From tragedy to triumph exactly 40 years on

Four decades to the day after his horrific accident at The Meadowlands, Jack Parker, Jr. scored a remarkable triumph.

by Bob Heyden

The best day of the year so far? Easy. It’s March 19, 2024, and it’s not even close.

Jack Parker, Jr. with just one entered on the card — he trains three, all trotters — at Dover on Tuesday (March 19) won with 9-2 shot Last Glow by a half-length, returning $11.80. Wife Carol Jamieson-Parker trained the winner.

So, what’s so notable about that?

Forty years ago, to the day in 1984, Jack was involved in the single worst accident in The Meadowlands’ history. His horse Hope Valley A went down in a five-horse spill. The other drivers — Jim Dolbee, Pat Crowe, Jim Tirone — walked away a little worse for wear but not Jack. Bill O’Donnell was in the race with Wildwood Jeb, and immediately rushed to the scene.

“Jack was bleeding from the eyes, the ears, everywhere, and in convulsions,” O’Donnell said. “The rule back then was that you took whoever needed attention to the nearest hospital, but I remember telling the EMS crew that Jack needed Hackensack Medical Trauma Center immediately, and I told them I would take responsibility.”

I was there at The Meadowlands that night. I’ll never forget the concern/curiosity among the near 13,000 that turned quickly to a respectful hushed silence. Nobody knew. Did we just witness one of our own get killed right before our eyes?

Steve Katz worked then in The Meadowlands publicity/TV department.

“I remember the hospital vigil,” Katz said.

Jackie Wing, widow of The Meadowlands’ one-time leading driver and Hall of Famer Ted Wing, remembers that night well.

“Cathy [Jack’s wife at that time] and Jack bought a house in Paramus about a mile from me two months before the accident,” Jackie said. “I was sleeping when Paula Campbell called and said Jack had a bad accident and Cathy needed someone to watch the twins while she went to Hackensack hospital. I went right over and answered calls all night. Friends kept calling to ask if I had any information about how Jack was doing. Cathy had called her ‘two moms,’ her mother and step-mother, and they both arrived to take care of Chet and Jason. Jack was unconscious for 21 days [officially 19]. Paula Campbell took a deck of cards to Cathy in the hospital every day. I kept checking on Cathy’s moms and went food shopping for them. The twins were only 2 years old.”

So, everyone was on hold basically. Nobody knew if Jack would make it and if so, what condition he’d be in. The focus for the industry was on helmet legislation.

“Jack’s helmet had cracked and rolled completely across the track,” O’Donnell said.

Remember, this was just 19 months after Shelly Goudreau’s fatal accident in California in 1982 and 28 months before Billy Haughton’s fatal accident at Yonkers the first week of July in 1986.

O’Donnell and John Campbell, already the faces of the industry, were soon seen with motorcycle-type helmets as the industry wrestled with the best way to deal with the issue.

Nineteen days later the New York Times reported, “Jack Parker, Jr. is off the respirator. He suffered a fractured skull in a five-horse spill at The Meadowlands on March 19. He’s out of a coma.”

Now with a plate in his head, Jack said, “I have no memory of the accident. Never did. I do know my parents sat with me the entire time while my sister Lynne took their 15-20 horses to Florida to care for them.”

Before I take you through the rehab, and to today, a little refresher/Google moment on who Jack Parker, Jr. is.

He was born on 7/19/55 and is a third-generation horseman.

His first win was in 1973 and he had his first 100-win season in 1979.

His brother is Howard Parker.

His first million-dollar season, of which there were four, was in 1980.

He also handled such notables as Elitist, Dangarvon, who was on the board to Nihilator in the HOY’s last race in the 1985 Breeders Crown at Garden State Park. Hall Of Famer Joe Holloway worked for Jack back then.

He also drove Vereen, Presidential winner Whiteys Fella, Computer, Boone And Crockett and even a spin with former employee Joe Holloway’s fabulous filly She’s A Great Lady.

His good friend Dave Palone said, “Love Jackie. Sad [about] the accident. I shared a barn with him at Garden State. We had a dead heat for win together, Jackie drove Village Jackpot and I had my own T D Escort.”

JoAnn Looney King said, “[My husband, Jim King, Jr. and I] were there that night. I knew Jackie since we were kids. It was awful that night; especially all the confusion. Was he dead or alive?”

Ron Pierce was in California early in 1984 and so was Jack’s brother Howard.

“I sure remember that night and after,” Pierce said. “Howard was very concerned.”

Now, about the rehab, the progress, anything.

O’Donnell said, “Jack was in rehab right after he left the hospital. He was in there two maybe three days and checked himself out. He was one tough guy. He willed himself back. He did it.”

Bonnie Butler drove at The Meadowlands then and is currently a retired professor from Rutgers. She also noticed Jack’s desire to get back.

“This shows Jack’s tenacity to come back from a devastating injury and his devotion to a sport that doesn’t wear thin with time,” she said.

Four and a half months after the accident, Jack drove again. Aug. 2, 1984, two days before the Hambletonian, he handled I’m A Wanderer to victory in his very first drive back and received a well-deserved standing ovation from the entire paddock. He was moving gingerly, but the desire never waned.

“I didn’t feel any different when I came back,” Jack said. “Actually, I felt the same.”

Jack and Carol live in Delaware, about 15 minutes from Harrington Raceway. Jack is not only not an attention seeker, he’s an attention avoider. Never one for the spotlight and a man of few words. He concentrates mostly on trotters these days, “with the occasional pacer here and there.”

In 2018 he made the Breeders Crown final with the best horse he’s ever owned N F Happenstance, 33 years after racing at Garden State Park in the Breeders Crown 3YOCP with Dangarvon.

Now, here we are 40 years later. He was 28 then, 68 now and still at it. Jack never knew time off, study halls or slacking. He’s that same guy amazingly today. And quietly he won a race on March 19 this year, and against the best drivers too; Corey Callahan was second (Speed Away), Tim Tetrick fourth (Crystal Fashion) and Tony Morgan eighth (The Fast Lane). I’m not at all sure how long Jack and Carol will be doing this. I am positive though that he won’t be doing anything else, no matter what stands in the way.