him, and Beem said he's hopeful that although the number of announcer positions has shrunk over the years, he will be able to retire from the sport he loves.
“I still believe in racing,” he said. “I still think it's going to exist and be different at some point soon. Whether the betting is different, whether there's consolidation, I'm not sure, but something is going to be different. I hope it can get itself together and grow. I'm probably a little naïve in thinking we'll be ok, but I hope we are. I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't believe in it.”
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