Day At The Track

Winningest African-American driver in history

05:36 PM 06 Feb 2016 NZDT
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Randy Tharps won his 5,000th race at Miami Valley Randy Tharps Randy Tharps and Boy Meets Girl K - 5,000th win addys way-feb 5.jpg
Randy Tharps won his 5,000th race at Miami Valley Friday night. He was joined in the winner's circle by his mother Carol, his daughter Randi and Racing Operations Manager Helen Carlo
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Matriarch Carol Tharps joined Randy in the jubilant winner's circle following her son's 5000th win
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Randy Tharps and Boy Meets Girl K - 5,000th win
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LEBANON, OH. - Randy Tharps became the 103rd harness racing driver in North American history to reach 5,000 career victories on Friday night (February 5) at Miami Valley Raceway. The winningest African-American driver in history, by a wide margin, 52-year-old Tharps scored a hat trick to reach the coveted plateau. Jessie's Field got Randy's string of successes going with a 1:57.4 score in a $10,000 conditioned trot. Alibi Seelster captured a $12,000 mares condition pace in 1:54.3 to put Tharps one win away; and then Boy Meets Girl K trotted to a 1:55.4 tally in the very next race, another $10,000 condition trot.

Randy Tharps hails from a harness racing family with deep roots in Lebanon, Ohio. His father Thomas, who passed away three years ago, and mother Carol began racing harness horses shortly after moving to Lebanon from Tennessee and Tom was introduced to the sport by friends Omar Hiteman and George Williams. Tom was a leading driver at both Lebanon and Latonia in the 1960's and 70's, competing with the likes of Herb Coven Jr. and Ray Paver Sr. The Tharps's raised five sons and two daughters with all five boys taking an active interest in racing. Since there have been a number of grandchildren who have followed in the family hoofprints as well, including five of Randy's nephews who are currently active as provisional drivers or second trainers.

Randy is undoubtedly the family standardbearer in terms of accomplishments and statistical achievements. Cleaning the family's stalls since he was old enough to pick up a pitchfork, and jogging their horses since big enough to sit upright in the cart, Randy always had his sights set on being a top driver. After graduating from Lebanon High School, where he studied in the Career Center to become an electrician, Tharps began devoting full-time to the horses and his illustrious career took off before he ever made a nickel with his electrical knowledge. His dad always had 20-30 horses in his stable, but Randy eventually accepted work in the Chet Dewbre Stable and began picking up drives slowly but surely. "Back then I let it be known I would drive ANY horse for anybody, anytime and anywhere," laughed Randy. "I wasn't exactly an overnight success, but I did see a promising future and I have no regrets. Racing has provided a good life. But I'm not done...Good Lord willing I plan to do this as long as I possible can!"

Tharps won just four races in his inaugural 1982 season, but did sport a .444 UDRS. He spent another three years toiling at the fairs and picking up occasional commercial track mounts at Lebanon or Latonia. In 1986 things began to click and by 1990 he was ready to move his tack to Northfield Park in Cleveland. Following a successful stint there, he relocated to The Meadows to begin a very satisfying decade-long run. From 1989 to 2008, Tharps had over 100 wins in 19 out of 20 seasons, including three 300-plus wins campaigns. When VLT legislation passed in Ohio, Randy returned to his roots in Lebanon, Ohio, where he continues to compete on the highest level.

Randy credits Western Ace for giving him his biggest thrill, winning the Jug Preview at Scioto Downs in 1:50.2 for trainer George Teague Jr. in 2006. "As far as a favorite horse?," Tharps quickly answers, "Marty's Charm at The Meadows. I won races every year from 2008 to 2013 with (trainer) Paul Corey's great horse. He had to have time off occasionally, but when he could race, he was fantastic." A check of the records reinforces Tharps' enthusiasm for Marty's Charm. He won 27 races with Tharps in the sulky during that span, 21 of them in Preferred company.

Although Tharps never purposely fashioned himself after any other driver, some have said he reminds them of the late, great Lew Williams the way he sits in the sulky. Williams is believed to be the second winningest African-American driver of all time with 2,023 wins, followed by Cedric Washington with 1,832.

Tharps has three children and two granddaughters (a third grandchild on the way). A son Ryan works for local trainer Kayne Kauffman, his daughter Randi ("Peaches") has been an outstanding caretaker since graduating from Trinity High School in Pennsylvania, and daughter Amanda also lives nearby, although she isn't actively interested in horses.

Matriarch Carol Tharps joined Randy in the jubilant winner's circle following her son's 5000th win.

Gregg Keidel

























































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