Editor's note: Tim Tetrick is featured in the July issue of Wayne County Outlookmagazine in his native state of Illinois. The issue focused on the county fair and included a four-page spread on Tetrick, who grew up in Wayne County. The story, written by Harness Racing Communications’ Ken Weingartner, appears here courtesy of Wayne County Outlook.
Fifteen years ago, a teenage boy climbed into the sulky behind a 3-year-old horse on a 90-degree summer day and won a harness race at a county fair in Illinois. It was a special moment for the young man -- the biggest win of his career at the time he would joke later -- because it was his first-ever victory as a driver. The purse for the race was $1,186.
Last August, a 30-year-old man climbed into the sulky behind a 3-year-old horse on a 90-degree summer day and won a harness race at the Meadowlands in New Jersey. It was a special moment for him -- a dream come true he would say at the time in all honesty -- because it was his first-ever victory as a driver in the world’s most prestigious trotting race, the Hambletonian Stakes. The purse for the race was $1.5 million.
In between those two memorable days, Tim Tetrick made a name for himself as one of harness racing’s biggest stars. And he shows no signs of slowing down yet.
Tetrick, from Geff and a graduate of Fairfield High School, has rewritten the harness racing record book in his 16-year career. He was the first driver to earn $1 million in purses in a year before turning 20, accomplishing the feat in 2001. In 2007 he won a record $18.35 million in purses and a year later topped that figure with $19.73 million. He has been the sport’s leading purse-earner for each of the last six seasons and is No. 1 again this year.
His 2007 campaign was memorable not only for the amount of money his horses earned, but for the number of times he visited the winner’s circle. Tetrick won 1,189 races, shattering the previous record of 1,077 set in 1998. He became the first driver to lead the sport in both wins and purses in the same season since 1991.
That year also saw Tetrick become the youngest driver to win a million-dollar race as he captured the Art Rooney Pace with Southwind Lynx. Several weeks later, Tetrick and Southwind Lynx added a second million-dollar win with a triumph in the Meadowlands Pace.
Tetrick was the youngest driver to reach a number of career win milestones, including 2,000, 3,000, 4,000, 5,000, 6,000 and 7,000 victories. He also was the youngest driver to reach $100 million in lifetime purses and his $128 million in career earnings rank No. 9 in history.
In addition, Tetrick has been named Driver of the Year a record three times by the U.S. Harness Writers Association, most recently in 2012, and received Harness Tracks of America’s Driver of the Year Award three times.
Last year, Tetrick was the regular driver of Chapter Seven, who won Horse of the Year and Trotter of the Year, as well as Captaintreacherous, who was named Pacer of the Year. All totaled, Tetrick was the regular driver of seven of the sport’s 12 year-end divisional champions, including 3-year-old trotter Market Share, who won the Hambletonian and $1.03 million Canadian Trotting Classic.
Add in’ victory in the $1.01 million Metro Pace last year and Tetrick became only the third driver in history to win three million-dollar races in a single year. He also won a record four Breeders Crown races in 2012.
Whew. It has been quite the career already and Tetrick doesn’t turn 32 until November.
And it all began at a county fair in Paris on July 20, 1998 when Tetrick won with Travel’N Legacy, a 3-year-old filly pacer he also trained.
“I never dreamed I would get to do what I did,” Tetrick said. “At that time, that was the biggest win of my career -- because it was my only win. It was very special.
“I learned from the bottom up. You’ve got to go clean stalls first and then you start grooming and then you start jogging and then you start training. I did that. We’d go to school and when we got home in the afternoon we had to work. My dad would go race at Fairmount Park and me and my older brother would take care of the horses. We’d get home at 3 and work until past dark. You’ve got to make sure things get done right. I learned how to work. In this business you’ve got to work to be successful.”
Tetrick grew up in a harness racing family, learning the business from his father, Tom D. Tetrick, and mother, Mary Alice. His dad has won more than 1,200 races as a driver and 500 as a trainer.
Older brother Tom T. Tetrick has won more than 300 races as both a driver and trainer. His younger brother Trace is approaching 2,300 wins as a driver and has won several driving titles in Indiana.
Tim’s early days in Illinois provided a perfect learning environment, paving the way to his future successes.
“It was cool for me,” Tetrick said. “I got to start at the bottom and race at the county fairs and help my father out and try to teach young horses to race the right way. At the fairs, in Illinois especially, we could do that. Growing up and learning how to bring a young horse along and race at the fairs was good for me.”
Tetrick’s father remains an instrumental teacher.
