Family and friends gathered at Northville Downs on Friday to honor longtime Michigan trainer/driver Gordon Norris for his lifetime achievements in the harness racing industry. A blanket, in the red and blue Norris stable colors, was presented to the winner of the Open Trot, Skyway Jaylo and driver/trainer Larry Smith.
Norris is a native of Murfreesboro, Tenn. Born into a harness racing family, he began his career in 1955 when he drove his first race with a horse owned by his father. Norris, along with brothers Charlie and Larry, carried on the family horse racing tradition.
USTA statistics don’t reach back far enough to accurately reflect his training career wins and earnings as Norris had almost 1,000 driving wins at a time when trainers mostly drove their own horses. Norris raced a large stable in Michigan in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s and was referred to as the "King of Claimers." He won training titles at Hazel Park, Jackson at Northville, Northville Downs, and Wolverine Raceway. He has been inducted in the Michigan and Florida Harness Racing Halls of Fame. He was known to be especially good with trotters.
His all-time favorite horse was Speedway Jackie, a trotting gelding that raced in the late 60’s. Norris said that horse really jump-started his career and helped him buy his farm. One of his best performers in more recent years was Tweedle Dum, who had career earnings of over $400,000.
For many years, Norris operated a training center in Fowlerville, Mich. and for the last several years of his career, until his retirement in 2010, he was based primarily at Pompano Park. His wife, Diane, and their children all worked in the stable in some capacity, making it a real family affair.
Several present-day trainers were second trainers under Norris, including Jake Huff, Andy Shetler, Tim Driver, and Toni Rose. Many drivers--including Pete Wrenn, Kevin Wallis, and Charlie Smith-- furthered their careers driving for the powerful Norris stable.
Norris’ grandson, Jason Merriman, appreciates the confidence his grandfather had in him and the opportunities he had in driving the Norris Stable horses at Pompano Park when he was starting his driving career. Merriman still expresses amazement when he says "Grandpa used to let me qualify and school his Open horses when I was only 16-years-old, just to give me experience."
Merriman has been on the driver’s leaderboard at Northfield Park for the past several years--and so the family tradition continues. (MHHA)