For some, succeeding a legend can be a tricky, tense and unsettling proposition.
Not for Jeff Zidek, though.
“If I was walking into a new place and I didn’t have any history here, maybe it would be tough,” said Zidek, who was named The Meadows’ new track announcer, succeeding his mentor, Roger Huston. “Everyone at The Meadows knows me and I know them.
“When you don’t have to train on the job or go around and meet everyone, it makes it much easier. I have been in the ultimate backup quarterback position here.”
Zidek recently resigned as sports information director at Saint Vincent College after 17 years in the position. He said he plans to remain as the women’s bowling coach for the Bearcats.
He has owned and trained Standardbreds, working for more than 10 years as a publicist for the Pennsylvania Harness Racing Commission and serving as the track handicapper at The Meadows.
He said his style will be different from Huston’s and he feels his objectives and duties are clear-cut.
“No one is ever going to replace Roger,” Zidek said. “I will be low-key and do it a little different. If someone was coming in here from the outside, there would be more pressure I am sure.
“I’ve have been asked by the track to provide some input to change some things around eventually. My two main audiences are the bettors and the horsemen. My job as an announcer and handicapper is to stimulate more betting. My focus will be to get them (the bettors) to place wagers and to call an accurate race.”
Zidek, 51, had served as Huston’s backup announcer for many years at the harness racing track. The two worked together on racing shows and it was Huston who hired Zidek out of college as an intern.
Huston resigned as the announcer in October after more than 40 years. He left in early November and returned to Ohio to take on a new position. He now works for the Ohio Harness Horsemen Association but thinks Zidek is a natural to take over his old post.
“Jeff was good at whatever he was doing at the time,” Huston said. “He is so well-versed in everything. His working about The Meadows was a good stepping stone for sports information at Saint Vincent.
“All along he kept involved at The Meadows with the MSOA (Meadows Standardbred Owners Association) and part-time as my backup and as co-host on Meadows Racing. I always made the schedule around Jeff’s availability as he was always my backup. It was only logical that he would be my replacement.”
In addition to his work at The Meadows and Saint Vincent, Zidek, a North Apollo native, worked at Fox Sports Pittsburgh and Fox Sports Radio as an on-air host.
“I’ve had a great career both inside and outside of the racing industry, but for me this is like coming home,” said Zidek. “The Meadows gave me my first opportunity in broadcasting and then gave me my first opportunity in public relations and marketing. I built my career off that foundation. Now, I get to come back home and serve the racing community on a full-time basis again. I can’t wait to get started.”
Zidek will begin his new job Friday.
“The Meadows is thrilled to have (Zidek) join the team as the announcer, his talents are unlimited and we look forward to working together to make The Meadows better than ever,” said vice president of racing for The Meadows Mark Loewe in a press release.
Zidek admits he would have been content to complete his working career at Saint Vincent. But the job at The Meadows was likely a one-time opportunity he decided he could not pass up.
“The timing worked out,” Zidek said. “I wasn’t shocked when Roger resigned but I was surprised. This all goes back to Roger giving me an opportunity a long time ago. Someone said this job only comes open once every 40 years. When I thought about that, I decided to pursue it.”