Day At The Track

One-On-One with driver Tyler Smith

11:06 AM 12 Jan 2014 NZDT
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Tyler Smith, harness racing Tyler Smith, harness racing Tyler Smith, harness racing
Tyler Smith, driving at Northfield Park and Cal Expo
Tyler Smith in his younger days - Getting an autograph from his hero - John campbell
Tyler Smith with family and friends after scoring his 1,000th career win
We are visiting today with 20-year-old harness racing driver Tyler Smith.
Tyler Smith made harness racing history at Hoosier Park when he became the youngest driver ever to reach the 1,000-win mark at the age of 20. He earned his first driver title at Hoosier Park in 2013. Smith scored 262 wins and earned over $2.8 million in purses to secure the title. At the young age of 20 he went on to score 507 wins and $3,667,360 in money won for the year. He will turn 21 in just a week on January 23.
He has now drawn the attention of the harness world by driving week days at Northfield Park in Ohio and weekends at Cal Expo in California. He catches a plane every Friday to drive at Cal Expo for the weekend. He then flies back on Sunday to Ohio to drive Monday at Northfield Park
One-On-One is done exclusively for by Brian McEvoy
HLINK: Congratulations on a great year of racing. You were the leading driver at last year's Hoosier Park meet and recently became the youngest driver to reach the 1,000-win mark at the age of 20. How exciting was it to accomplish what no one in the history of harness racing has ever done before?
TS: It was unbelievable. It came down to the last night of the Hoosier Park meet. I think it was good for the sport and Hoosier Park. It is something I wanted to do when I first started driving at 17. It was remarkable that I was able to do it with 5 to 6 month left. I got to drive a lot of nice horses for a lot of good trainers at Hoosier and it worked out.
HLINK: You started driving at the age of 12 at the matinees and full time at 17. Tell us about how you started driving and those early years. Who were you influences and who helped you get started?
TS: They have matinees back in Ohio where they don't race for any money. I started driving at the county fairs in Ohio at 16. I drove on the fair circuit at 16 and 17. I got my pari-mutual license on my birthday at 17 and drove the next night at Northfield Park. My whole family has been involved in harness racing. My dad has been the biggest influence in my career, by far. My dad has about 40 horses right now. Ever since I was 2 years old I was hanging around the barn. When other kids were going to school and playing sports, I was always at the barn.
HLINK: Who helped you out in your progression of your driving career?
TS: I always looked up and admired John Campbell. He gave me my first set of collars when I was 3. When I was younger I would hang around him during Jug Week. He is a great guy and is still the best driver in the sport today.
HLINK: Hoosier Park has been one of the success stories in harness racing. Last year Hoosier Park's handle increased by 27%. What do you see that has contributed to their success?
TS: The people who are involved in horse racing and publicity are incredible. They want horse racing there! They try to bring people in not just for the casino, but for racing too. They bring people over to meet the drivers. Hoosier Park is a place all race tracks should take after. Hoosier Park is a place that wants horse racing. Other places with casinos will have only 10-12 people in the stands. I think that is what horse racing has got away from. The money we go for at Hoosier is great. We get $25 dollars a drive if we finish in the money or not. They are trying hard to bring the sport back.
HLINK: Your driving at Hoosier Park against some top notch drivers. Among the driving colony is Ricky Macomber, Peter Wrenn, Trace Tetrick, Marcus Miler, etc
TS: I think the driving colony at Hoosier is unbelievable. They are a great group of guys who all get along. They all go somewhere else in the winter and are successful. They all didn't win 18,000 races combined by accident.
HLINK: You are now doing something very unique in harness driving history. You are driving week-days at Northfield Park in Ohio. You are getting on a plane on Friday to get to Cal Expo in California to drive there on the wee-ends. How did this get started and how are you managing to do this?
TS: I was driving quite a bit for Bobby Johnson at Hoosier. He asked me about coming out one week to drive for him in California. I was driving 5 nights a week in the cold at Northfield. It was starting to get to me. I thought I needed a change of scenery. I thought it would be a chance for me to experience something different. I knew I would get some drives at Cal Expo. I was only going to come out for one week. I got to talking to Chris Schick, the general manger of Cal Expo, and he said it would be a good thing for Cal Expo. It is also a good thing for me. Chris has got me a good deal on a hotel here.
