Hall of Fame driver John Campbell's harness racing roots are so deep in southwestern Ontario that they go back to his teenage years with another of the sport’s legends from the region: Trevor Ritchie, who grew up across the street from The Raceway at Western Fair District in London. They'll both be at Legends Day on Sunday at Clinton Raceway.
“Trevor and I have been friends since we were about 16, maybe 15. He was working for (Hall of Fame trainer) Bill Herbert and I was in and out of London with my father and grandfather,” Campbell said. "We were very similar in age, very similar in what we were doing. We weren’t old enough to drive, but we were mucking stalls and basically working our butts off at the same time.”
Two years ago, Ritchie made the trip to Clinton Raceway for Legends Day to see Campbell’s last career drive. On Sunday (June 23), Campbell will get a chance to honor Ritchie, who will be inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in August. Ritchie is making his inaugural appearance as a Legends Day legend.
“I don’t think there’s anybody more respected throughout Ontario in the racing world than Trevor. He’s just got so much respect and I was just so happy for him when he got into the Hall of Fame, just for everything that he’s accomplished,” Campbell said. “He came to work for the Herberts with no experience and he built himself into a legend in harness racing, and that’s pretty strong in my opinion.”
Campbell said Sunday will also be an opportunity to honor the work of Clinton Raceway general manager Ian Fleming, who will also be inducted as a builder into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame this summer. The Ian Fleming Hall of Fame Induction Race will be race six on the card that starts at 1:30 p.m.
“(Ian has a deep) body of work within racing, and he has done so much of that behind the scenes that people don’t even know about it unless they were directly involved," Campbell continued. "It’s just his nature to go about his business and almost duck any attraction. He never brings any attention to himself. The one thing that he can’t duck is the impact that Legends Day has had on racing in southwestern Ontario. It’s just been one of those things. He came up with the concept and built it into one of the most anticipated days in racing in southwestern Ontario.”
Joining Ritchie on the starting gate for the $15,000 Legends Day Trot will be fellow Hall of Famers David Miller, Steve Condren, Dave Wall, Ron Waples, Doug Brown and Wally Hennessey. Those legends will be joined for an autograph session by retired drivers Campbell, Keith Waples and Bill O’Donnell.
“Obviously, I’m looking forward to going back because I get to see so many people that were there when I started that I only get to see at Legends Day,” Campbell said. “Many of them are really, really good friends of mine, or have been over the years. Then, obviously, the family aspect of it. My mom and sister’s family will all be there, so it’s just a fun, positive day. Obviously, not driving in it is going to be different for me, but that ship has sailed and I’m looking forward to the day. It’s going to be more socializing for me.”
Campbell said a highlight every Legends Day is getting to spend time with 95-year-old Hall of Famer Keith Waples.
“I always enjoy getting to visit with Keith Waples,” Campbell said. “It’s entertaining and it’s fun and it just doesn’t get much better than that. Then, Wally Hennessey is coming up this year and I know Wally’s going to have a great time because this is very similar to the environment he grow up with on PEI.
“I just look forward to the whole day. And if you think about a guy like David Miller, he made his first appearance there last time when I was there and he was right on board for coming back, so it just goes to show you the whole environment and experience that Ian has created there.
“It brings me back to where I started, which was a similar environment at Western Fair. For many of the people that are in Clinton, I knew them from Western Fair, so I just can’t overemphasize what it means for me to do this.”
Campbell said he’s also honoured to help raise money for the Clinton Public Hospital Foundation. Since its inauguration in 2001, Legends Day has raised more than $210,000 for the Foundation, with 2017 hitting a record-setting $60,000 thanks to the addition of a pre-event online auction.
The online auction closes between 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Friday, June 21, with bids accepted at http://www.legendsdayauction.com/. A few $20 tickets remain for the Pineridge Chicken Barbecue, which sees 100 per cent of the ticket sales donated back to the Foundation. Contact Clinton Raceway marketing manager Jessica Carnochan at 519-955-6820 to enquire about availability.
New for this year, there will be superfecta wagering on all 12 races on the Legends Day program.
For more information, visit www.clintonraceway.com. (Clinton Raceway)