Paula didn’t like the Fu Manchu

How John Campbell acquired his iconic mustache and why some — including his wife — still struggle with his decision to shave it off three years ago.

by Dave Briggs

When John Campbell walks into the paddock at Vincennes this morning in Paris, he fully expects some people he’s known for a lifetime not to recognize him without his mustache, despite shaving it off three years ago. That’s how iconic the mustache was for the Hall of Fame driver and CEO of the Hambletonian Society.

For more than four decades, he was harness racing’s Tom Selleck.

“We go to Europe twice — to go to Solvalla and Vincennes — each year,” Campbell said. “I’ll tell you, the Europeans were really disappointed when I shaved it off for some reason. There were people that I have known and met that walked right by me until they realized it was me without it. I was definitely less recognizable, especially over there without it.”

Campbell sported a mustache for over 40 years, apart from a brief period in the mid-1990s when he shaved it off to the alarm of his wife, Paula, and their three daughters.

“Paula wasn’t happy with me and the kids and the dog hardly recognized me, so I grew it back,” Campbell said. “I just got tired of it and thought I’d shave it off and see what it looked like. I was tired of shaving around it at that time and said, ‘Let me shave this off and see what happens.’ But when you have all women in your household, it’s easier to just get along.”

It was Paula that first encouraged John to grow the mustache in the first place not long after they were married in 1976. Mustaches were particularly popular in the 1970s.

“She was partial to mustaches and I think it was pretty well the first year that we were married, she said, ‘Grow a mustache and see what it looks like.’ So, I did and I had it for all those years,” John said.

Paula even helped John land on the style of the mustache he wore for so long.

“She didn’t like the Fu Manchu. [The mustache I had is] what she liked the best, so that was fine with me,” John said.

A few years after retiring from driving, John shaved it off, perhaps for good. Paula wasn’t happy about it and still isn’t all that happy about it, he said. Even the couple’s 7-year-old twin granddaughters are struggling to adapt to the change.

“I haven’t had [the mustache] for three years, but whenever they draw pictures of me, they put a mustache on me,” John said.

Clearly, the universe is trying to tell him something. Either that, or the girls are big fans of Miles Teller, who rocked a stache to play Goose’s son in Top Gun Maverick and made the mustache popular again.

Obviously, we can’t let it go either. In the photo we have of John in header for this column he is still mustachioed.

And, yet, John is still holding out on growing it back.

“I’m not saying I wouldn’t, but I have no plans to right now,” he said.

John insists a lot of people have told him he looks better without it.

“You know, we are what we are,” he said. “Different people have different takes on it, but right now my take is that I’m fine without it.”

Even if Paula, their granddaughters, Teller fans, HRU and scores of Europeans say otherwise.