HLINK: Gary Siedel, the track announcer at Cal Expo, has told me a great story about how you guys met on a plane coming out to Cal Expo..
TS: Gary and I have been flying in on the same plane from Vegas. Gary stays at the same hotel on the weekends. We fly back and forth together. I was standing in line as the last one to get on the plane. There was an empty seat between Gary and a Marine. He had the program out explaining to the Marine what it was. I said you look familiar. I didn't know who he was at first. How many people fly from Vegas to California with a Cal Expo program? He drives me around as not being 21 yet, I can't rent a car.
HLINK: Are you going to drive the whole meet at Cal Expo?
TS: I am going to drive there to the middle of March. Their meet runs till May That is when Hoosier starts back up. I was just racing at Northfield on Mondays and Wednesdays. I just started back racing this week on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday at Northfield.
HLINK: You have stated " I prefer to drive over a mile track. On a half mile, post position can be a big handicap and you always have to be moving. I like to be patient and think a little more out there".
TS: I like a mile track a whole lot more. I think it is better for the betting public. As far as driving, it gives you more space. On a mile track you can a make a bad move and it will still work out. On a half you can't make too many mistakes.
HLINK: Have you mapped out your plans of where you will drive this year? Last year you drove at the following tracks; Buffalo Raceway, Hoosier Park, Northfield Park, the Red Mile, Scioto Downs, Raceway Park, and Lebanon Raceway. Did I forget any?
TS: I drove at Balmoral and at the Meadows, also. I am going to drive the whole meet at Hoosier. I am going to have to have an unbelievable year to top what I accomplished last year. There is no way I would ever leave Hoosier. Ohio is my home state. I am so glad the tracks got the slots. I love what Hoosier Park does for the drivers and getting the people in to watch the races. I love people coming to the track and watching the races. I wish other tracks would start to do that. After the Hoosier meet it will depend on how good I race as to where I go.
HLINK: Who were some of the better horses and trainers you got to drive for last year?
TS: I got to drive in the Hoosier Park Champions Night and also at the Red Mile in the 2 Million Kentucky Sire Stakes Championship Night. The best horse I drove was Betterluvnexttime. I got the first call for Virgil Morgan. Virgil has a live barn and a lot of horses. It was a big opportunity to get first call from him. Betterluvnexttime won 17 races last year. She won 7 invitational races in a row. I got to drive some nice trotters for Jonas Czernyson. I was very fortunate to drive some good horses for a lot of great trainers.
HLINK: How much better of a driver are you after driving full time for over 4 years?
TS: I look back at when I started driving and I am amazed I got this far. The more horses I sit behind the better I get. I make mistakes every night. I use to take the bad drives home with me. I have come to realize that you can't take back what happened. If I have a bad drive I will be the first to admit it. I never try to make excuses. I used to always take it home with me or to the next race. You just have to move on from the bad drives and learn from them.
HLINK: Where do you see yourself driving in 5 years? Do you see yourself driving in the northeast at the big tracks or staying in Indiana and Ohio?
TS: I hope to be at the big tracks in the east. You can make a really good living driving in Indiana. There are guys out there that would love that opportunity. I want to be the best. I want to be the one people look up to. I want to be driving the best horses and get the first call from the best trainers. I am only 21. It is difficult to get the top horses. To be successful, I am going to have to be able to get live horses there.
HLINK: What do you do for excitement and entertainment in your downtime? Are you going to take a break for a vacation? What's new on the girlfriend front?
TS: I was going to take a few days off and go to Vegas when I turned 21. I got a couple of days off since they canceled at Northfield on Monday and Tuesday. I have not raced in a week and it is killing me. I am not thinking of any vacation. I spend the days off with the family. I got a girlfriend and we been together for 3 months. I just love going to work and driving.
by Brian McEvoy for  
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