Campbell, John D.

Campbell, John D.
▪ 2008

born April 8, 1955, Ailsa Craig, Ont.

      On Feb. 25, 2007, the U.S. Harness Writers Association awarded Canadian Hall of Famer John D. Campbell the title of 2006 Driver of the Year. For Campbell, North American history's leading money-winning harness driver and winner of a record six Hambletonians (the top race for three-year-old trotters), the honour was especially rewarding. He had finished the 2006 season with 183 wins in 1,427 starts before suffering a severely broken leg in a collision during an elimination race on October 21. Campbell used the award ceremony to announce his imminent return. “If everything goes the way I hope,” he said, “I'm hoping to get back sometime in April.” True to his word, he was back on the track on April 1, and by season's end horses driven by Campbell in his career had earned more than $250 million and 9,905 victories.

      Campbell absorbed the basics of horsemanship from his father and grandfather and then set off in the early 1970s to tracks in the Detroit–Windsor, Ont., area. When the Meadowlands racetrack opened in East Rutherford, N.J., in late 1976, Campbell relocated there, distinguishing himself with his driving skills and professionalism. In 1979, at age 24, he ranked as the richest driver in harness racing as his horses earned more than $3.3 million.

      Between 1982 and 2002, Campbell ranked either first or second in money earnings among all drivers in North America. He achieved a milestone in 1982 when Merger, a pacer he trained and drove, won the Little Brown Jug (the top North American race for three-year-old pacers), but he soon gave up training to concentrate on driving. He drove Mack Lobell to victory in record time in the 1987 Hambletonian; the next year he and Mack Lobell defeated Europe's finest trotters in Sweden's prestigious Elitlopp. In 1990 at age 35, Campbell became the youngest person ever inducted into the Living Hall of Fame at the Harness Racing Museum in Goshen, N.Y. The following year he drove Armbro Keepsake to victory in the Breeders Crown and became the first harness driver to pass $100 million in career earnings. In 1995 he drove the winners of both the Hambletonian and the Little Brown Jug.

      After achieving his best season in 2001 (with more than $14 million in earnings), Campbell was seriously injured in a racing accident in 2003 and missed several months on the track. He also lost time in 2004 when he aggravated that injury. When Campbell turned 50 in 2005, many thought that his star was waning, but in 2006 he drove Triple Crown-winning trotter Glidemaster to victory in the Hambletonian and the Kentucky Futurity. Although Flirtin Man, the first horse for which he was co-owner as well as driver, broke stride in the 2007 Hambletonian, Campbell drove Corleone Kosmos to victory in the Nat Ray Invitational on the same race card.

Dean A. Hoffman

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Universalium. 2010.

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