We are visiting today with the recently crowned leading dash-winning driver in North America Ronnie Wrenn Jr.
This past year Ronnie tallied 714 winning drives, which ranked him as the the winningest driver in North America. His UDRS driving rating was an outstanding 0.361. He was the leading driver at both the Northville and Northfield meets.
Wrenn, who turned 27 in August has been driving regularly only for four years. Ronnie has been in the sulky for most of Anvil Raider N 23 victories on the year, the most in harness racing in 2013. Wrenn was a finalist for the Dan Patch Human and Horse Awards for 2013 as the Rising Star. We caught up with him as he was driving to be with his girlfriend to bring in the new year together.
One-On-One is done exclusively for Harnesslink.com by Brian McEvoy
HLINK: Congratulations on a great year of racing and winning the 2013 North American dash title. What are you up to? When is the surgery scheduled on your wrist?
RW: I just finished my last day of racing for the year. I finished up with 5 winners on the night. It has been a lot of work for the year. I have definitely raced a lot of races. It has been hard. Winning the title has not set in yet. When I have the time off I will realize what I have accomplished. To be included in the same class of the top 5 drivers is pretty sweet. I am having surgery on January 6th at Ohio State U. Once the surgery is done. I should have about 4 weeks of rehab. I should be back racing in late January or early February. It is just about the time the purse increase should start at Northfield. It's my right wrist and it is an old sports injury that I have put off for years and now have to deal with.
HLINK: You have raced at an incredible amount of tracks this year, Northfield Park, Northville Downs, Raceway Park, Scioto Downs, Batavia Downs, Buffalo Raceway, Colonial Downs, Monticello Raceway, Delaware Ohio Fair, Hazel Park, The Meadows, and several other fair tracks. You must have put a lot of miles on your car?
RW: I have 148,000 miles on a 2011. Of that I have put 70,000 miles on the vehicle this year.
HLINK: You only started driving about four years ago. Tell us about how you started driving and the influence of your uncle Peter.
RW: The first year I just messed around driving a couple of horses The last two years is when I picked up catch drives. My two uncles have had a great influence on me. Peter has helped me from a driving aspect. My uncle Gary, a blacksmith, also has helped me greatly. I have talked a lot on the phone with both my uncles for advice. I was going to school in Michigan. I was studying criminal law. I started picking up a lot of drives. It was getting busy, so I chose this path.
HLINK: I heard you were a pretty good ball player. How good were you?
RW: I played football and baseball in high school. I played some baseball in college. I played center field. I loved the sport. I gave it up to go into the horses. I wasn't going to the major leagues, but I could have played further in college.
HLINK: You grew up in Michigan. You started your driving career at the Michigan tracks, and at Windsor in Canada. It must be depressing to watch the decline of harness racing in your home state?
RW: When I first started racing all I wanted to do was race at the premier tracks of Michigan. I was hoping to remain racing there. I was for about a year. It looks now like it is near the end of it. Ten live days of racing at Northville and Hazel doesn't add up to a lot of days. If you are a horseman you can't make a living racing there. It was really sad that Michigan didn't approve casinos at the racetracks as just happened in Ohio. I think it is about to come to the end.
HLINK: You recently drove Anvil Raider N to his 22nd victory on the year. This is the most racing wins in harness racing for 2013. It might also have been his swan song. U.S. Trotting Association rules require the 14-year-old to retire on December 31st.
RW: It was one of the first horses I started to catch drive. I probably drove him the most the last two years. I drove him a lot this year. For him to set the record for most wins this year is pretty neat. It is unfortunate he has to retire as he is still racing like he is a 6-year-old. He has had a lot of miles on his body. It is just like athletes. You can perform better at twenty then in your forties. It is probably a good rule. He is one the few horses I have ever been around that has raced so well in his 14th year of racing. He was racing at a level where he could still hold his speed. He was sharper this year then he has been in the last 5 years.
HLINK: You were recently invited for a drive-off at Monticello Raceway against Bruce Aldrich Jr. on December 12th. Tell us about that experience?
RW: I loved the idea of what John Manzi came up with in the drive-off. I think a lot of other tracks should try this. I must have got over 200 texts that day My Facebook page and phone were lit up. The first 8 races we went back and forth. The next couple of races didn't work out for me. I had a couple of horses break stride. It is never fun losing but it was a very cool experience. I would definitely do it again.
HLINK: When you come back to racing next year after the surgery is Northfield going to be your home base for racing?
RW: When I return I will start driving back at Northfield. I love that place and they treat me good. It fits my driving style. On a half mile track you have to be more aggressive. Northfield is a real run and gun track. You don't really go slow quarters as you do at other tracks. I might go down to Lebanon to drive at Miami Valley a little bit when they open in February. I am just going to see how things go. I am considering driving at the Meadows again pulling doubleheaders. It just depends what the purse structure is at Northfield. It would be nice to one day be driving at the premier tracks back east. I want to keep getting better and one day drive on the big stage. I am still learning a lot and new to the business.
HLINK: Do you have any insight into when the purses will go up at Northfield?. What about Miami Valley not having any tellers for people to bet with?
RW: I probably don't want to say too much as I am not 100%. I guess February is when the purses will be going up a little bit. They have to generate some revenue from the casino. Miami Valley opens in February and I would think they would kick up their purses at the same time. That would prevent the horseman from going on down to Miami Valley. The teller situation I don't think has been worked out yet. I don't think they have a contract with any of the tracks. I hope whoever is working for us gets that worked out. I hope we can race for a lot of money for a long time in Ohio.
HLINK: You had an unfortunate situation when you went to race this summer at the Delaware County Fair in Ohio. You were fined for leaning back too far in the bike when driving. You were not happy about the drivers being fined for this. You packed up and left on the first day of racing.
RW: When all the drivers showed up the first day they had a whole new set of rules they were trying to enforce. I am really not sure who came up with the rules. I was really looking forward to driving during Jug week. I had a disagreement with the judge. I really didn't think I was leaning back. He thought I was. It is just like in major league baseball where every pitcher and batting has his own form. We are all not robots. We are all individuals which use our skills in different ways. I never have been too far back to control my horse. Maybe when someone just starts driving they should say something.
HLINK: Where do you see yourself in five years? Do you see yourself eventually making the move to the Meadowlands and the other big tracks in the northeast?
RW: If a trainer called me up and said to come out here and drive my horses. I would come out in a heartbeat. I want to keep getting better. I was locked in this year,driving smarter. I want to be patient and get my horses in the right position at the right time. If I am driving in Ohio that would be fine. Wherever the premier tracks are in the next five years is where I want to be.
HLINK: I see on Facebook you are a huge Dallas Cowboy fan? Are you disappointed they did not make the playoffs again this year?
RW: I am really disappointed they didn't make the playoffs. I was reading where in the last 20 years they are something like 2 and 18 in week 17. You don't make the playoffs struggling the last game of the season when it means something. I am a diehard fan. When I was younger they were awesome. They were America's team. The last few years they have been a struggling team. I am a Cowboy fan for life. They are like the Yankees of football.
By Brian McEvoy for Harnesslink.com