Day At The Track

Thanks for the wonderful memories Dave

08:14 AM 01 Mar 2015 NZDT
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Dave Magee
Dave Magee

When I heard the news that Dave Magee was retiring from driving after tonight’s Balmoral Park card I have to admit I was disappointed. Selfishly I didn’t want it to ever end for my all-time favorite driver.

I’ve known Dave ever since he came up from Quad City Downs as a blond-haired youngster with a moustache (see picture) to old Sportsman’s Park where I was the track’s publicity director some 40-plus years ago

Early on you could see Dave was going to be a good and successful    driver and as the years past he turned out to be a great one.

At Sportsman’s there was a porch outside of the press box that sat on  the grandstand roof. It was a great view to watch the races. Well, maybe  not-so-much when the wind came out of the south and blew the  backstretch fumes straight at us.

Going out pn that porch 10 times a night, five times a week, month after  month you could get a pretty good handle if a late-rusher was going to  catch the horse on the lead. That is except when the horse on the lead  was driven by Dave Magee. Nine out of 10 times when you thought  Dave was going to be caught . . . he wasn’t.

The winning margin often wasn’t big but the end result was another win  for Dave. The Green Bay, Wisconsin native and long-time “Packer-Backer” had some kind of “magic” in those hands. Somehow Dave’s horses always seemed to hold on, many times barely, but they did.

I’ve done countless interviews with the 2001 National Hall of Fame inductee and Dave has always been always a class act. He would always return your phone call. He would always take the time to answer your questions. The soft-spoken Magee would choose his words carefully—usually while chewing on a stick of gum—and Dave always had something meaningful to say.

The more I thought about Dave’s decision to retire from driving to take the position as an associate judge at Hoosier Park, the more it made sense.

Dave has accomplished just about everything he could on a race track. He was the 1994 National Driver of the Year. He’s won every major race in Illinois and many elsewhere. He captured dozens of driving titles in our state and he represented his country twice in the World Driving Tournament and won it in 1995.

No driver has won Super Night championships. No one is even close to his American National winners. He’s had 36 straight seasons with $1 million in money won, 10 of $2 million-plus, 13 of $3 million plus and a quartet of $4 million seasons.

Nevertheless, at the age of 61, the aches and pains have to be more frequent and more lingering than they were when Dave was a younger man (I can speak from experience on that matter).

However it couldn’t have been an easy choice for Dave to make after spending over 40 years doing what he loved to do and now giving it all up and moving on to another challenge.

So I called my old friend and asked.

“No it wasn’t an easy decision,” Dave replied. “I’m melancholy about it. I’m somewhat worried and unsure. I’ve gone through all the emotions however it’s a family decision and we’ve decided it’s time for me to move on.

“I’ve tossed the ideal of retiring around for the past couple of years. This offer came about in the last few weeks and actually I turned it done. But it wasn’t just my decision to make. It was a family decision and my wife Cathy approached me and thought we should talk about it. We found out there we were on the same page and if the offer was still open we would take a leap of faith and I’d take the job.

“It was, so I did.”

Dave has driven in close to 65,000 races and while he’s chalked up records that likely won’t ever be touched by another Illinois driver, there have been some instances where he’s gone down in a race with injuries that left him on the sidelines for several months,

He broke a collarbone early on his career at Quad City and suffered another severe shoulder injury at Sportsman’s in 1983 on the same night Cam Fella shattered Albatross’ track record.

“As far as getting hurt out there, that’s one thing you can’t think about. I’m sure however my family has. My wife and kids are well aware of my aches and pains and they are relieved that I’ve made this decision to end my driving career.”

I told Dave I’m going to miss those conversations we would have every year about the young horses he was driving.”

“Me too,” he answered. “Bringing along young horses is what I’ve enjoyed the most as I got older.”

While those days are now over for the classy Mr. Magee, it’s a sure thing he’ll excel in his new job at Hoosier Park.

Our loss in Illinois is Indiana’s gain. But maybe after a few years when he’s recognized as one of the best in his new endeavor we can steal him back and bring him home where he belongs.

Until then, thanks for all those wonderful memories Dave.

By Mike Paradise, for IHHA

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