“My dad is the toughest critic and the biggest fan that I have,” Tetrick said. “He makes me think about what I can do better all the time. He’s always there for me. He wants the best for me and I appreciate that. He doesn’t get the credit for it, but he was a very good driver. He’s a very good mentor for me.”
While attending high school in Fairfield, Tetrick played basketball his freshman year but soon turned his attention to the horses. He was an active member of the FFA for all four years, though, including a stint as president.
“I was working at the barn every day,” Tetrick said. “I had above average grades, like a B average, and history was my favorite subject. Through FFA I got a college scholarship, but I turned it down to race horses.”
Tetrick got his first win at a pari-mutuel racetrack at Fairmount Park in 1999, five days after his 18th birthday. He later spent time racing in Indiana before winning several driving titles on the Chicago circuit in the mid-2000s. In the fall of 2006 he relocated to the East Coast and began his ascent to stardom.
“It wasn’t an easy decision to move, but financially it had to be done,” said Tetrick, who now lives in southern New Jersey with his wife, Ashley. “I go home as much as I can, usually around holidays. I’d like to race in Chicago more often, but some of the major stakes there are always on nights of other big races elsewhere.”
Tetrick is making a habit of winning big-money races, wherever they are held. Last year, he won 49 races with purses of at least $100,000 -- with a dozen of those worth more than $300,000. Those numbers are staggering. For perspective, when Tetrick set the records for wins in a season with 1,189 and purses with $18.35 million in 2007, he won only 24 races worth at least $100,000. When he broke the record for earnings with $19.73 million a year later, he won 22 races worth at least $100,000.
Drivers receive five percent of the purse money earned by the horses they drive.
“I have to thank all the owners and trainers for giving me such great horses to drive,” said Tetrick, who no longer trains horses to focus solely on driving. “It’s just been an amazing ride.”
It also is a lot of work. When Tetrick set the record for wins in 2007, he drove his truck more than 1,400 miles a week to compete at tracks in Delaware, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. He also made trips to the Midwest and Canada.
He has slowed down some in recent years, but still visited 22 different tracks in 2012.
“I love getting to do what I do every day,” Tetrick said. “It’s a lot of work. People take that for granted. Some days I wish I could have that 9 to 5 job and have the weekends off to spend with my family. But I get so many thrills getting to do what I do.”
One of his biggest thrills came last year when he won the Hambletonian.
“This race is a dream come true,” Tetrick said after winning the prestigious event with Market Share. “I’m just happy to be part of it. I never thought I’d even get to race in the Hambletonian, let alone win it. When I was a kid dreaming of being a driver, I never thought this would ever happen.”
He probably never imagined being the driver of seven divisional champions, either, but accomplished that feat last year as well. In addition to Chapter Seven, Captaintreacherous and Market Share, Tetrick drove division winners Check Me Out (3-year-old female trotter), Heston Blue Chip (3-year-old male pacer), American Jewel (3-year-old female pacer) and Anndrovette (older female pacer).
Chapter Seven, Market Share and Captaintreacherous finished 1-2-3 in Horse of the Year voting. All totaled, Tetrick sat behind six of the top seven vote-getters for the award.
“I wanted to make sure I had one that might get Horse of the Year,” Tetrick said, laughing. “I’d never driven a Horse of the Year winner, so to get that honor was very special. And to also drive the Pacer of the Year is pretty cool.”
Tetrick has accomplished all this while dealing with a degenerative hip condition since childhood. He had hip replacement surgery on his right hip in 2008 and faces the same procedure on his left hip sometime in the future; perhaps the near future.
“I’m holding off as long as I can, but I would say over the winter it will get done,” said Tetrick, who garnered the nickname “The Bionic Man” after his first replacement surgery.
Tetrick, who has a 9-year-old son, Tony, and 1-year-old daughter, Trysta, sees himself racing for another 20 years or so.
“I’ll race for as long as I can stay focused and hungry and healthy,” Tetrick said. “That’s the main thing.”
Despite all the races he has won, records he has set and honors he has earned, Tetrick remains fiercely motivated.
“I want to be the best,” he said. “I want to drive all the good horses. I want to be the leading driver at every track I go to and make the most money. I like winning races. I just want to win races and have a good career. I just keep looking for that next world champion.”
He believes others can discover the same love of harness racing, even if they are not capable of winning hundreds of races each year.
“I think that if everyone could sit in a jog cart or get behind the gate, this would be one of the best businesses in the world,” Tetrick said. “Me and you, we couldn’t play in the NBA or Major League Baseball, but we can be owners and drive our horses. You might not be good at it, but you can do it. It’s such a great sport in that way, in terms of being able to participate.”
by Ken Weingartner, Harness Racing Communications