Despite world record, harness racing driver Palone won’t hold his horses
After more than 30 years and many milestones reached as a harness racing driver, Dave Palone holds the biggest record in his profession.
Palone, a Waynesburg native and 2010 Harness Racing Hall of Fame inductee, broke the world record for career wins with his 16,754th victory in the final race Friday at The Meadows Racetrack & Casino in Washington County.
Palone set the mark by driving odds-on favorite Missy Tap Tina to victory for his fifth win on the 15-race card Friday. He broke the record of 16,753 held by German driver Heinz Wewering.
Wewering still is active, but at 64 years old, he drives a much lighter schedule and focuses on training horses. The German driver is scheduled for seven drives Sunday and could retake the record. Even if that happens, Palone, 52, likely will retake the record for good this week as he continues to race a full schedule at The Meadows.
Having set the North American record in 2012 by passing Herve Filion’s mark of 15,181 wins, Palone knew the world record wouldn’t come easily.
“It’s been a long grind and 30 years worth of racing, so I can’t say it hasn’t been on my mind,” Palone said. “It doesn’t get any easier getting older and competing against these younger guys, but I’ve had (the world record) in my sights since breaking Herve’s record.”
Records alone aren’t what motivates Palone.
He and his brother, Mike, a top trainer at The Meadows, were introduced to the sport as children by being brought to the track by their father, Marion “Butch” Palone. By age 20, Dave Palone was driving in his first competitive races, and his love for the sport only has grown.
“I love racing horses. It’s my passion,” Palone said. “It’s the friendships in the paddock; it isn’t necessarily the race. It’s going out and competing against my buddies, then turning the page and going back to talk with them about whatever.
“I can’t imagine not being here to enjoy that, and as long as I can compete at a high level, I’m going to continue.”
Perhaps no one has witnessed more of Palone’s career than fellow Hall of Famer Roger Huston, the track announcer at The Meadows since 1976.
Huston guessed he has seen nearly 15,000 of Palone’s wins at The Meadows and other tracks, and he suspects Palone should have a long stay in the record books.
“I don’t think that record will ever be broken,” he said. “The drivers today don’t drive as many years as Dave has. It’s tougher to win now, and there aren’t as many races.”
Palone has kept himself fit to stay at the top of his sport, although he admits he’s no fan of going to the gym to work out. He has recovered from multiple accidents and broken bones during his career, but each time, he has worked his way back into the driver’s seat.
The world record is a product of his commitment. Setting the mark at his home track made the occasion even sweeter, but one person notably was absent from the celebration.
Butch Palone, who got his son involved in the sport more than three decades ago, died at age 77 on Nov. 3 — 11 days before the record drive.
“I lost my dad about a week ago, and up until then, we were counting it down together. I’d have loved to have gotten it for him while he was here,” Palone said. “He’s responsible for me getting started in the business. I owe everything to my dad. He was my biggest fan, and I was his biggest fan.”
In the winner’s circle after the record race, Palone said his father “was with me around the final turn.” A congratulatory video from Wewering also was shown in which he joked about retaking the record from Palone.
Palone said setting the record would take some weight off his shoulders, and Huston said he could tell Palone was pressing to reach the record as quickly as possible.
“Those last 10 are hard to come by,” Huston said. “You talk to baseball players or football players, anyone getting closer to a record, and they tell you it gets tougher.”
Even though the world record is his, Palone said he has no intention of ending his career anytime soon. He admitted he may begin taking fewer races at The Meadows before much longer, but he also wants to pursue opportunities he might have missed by staying close to home.
“There’s a lot of things I’d like to do. I’ve turned down opportunities to race in Italy, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland to honor commitments here in the states,” Palone said. “I think I’d like to travel a little bit and do some of those fun things. I may wind it down as far as coming in here and grinding every single day, but as long as I enjoy it, and I’m not costing anyone money, I’m going to stay right at it.”