But for those who were lucky enough to meet him or fortunate to hang out or work with him, he will always be remembered for his love for life and having a great time no matter where he was. He was also very gracious by bringing fans up to his booth to show how he called the races. He always showed his box of crayons which he used to color the silks of each jockey in the track program to help him recognize each horse as he called the race.
I was one of the lucky ones who got to meet, hang out and work with Luke in the summer of 2000 as an intern at Ellis Park where I was in between my two years at the Race Track Industry Program (RTIP) at the University of Arizona. My internship for me and a fellow RTIP student was supposed to be in marketing, but after meeting with Luke he suggested I work with him in publicity.
Before the meet started at Ellis Park, I spent a few weekends at Churchill Downs in the press box. I watched and learned how Luke prepped for a day of race-calling along with how chart callers work in the booth next door. It was surely a learning experience and I was trying to absorb as much as I could. Luke was pretty serious at Churchill Downs, but he loosened up when racing switched to Ellis Park. It was during this time where I got to see what a character Luke really was. The following are some memorable moments I had that summer with him.
One of the jobs I was assigned as an intern at Ellis Park was to call a local radio station and give the results over the phone at the end of the race day. One day, I had allergies really bad and I was sneezing what seemed like once every 30 seconds. I told Luke there was no way I could give out the results as I would be sneezing left and right. He offered to do them for me. He called up the radio station and said "This is Jon Shonk live from the Ellis Park press box with today's race results!"
As a side job, Luke would record his live race calls at Ellis Park and send them over the phone to an offsite race results line. Sometimes, he would forget to press record on the tape recorder while calling the live race. After he announced the results for that race to the live crowd, he would call the race from memory into the recorder and it was amazing as it sounded exactly the same. I don't know how he did it, but it truly showed how great he was at his job.
In between races, he would call or receive calls here and there from his friends. I can remember one time he called me over and handed me the phone "Here, Ross Porter wants to talk to you." (Ross Porter was a sportscaster for the LA Dodgers). Of course, it was not Ross Porter but his friend and fellow announcer Frank Mirahmadi doing his impression of Ross Porter. It honestly was one of the few times in my life where I really was LMAO.
Our off days at Ellis Park were Mondays and Tuesdays. Luke invited me to join him for a road trip to River Downs near Cincinnati, Ohio which had live racing on Tuesdays. We first visited nearby Turfway Park where Luke introduced me to many of the people he knew there. Afterwards, we went to River Downs where he hung out most of the day with track publicist John "Regular Guy" Englehart who is also quite a character. We ended the day with dinner at one of Luke's favorite restaurants right along the Ohio river in Louisville, Kentucky.
Another trip I went along with Luke was to Saratoga Springs, New York. I didn't really hang out with Luke during that trip, but it was the only time I have ever been to Saratoga and I still cherish that trip to one of America's premier horse racing tracks. This was the kind of person that Luke was. He didn't have to invite me to go with him, but he did and it really was like hanging out with a movie star especially to this green intern. One thing I do regret is I could've taken a picture of all three Triple Crown announcers as David Rodman from Pimlico was also there and of course Tom Durkin who announced at Saratoga.
Luke's voice will live on in all the recorded races he announced and I'm sure he will influence quite a few future track announcers. I also hope his influence on how to live life to the fullest will remind us how short life really can be as Luke passed away from natural causes at the young age of 47.
The following video is one of Luke's last interviews which was produced by the RTIP. Thanks Luke for everything you taught me in horse racing and especially in life.
If you would like, please share your memories of Luke in the comments below.