It's been more than a year since Ron Pierce last drove in a race. The Hall of Fame reinsman has a full trophy case and is one of only three drivers in harness racing history with more than $200 million in purses. Yet Pierce, who will be 60 in June, still wants to compete.
But his body has other ideas. And after three surgeries to help issues with his back and neck, he sits on the sidelines.
"The first surgery didn't seem to help too much at all on my lower back," Pierce told Bob 'Hollywood' Heyden in a recent interview at The Meadowlands. "Came back to Jersey, New Jersey Spine & Orthopedic, they operated on my neck, put a couple of parts in...it feels great, no pain at all. Then the same doctor that operated on my neck, he came back and did my lower back for me and my back has been getting better and better all the time."
When asked why he's not driving, Pierce replied that he's "just not ready to come back yet."
But not one to stay idle, Pierce has been able to take time to enjoy his other pursuits, like fishing. And just watching races, which the driver noted he can still enjoy as a fan instead of an on-track participant.
"You know, it feels good. I enjoy it, I love watching races, I still get very excited, I'll get more excited watching a good horse race than I would if I was driving in it myself."
Heyden mentioned a discussion he had years ago with Hall of Famer Carmine Abbatiello as 'The Red Man' approached 60 years of age. Abbatiello remarked that his skills and abilities weren't any less than when he was younger, but his body's ability to recover wasn't what it was in years prior. Pierce agreed with that assesment.
"We sure don't bounce nearly as good as we used to bounce. We used to be able to take some terrible shots out there, get up and get right back on but now it seems like you hit that track hard and you just kind of stick to it...you don't roll or bounce nearly as good as you used to when you were younger."
Pierce is clearly taking this recovery phase seriously, as even a reduced or limited driving schedule doesn't seem plausible.
"I could but I'd have to wait a few more months to get the OK from the doctor...I could probably do it but I just want to get my back stronger before I decide on coming back."
Is he coming back? Heyden asked point blank for a definite return date.
"It won't be, most likely, 2016, if I come back it will most likely be in the Spring of '17...if I come back."
Heyden also asks Pierce if there's a horse he sat behind that could have defeated Muscle Hill (he names one) and well as his thoughts on other Standardbred standouts. To watch the full interview, click the play button below.