It’s ‘Ladies’ Night’ at The Big M on Saturday

The track’s International Women’s Day celebration kicks it up a notch for 2024.

by Debbie Little

The Meadowlands is taking their celebration of International Women’s Day (IWD) up a notch by including more women off the track.

The festivities, sponsored by Clinton Tractor, are bigger and better for 2024, thanks to the hard work of Jessica Otten, the marketing coordinator and TV host for The Meadowlands and Fox Sports.

Otten has assembled a team of ladies to bring the big bash together, including Dawnelle Mock, Jenna Otten, and some women-owned businesses. Terry Tauffner’s Corporate Images, Inc. will be supplying the blankets, Mary McDermott’s Mary Mac’s Design will do the flowers and Mackenzie Strange’s Mackenzie Made will be doing some gifts for the competitors as well as photo frames for the winners.

Photographer Jessica Hallett will be on site taking photos, driver Lauren Harmon will be the guest for “In The Sulky” the Big M’s live pre-game show segment, and Moira Fanning, Marianne Rotella and Rachel Ryan will be making the winner’s circle presentations.

“I am very excited to have two full races with all female drivers again this year,” Jessica said. “Last year’s event was great and this year should be even better. I can’t thank everyone enough for all of their contributions to make Saturday night happen. I’m really looking forward to having my sister, Dawnelle and Mary here that night to host and cover the night.”

Jessica’s attempt to grow the festivities each year has not gone unnoticed by this year’s broadcast team.

“[Jessica] definitely put a lot of thought and time into all this,” Mock said. “I think they’re doing a great job, and they’ve done a great job advertising, too. You keep scrolling on Facebook or Twitter and you see that The Meadowlands on March 9th is having an International Women’s Day celebration.”

While sisters Jessica and Jenna Otten will co-host The Meadowlands’ simulcast show, Mock will be in the paddock for live and social media interviews.

For Mock, Saturday night will be a Meadowlands’ homecoming of sorts, as she was a summer intern there in 2016.

“I pretty much was Rachel Ryan’s shadow,” Mock said with a laugh. “She was so great. She taught me a lot. So, I did the promotions on the weekends, anything they needed help with, and marketing.”

Mock is currently the digital content director for the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Association, where she does all their social media.

Mock, like the Otten sisters, grew up in the business.

“My dad always had horses, so I was born into it,” Mock said. “I was really glad when Jessica texted me and asked me if I would want to come out and do interviews. I’m happy to be a part of it this year.”

Saturday will mark Jenna’s fourth time as co-host on The Meadowlands’ Sam McKee Memorial Broadcast Set this winter. And despite the fact that Jenna paid her dues on air at Scioto in 2023, she said nowhere else is as big as The Meadowlands.

“Oh, man, the first time I sat there, I kid you not, I looked at Jessica and said, ‘Don’t tell them to turn the cameras on,’” Jenna said. “I was so nervous. It’s everything; it’s the mecca, right?

“Everyone’s watching it whether it is a Friday night during the winter or not, but it’s definitely nerve-wracking. But once you get over the initial 30 seconds, it’s fine. It’s where everyone typically wants to be, but it’s definitely fun to be a part of that team for sure.”

The Big M’s IWD’s races for all female drivers are carded as the fifth and seventh dashes and although Jenna said she wants to see everyone do well on Saturday night, it’s hard for her not to hope some good luck lands on her fellow Wolverines.

“I mean, Mariah [Wright] has grown up in Michigan and we’ve been friends forever,” Jenna said. “And then another Michigan girl, Lauren Harmon. Obviously, I want the home team Michiganders to pull through.”

Mock is also looking for good, competitive races and hasn’t chosen a rooting interest just yet.

“I don’t have a favorite as of right now, but we’ll see come the day who I think is going to come out on top,” Mock said. “I think it’s amazing that they pulled all these women to come out here and drive.

“I feel like every year you see more and more female drivers, especially for things like this. I mean, I remember when we used to do a breast cancer awareness race at The Meadows and you got your seven or eight girls. I just feel like there’s a lot more ladies out there willing to participate and drive in these races now, which is great.”

Although Jenna was not a part of the 2023 IWD event at The Meadowlands, she believes that it set a high bar.

“I know last year it was a huge success, which obviously made them bring it back this year,” Jenna said. “I know last year they had 20 women drivers. It’s cool to have two races just full of women drivers because this is a sport where when you’re coming up, it’s not that people don’t say you can make it, but it didn’t used to be full of women.

“So, it used to be all-guy trainers, all-guy drivers. So, the fact that we can get 20 women out there proving that women can do what men can do — sometimes even better — is amazing. And I’m glad that I can be a part of it and promote it.”

Mock said it’s good to show women in the industry both on and off the track.

“You always see female talent [in broadcasting] and even on the horse side of things, you have a bunch of trainers,” Mock said. “Linda Toscano and Nancy Takter have been winning the big races, so I think the female presence is just really well recognized now. So, to me, I don’t think it’s as male dominated as it was. I think the girls are really out there and showing that we’re just as good.

“You really get questions sometimes where people are like, ‘Oh, do women drive?’ And yes, they sure do. And they do it well. So, I think it’s nice to showcase that.”