Austin Siegelman reflects on career-best 2018 season
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Austin Siegelman put up career-best numbers in 2018 and is looking to parlay that success into even bigger numbers this year. Siegelman, who turns 27 on Feb. 27, won 314 races and $2.19 million in purses last season. His win total ranked 26th among all drivers in North America.
“I think I had a pretty good year,” Siegelman said. “I think it was a step in the right direction if my career is going to go forward. I really didn’t expect it to happen because I didn’t have a steady barn to drive for, and I kind of still don’t. I’m just going to take it for what it is. Hopefully I can build off it and it gets a little better this year.”
Siegelman enjoyed the majority of his success at Monticello Raceway, where he finished third in the driver standings with 229 victories despite missing three weeks as the result of an accident. His 18-percent win clip was also third among regulars at the upstate New York half-mile oval.
In September, Siegelman added New Jersey’s Freehold Raceway to his schedule. He won 32 races there during the remainder of the year, a total that was fourth best at the track. He also had wins at The Meadowlands, The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono, Tioga Downs, and Yonkers.
“It was nice to get 200 wins at Monticello,” Siegelman said. “It was nice to get into Freehold towards the end again. It was really nice to break into Yonkers a little bit. That’s where I’m looking to go.”
Siegelman is currently focused on driving at Monticello, Yonkers, and Freehold. He began racing regularly at Yonkers last July and has won 38 races there.
“I’d like to drive at the Meadowlands more, but my schedule is nice and tidy with Monticello Monday through Thursday, Freehold on Friday and Saturday, and Yonkers the five nights,” Siegelman said. “It’s a full book.
“I’d like to pick up a little more quality work at Yonkers and cut down a little. That way it’s not just a mad rush every day. It’s tough. It’s tough on the body, it’s tough mentally. Sunday is my only day off now and I don’t want to do anything.”
Siegelman, the son of trainer James Siegelman, received the 2013 Rising Star Award from the Monticello-Goshen chapter of the U.S. Harness Writers Association. Last September, he got career win No. 1,000, which came at Monticello.
“For sure that was the highlight of last year,” Siegelman said. “That was nice.”
Siegelman does not set many goals each year, other than continuing to improve.
“I watch replays when I’m off. I watch races. It doesn’t stop,” he said. “I want to learn. I know the mistakes I make when I’m out there. As soon as I make them I’m like, oh no. It’s not a good feeling.
“I think I’m finally learning to be a little more patient and play the gate a little better. I used to have it in my head before the race what I was going to do — if I was going to leave, or if I wasn’t — and now most of the time I let the horse decide. I think I’m starting to get a little more polished. I’m still not there yet.”
Patience can be difficult for young drivers to achieve, especially as they strive to make a name for themselves.
“I want to win every race that I’m in,” Siegelman said. “It’s a tough pill to swallow that I can’t.”
Still, Siegelman is happy with the progress he has made so far in his career.
“I’m finally getting to a point where I’m happy with where I’m at,” he said. “I just take it day-by-day.”--By Ken Weingartner/USTA