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Last U.S. Drives For Campbell, O'Donnell

Published: June 30, 2017 2:32 pm ET

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When John Campbell gets behind the gate at Goshen Historic Track on July 2 for the Mr. and Mrs. Elbridge Gerry Memorial Trot (Race 4 at approximately 2:00 p.m.), he’ll see a familiar face to his left.

In post eight, driving the trotter Pig Hunt, Campbell will be next to Bill O’Donnell, driving Toss Cartwright from post seven. It will be the last race in the U.S. for both men, who are Canadian-born.

O’Donnell made the decision when he found out at the Dan Patch dinner in Las Vegas in February that David Miller would be attending Legends Day at Clinton Raceway in Ontario, a biennial fan-centered day, to be held this year on July 30. I said, “Good. You [Miller] can drive in my place. John was there and he said, “Well, that’s my last drive why don’t you do it, too? Let’s do it together, our last drives.’”

O’Donnell, seven years older than Campbell, has 5,445 wins and $90.6 million in purses, and is now the president of the Central Ontario Standardbred Association. He trained a small stable until recently, though he’s kept his equipment – “I’m sure I’ll find something to train,” he says.

The two men dominated harness racing in the ‘80s and ‘90s, with O’Donnell having 20 seasons of $1 million or more while Campbell has continued with 38 seasons of a million or more and eight of $10 million plus. O’Donnell was the first driver to reach $10 million in a year in purses, hitting that mark in 1985.

“I wish he had retired 30 years ago, it would have been a lot better for me,” says O’Donnell with a laugh. His driving in recent years has been limited to fan-friendly events, like those at Goshen and Clinton. “They’re lined up for a quarter of a mile [at the meet and greets], same as Goshen,” says O’Donnell, “year after year after year.”

Campbell will also stay focused on the fans in the future, he says. “It’s my last time driving, but it won’t be my last time at Goshen,” he says. “I’ll still come and see people, go to the [induction] dinner on a regular basis, it’s not like I’m never going to be back at Goshen.”

On Sunday, Campbell will line up against many drivers with which he competed on a nightly basis for decades at The Meadowlands and in major races across North America. Aside from O’Donnell, Wally Hennessey, Dick Stillings, Brian Sears (to be inducted Sunday night), Jimmy Takter, Dave Palone and David Miller will also compete in the race. “We’ll get together and reminisce and laugh about some of the silly stuff years ago,” said Campbell. “The camaraderie is always great.”

Historic Track is giving away a commemorative photo of Campbell with some of the best horses of his career and a detailed list of his accomplishments to the first 500 paid admissions on Sunday. Fans can say hello and get him to sign it after the Hall of Fame drivers race. Campbell and the other drivers will have sharpies at the ready, “I’ll be able to handle that – that won’t be an issue,” he says.

“It’s always special at Goshen because the fans are right on top of you (in the grandstand up against the racing surface], it’s the personal interaction and they’re always so enthusiastic and so nice at Goshen. It’s fun to be part of that. I really appreciate it so much.”

Historic Track is located at 44 Park Place in Goshen. Admission is $5 (includes a program) for adults and children are free. They’re located behind the Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame at 240 Main Street in Goshen, where admission is always free.


This story courtesy of Harness Racing Communications, a division of the U.S. Trotting Association. For more information, visit www.ustrotting.com.


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