Polvinale wins USHWA President's Award
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John Polvinale, who started the Facebook website Harness Racing History to share his extensive collection of memorabilia and has curated it to grow into one of harness racing’s most popular sites in the new technology, has been named the winner of a President’s Award by U.S. Harness Writers Association head Shawn Wiles for his contribution to the knowledge and enjoyment of the sport by people both inside and outside of the sport.
Polvinale first went to the races at Roosevelt Raceway when the track’s age was still in single digits, then furthered his knowledge on the backstretch of Freehold Raceway, where trainer “Big Mike” Petito urged him to purchase a horse named Steady New Yorker in 1979. “In his first start for me, he went off at double digits, but he still won by eight lengths, with Jack Moiseyev driving. I thought this sport was going to be a piece of cake – which, of course, has not turned out to be the case.”
But the inevitable ups and downs of racing did nothing to deter Polvinale’s enthusiasm for the game, with his love of history also leading him to assemble a large collection of harness-related materials, books, trophies – you name it. “I had started to watch race replays on the Internet and social media, and with the encouragement of friends who wanted me to share my collection, I decided to use these emerging media to start Harness Racing History.”
Polvinale soon found that his new site had struck resonantly with many harness racing fans – and also with people with only a passing or little knowledge of the sport. “It started with people that I knew,” he remembered, “but then those people talked to people in their own ‘circles,’ including those not in racing,” and a “ripple effect” was soon evident, with those outside the sulky community finding items and people that interested them. Harness Racing History just broke the 30,000 “member” plateau, and in a given month will have 100,000 “engagements” (posts, comments, likes, views). The site’s viewership is 60-40 male-female, and 60 percent fall within the desired 25-54 age range demographic.
It was Polvinale who started the Facebook page, doing most of the early postings, and he still checks the site “about once during most of my waking hours,” watching for any signs of commercialism or incivility, both of which are quickly eradicated. However, he is very proud that now “it’s mostly the members, the visitors to the site who have determined its ‘shape,’ and are the drivers of what appears on the website. We know of certain trends, say people who want to see the replays of certain races at certain times, but it’s really our audience who are the content shapers with their postings and comments.
“One of the things that gives me the greatest satisfaction is that the site has become a place where ‘family reunites’ – people who haven’t heard from another party for 20 or 30 years will see some experience they had in common and make a comment, and old friendships are reborn.”
Polvinale’s catchwords for operating the site are “pure” and “simple,” and those feelings resonate so much that when USHWA president Wiles told him of his winning the award, Wiles used those very words in congratulating Polvinale – “and it was evident he had captured the spirit of the site exactly.”
Polvinale will be honored at USHWA’s annual Dan Patch Awards Banquet, celebrating the best and brightest of harness racing in the past year. The banquet honoring the champions of 2018 will be held on Sunday, Feb. 24, at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort in Orlando, the climax of a weekend that also finds USHWA holding its annual national meetings.
Tickets for the Dan Patch Awards Banquet are $175, with a filet mignon dinner featured; “post times” on Feb. 24 are cocktails at 6 p.m. and dinner at 7 p.m. Tickets, and other Banquet-related information, can be obtained through dinner planning committee chair Judy Davis-Wilson, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (302) 359-3630.
Hotel reservations for those attending can be made through USHWA’s website, www.ushwa.org; a link to the hotel’s computer is on the front page of the website. Those who would like to take out congratulatory ads for award winners in the always-popular Dan Patch Awards Journal can do so by contacting Kim Rinker at email@example.com. (USHWA)