Tonight, the sport’s all-time money king will race for the final time at the Meadowlands.
by Dave Briggs
John Campbell said he’s more excited than melancholy about tonight’s celebration of his stellar Hall of Fame driving career that will coincide with his final drive at the Meadowlands Racetrack in New Jersey.
“I’m really looking forward to it. All of my family is going to be there, right from the grandkids to my daughters and Paula, obviously,” Campbell said of his wife of nearly 41 years. “We’ve got a lot of really good friends that are coming and it’s going to be a night that’s a lot of fun.”
After an appearance Sunday in Goshen, NY in the $10,000 Mr. and Mrs. Elbridge Gerry Memorial Trot for Hall of Fame drivers at Historic Track, John will begin his new job next week as the president and CEO of the Hambletonian Society — with one final career drive to come July 30 at Clinton Raceway in Ontario near where he grew up.
But the Meadowlands is the track where he made his name. “(The Meadowlands) has meant everything to my career. It’s where I started to get noticed in 1979,” John said.
He also was blessed to experience the East Rutherford track in its heyday.
“I saw the best part of the Meadowlands when we were averaging over 15,000 or 16,000 a night there, racing five or six days a week; just the nights of historic harness racing. To be a part of that has just been really special,” John said. “You always want to perform in front of as many people as possible. The one thing I remember, when we had the front paddock the first year, actually it was ‘78, I remember the noise from the crowd was just incredible. And it was just regular noise, not cheering, but just that buzz and the noise when you came up those steps that’s something that I never forgot. I just couldn’t believe that noise from the crowd because there were so many people around that front paddock.”
John said what he would remember most from the Meadowlands isn’t any individual race or success he had.
“The first thought that will come back to me will be how great it was for that period of time. The handle, the horses, the races, how it was run, how the races were presented. That’s what I will think about off the top of my head,” John said.
“Any success with the racing, you have to go back to Joe De Frank because Joe was in charge of everything on the racing side, from the paddock to the barn area, to putting the races together, to post parades – it all came under Joe’s domain and he has to get so much credit for that success and just the show that we put on for those years when everything was going great. From a personal standpoint, he gave me stalls and encouraged me to come down between the ’78 and ’79 meet. I’ve always thanked Joe for that and we’ve just had a mutual respect for one another from the time I raced under him in Windsor.”
John said it doesn’t seem like it all began at the Meadowlands 40 years ago.
“It’s gone so quick, it’s amazing,” John said. “Everybody in life deals with that, just how quick the time goes.”