Sport: Standardbred Racing
Birth: Ailsa Craig, Ontario, April 8, 1955
John Campbell is the face of a sport Canadians dominate like almost no other. His list of accomplishments in harness racing, as the sport’s dominant driver for most of three decades, would fill this entire book.
The 54-year-old native of Ailsa Craig, Ont., was a hall of famer in his own game, named to the Living Hall of Fame at the trotting museum in Goshen, N.Y., at the age 35, making him its youngest inductee. That honour wasn’t based solely on his statistics; Campbell helped re-shape the harness game when the sport went big-time at The Meadowlands in New Jersey in 1976.
Campbell was a third-generation horseman, absorbing knowledge from his father Jim and grandfather Duncan, and racing horses around Detroit, Windsor and southwestern Ontario in the mid-1970s when The Meadowlands opened. Its’ racing secretary, a man named Joe DeFrank, had moved from Windsor and urged Campbell to come along to the shiny new track. Campbell complied and the rest, as they say, is history.
By age 24, Campbell was the leading money-winning driver in the sport, a title he hasn’t relinquished. He was the first driver to $100 million in earnings, the first to reach $200 million and the first past a quarter-billion dollars.
A racing writer once wrote that Campbell “must have been born second-over,” referring to his race-driving strategy, the one that has helped him amass more than 10,000 career victories and more than $265 million in purses – a total still rising.
He has won every race worth winning, many on numerous occasions. Six times he has driven the winner of the Hambletonian, the sport’s premier race for trotters. He has won the Meadowlands Pace seven times, the Pepsi North America Cup six times, the Little Brown Jug on three instances. He has teamed numerous horse-of-the-year award winners and sat behind the victor in at least 44 Breeders Crown races — depending how many of them he wins this year, too.
He has overcome two serious racing-related injuries that left him with broken bones that would have sidelined lesser men. The comebacks have helped make him a much-respected icon within his sport. He also is a media-friendly representative for racing, aware of all elements of the game, on track and off.
Through his success, he and his wife Paula have supported numerous charitable organizations. In 2001, he received Canada’s Meritorious Service Medal, an award created by Queen Elizabeth II. It recognizes an activity performed in a highly professional manner that brings benefit or honour to Canada. That, in a nutshell, perfectly describes John Campbell and his more than three decades of accomplishment on the racetrack.
(Dave Perkins, a sports columnist with the Toronto Star, has covered many of the biggest events in the world of sports including golf’s major championships, numerous World Series, Super Bowls and 9 Olympics.)