Nineteen-year-old New Zealand reinsman, Simon Lawson will never forget Saturday August 7, 2010. The Waikato-based driver never got to salute the judge that day but boy did he have a harness racing experience he will never forget!
Lawson, the New Zealand Junior Driving Champion and the North Island's leading junior driver last season, got to drive on America's biggest race-day - the Hambletonian meeting at the Meadowlands Racetrack.
He didn't get a start in the $1.5m Hambletonian Trot but he did line up in the last event of the day behind the Chris Marino trained Just That in a $25,000 Mile.
He drew one in that Claiming Pace. Outside him in gate two was harness racing giant John Campbell. Andy Miller drew three while the remainder of the field comprised some of the best harness racing drivers in the world - Ron Pierce, Tim Tetrick, Yannick Gingras, George Brennan, Mike Lachance, Brian Sears, and David Miller.
He didn't win the race (10th) - that went to the Lou Pena trained J A's Outlaw (Brennan), but Lawson was just over the moon to be lining up on what the American's dubbed harness racing's ‘' day.
"It's hard to describe the excitement. It is one drive I will never ever forget. Everything was so massive. It's an experience that will stay with me forever," Lawson told Harnesslink from the United States today (Monday August 9).
He said he was humbled to be lining up alongside driving greats.
"To have someone like John Campbell driving outside me was huge. He's a legend in the sport. I learnt a lot from the day and perhaps when I finish my junior driving apprenticeship I would like to come back here one day. The adrenalin rush was huge." Lawson said.
The teenager left for the United States after the completion of the New Zealand harness racing season (July 31). He stayed with Marino simply because he was a friend he met while the American horseman was visiting New Zealand.
"He works about 40 horses and I have been staying with him and doing a bit of work. I was over the moon when he asked me to drive Just That. I think I will have another drive behind him before I come home."
Lawson said he would be returning to New Zealand on August 21 to work for his boss Graeme Rogerson in Hamilton.
"I'm looking forward to coming home and driving a few more winners. I think I will be a better driver for the Hambletonian experience. A lot of the drivers wished me luck, which was nice," he said.
Lawson drove 47 winners and placed 57 times last season for $316,448 in stakes. That was just his second season of driving after reining home 15 winners in 2008-2009. He was also Alexandra Park's leading junior driver in 2009-2010.
His father Rob, also a horseman and harness racing administrator, was proud to watch his son drive on the Meadowlands website.
"He's come a long way fast and that is one drive he won't forget in a hurry. He does have a bit of the X-factor and I think the reason he's done as well as he has is because he doesn't make too many mistakes. Yes, we were all very proud here back home watching him line up against America's best," Lawson senior said.
By Duane RANGER (editor)