view counter
 
view counter
 
 

From Delaware To Budapest

Published: May 14, 2018 11:03 am ET

No Comments | Jump to Comments

After a journey of more than 5,000 miles, the harness racing starting gate used for the prestigious Little Brown Jug in Delaware, Ohio, is now safely in the least likely of racing locations: Budapest, Hungary.

The starting gate is used to start the harness races. It has a special attachment with long wings that open up and close. The horses get behind the gate at their assigned post position numbers and follow the gate to the starting point of the race; the vehicle then accelerates away from the field of horses, but continues to follow them on the outside of the track throughout the race.

The extensive journey for the unique Ford F-150 pickup truck with its starting gate attachment began in early July of 2017 when Petronella Kovács, an equine photographer and assistant manager at Kincsem Park in Budapest, contacted harness racing publicity consultant and Hall of Famer Steve Wolf in Coral Springs, Fla.


Mike Woebkenberg and the starting gate pictured at the Little Brown Jug (Photo courtesy of Mike Woebkenberg)

Kincsem Park is a major events facility in Budapest that features not only harness racing, but also Thoroughbred and greyhound racing, concerts and festivals.

“I received an email from Petronella,” Wolf said, “asking if I could assist them in purchasing a good used starting gate and having it shipped to Budapest. Little did I know the kind of journey this would take us on.

“Thank goodness for Google translate, as I do not speak Hungarian, and Petronella speaks some English. We had some minor situations where we did not understand each other, but always were able to work it out.”

“I speak English somewhat,” Kovács said. “Our communication was the best I think, easy, fluent and simple.

“I was searching for a company or a person who could arrange these kinds of things like this. I wrote to some companies, and only Steve said he can and wanted to help me.”

So Wolf began searching for a good used starting gate, which was no easy task.

“I contacted the two major companies that build starting gates in the USA,” Wolf said. “And either they did not have any used vehicles for sale, or they were too old for what they wanted at Kincsem Park. I contacted racetracks and found a couple of used starting gates, but again, too old for what they wanted.”

Then Wolf went to Mike Woebkenberg of Superior Sulky in Farmerville, Ohio. Mike and Steve had never met before, but through talking on the phone, had become friends.

“I realized that Steve really wanted to help find a starting gate for the people at Kincsem Park,” Woebkenberg said. “And I wanted to help him, so we looked into building a new one, but that became too costly with shipping and import taxes. We tried all sorts of scenarios, and then I said to myself, ‘why not sell them the main starting gate I use at the Little Brown Jug and other tracks and just build a new one for myself?’”

After working out a price, a deal was reached between Woebkenberg, Wolf and Kovács that was acceptable to Kincsem Park management. But then came the paperwork for the Ford F-150 starting gate.

“I thought at first that this would be an easy purchase agreement,” Wolf said. “Then came an 18-page bidding form in Hungarian! It took some time as Google translate was not as helpful, but Petronella worked with me and soon enough I had it done. I nicknamed her my ‘Job Angel’ and Mike also was a major help as we had to include all dimensions of the truck and the starting gate mechanisms in kilometers, etc.”


The starting gate arrives at Kincsem Park (Photo courtesy Petronella Kovács)

Because Kincsem Park is owned and run by the Department of Agriculture in Hungary, bids must be done for all major machinery purchases. So next came the waiting game for Wolf to see how the bidding would go. It was early July when the adventure first started, and then on October 13, Wolf received via email a document from the Hungarian government with an official seal on it.

“I thought at first it was the official notice that my bid was successfully submitted,” Wolf said. “So, I forwarded it to Petronella and she got back to me and said ‘Congratulations Steve, your bid is the winning one,’ and I was ecstatic about it.”

Of course, more work remained. Arrangements were made to have the starting gate shipped from Ohio to an east-coast port, then across the Atlantic to a port in Europe, and then to have the vehicle transported to Budapest, which is totally landlocked from any major shipping port by hundreds of miles.

“I had done pricing on all facets needed to get the starting gate to Budapest for the bidding contract,” Wolf said. “And now I was able to negotiate final deals with the different transport companies.”

So, Woebkenberg began preparing the truck for a long trip to Europe.

“I had the truck totally detailed,” Woebkenberg said. “New tires and an extra new spare, new brakes, extra spare parts and prepared the truck for being in a container for a while and how the salt air could affect it. I also wrote out instructions for basic repairs and maintenance for the truck and starting gate and made sure that the company folded in the big side-view mirrors in order for it to fit inside the container.”

The starting gate was then transported from Farmerville, Ohio to the port in Jersey City, N.J., then shipped to the port at Bremerhaven, Germany and transported 740 miles to Budapest, Hungary.

“I had all the information,” Wolf said. “The name of the ship, the route it was going to take, when it might arrive, but still I was nervous waiting for it to finally arrive in Germany. I even learned how to track a vessel at sea provided it passed near some of the tracking stations across the Atlantic.

“And then I got an email on Monday, January 22, from my customs agent that the ship had docked the night before,” Wolf added, laughing. “So, my worries about the starting gate sinking were over with!”

“I did not think it would take so long,” Kovács said. “With the truck coming from America, it is not the closest or the easiest way to Hungary. A good job takes time.

“My colleagues and I were so excited when I got the message on my phone that the truck had arrived. I finally felt calm and secure. Everyone was so excited and could not wait to see the truck at work.”

Both Wolf and Woebkenberg are hopeful that this experience will be repeated with other tracks around the world that are interested in getting either a new or used starting gate. They can be reached via email at [email protected] or [email protected].

“I’m ready to do it all over again,” Wolf said. “It was most certainly a life experience that I really enjoyed doing, made new friends around the world and now I can add international exporter to my resume.”

(USTA)


view counter
 
 
 

© 2018 Standardbred Canada. All rights reserved. Use of this site signifies your agreement and compliance with the legal disclaimer and privacy policy.

Firefox 3 Best with IE 7 Built with Drupal