Ryan Ellis, 33, is actually the back-to-back-to-back leading driver at Truro Raceway. He has been the top dash winner in 2011, 2012 as well as 2013. Speaking with Ryan felt like I was kicking back with an old friend who shares a passion for NASCAR while enjoying a cold beverage.
Ryan is a big 'Little E' fan, that being Dale Earnhardt Jr. #88. "When I started getting into (NASCAR) he was a rookie and I don't know why but I started following him" says Ryan. "His father was amazing... reading about his father, he seemed so dominant." Ryan is bang on there, Dale Earnhardt Sr.'s nickname was 'The Intimidator' and nobody dared to mess with Dale Sr. because he'd find you on track to even the score, usually upping his score by one!
Ryan recently went down to Darlington, South Carolina to catch the Southern 500! Talk about your need for speed. "I got back yesterday, it was awesome, unreal!" Ryan says. "It's kind of shaped like Mohawk in a way, in an egg shape.... It's something everyone should do at least once."
Aside from horse racing and being a NASCAR aficionado Ryan is also a full time pilot for Air Canada Jazz. "I'm a pilot for Air Canada Jazz and I just came to do harness racing as a hobby.... I've had my license since 2007."
Ryan originally got into harness racing as his dad, Wayne Ellis, trained horses when Ryan was young. "He's the one who got me into it. When I was in Junior High about 13-years-old, he bought a race horse named Lonewaterhobo that I would putter around with. I would jog him and race him in amateur races. I like the excitement, the challenge and I always wanted to drive (horses)."
During high school Ryan started to work on getting his pilots license, however the idea of being a full time horsemen was truly appealing so he decided to give it a go. "As soon as I graduated from high school I went to Mohawk and worked forand lived in the dorms there." Ryan goes on to say with a laugh, "that didn't last long, it was quite a shock, and I thought it was going to be all gravy. Then I came home and finished getting my pilot's license."
"As a hobby, I've had some pretty good success at it and it is still a hobby but I get quite a few drives out of it... its fun for sure" says Ryan. "I've been racing for about 7 years. I was flying bush planes for 5 years up north so I kind of got out of harness racing a little bit."
'I had a couple of cheaper horses while I was up there. I bought into a third of a horse just to have something back (home). I didn't have much in way of jogging and training during those five years and once I got back home I started to get back into it." Ryan says. "I got my trainer's license which I had for about a year. Then I started to qualify to get back into driving."
Ryan's first race as a driver was on a horse he owned. "I bought her just get my qualifying drives, and I think it was in September of 2007 that I had my first drive. I actually ended up getting parked; I finished third but was parked the entire mile." Ryan says, "I was kind of nervous... that night I had three drives and I remember in my third race I ended up winning. My buddy Darren Crowe gave me that drive; it was the favorite off the rail."
Ryan always looks forward to all the stakes races that take place in the Maritime Provinces, such as the Gold Cup & Saucer which takes place at Charlottetown Driving Park in Prince Edward Island.
"My most memorable race would have to be the Gold Cup consolation race (with) the horse Rare Jewel, (in 2011). He's a really nice horse, he's made over a million dollars. We ended up drawing the outside and didn't make the final and he ended up winning the consolation of the Gold Cup. It was 1:53 flat on Gold Cup night and the place was packed." Ryan explains.
Back in the day Ryan's favorite driver was always. If Ryan could choose any race to win, it would be the Little Brown Jug. So why the Little Brown Jug? "I like half mile track races, I don't know if that's because that's all we have down here but I love seeing those good horses on Jug day. I love watching the Jug and watching drive, he's the best of the best." Ryan says. "For me, for it to be realistic, winning the Gold Cup in Charlottetown and to be a part of that night would be awesome."
One of Ryan's closet friends, Darren Crowe finished second to him in the driver championship a couple of years ago, "it came down to the last race" Ryan says. "We are really good friends and I'm in his barn and he's the guy that 'taught me the ropes'. I always looked up to him as a kid in Truro and next thing we are battling it out for the driver's title. It was pretty cool but we give each other a hard time."
Ryan also enjoys racing Legend cars, which are cars designed from the 30's and 40's but supped up to drive on tracks. "Last year, one of my owners has a couple of legend cars so I went one time to practice and then to race one on a local track." Ryan says with a laugh, man he enjoys the thrill and rush of anything moving fast! Horses, cars and planes! Oh my!
Ryan and his wife Danica have a young daughter, Ivy, who is almost eight months old. Ryan and Danica also have a stable filled with 30 horses. Danica is into equestrian riding full time, so not all are Standardbreds. (Yes, Danica like Danica Patrick... it always comes back to racing with Ryan!)
At Truro Raceway, purses are generally $500-$1,000, so it's understandable that horsemen in the Maritime Provinces need a second form of income to provide for their family. Given the Canadian harsh winters and being surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, these island Provinces have a much smaller window for a racing season. With that being said, the folks in the Maritimes always make the best of any situation.
No matter what it may be, you can always tell Ryan is enjoying himself. His enthusiasm and upbeat demeanor is extremely contagious and throughout the entire conversation I could not stop smiling or laughing. Even typing this article several hours later I am still smiling.
One day maybe Ryan will be driving horses full time at some of the biggest tracks in North America, winning major races like the Little Brown Jug. He has the spirit and genuine attitude of a gentleman and it is horsemen like Ryan that will help drive the harness racing industry. Keep smiling!