by Dean Hoffman
Late in the morning of Thursday, September 23, 1965, Thurman Wayne Smart walked onto the backstretch of the Delaware half-mile track.
No one knew him as Thurman Wayne, of course. To everyone in harness racing he was simply “Curly.” And in Delaware he was a true hometown hero. After all, he’d won the first Little Brown Jug in 1946 as a catch-driver. By 1965, Smart was past 60 and racing only a small stable. During Jug Week, he divided his time between his training responsibilities and manicuring the famous soup-bowl oval at the Delaware fairgrounds.
That Thursday morning in 1965 it had rained much of the morning. Smart reached a point midway across the track’s backstretch, removed a pocketknife, and thrust it into the clay. The wise old owl was testing to see how deep the moisture had penetrated into the track’s clay surface.
He looked up, grinned, then asked a bystander, “Do you think all this rain will be good for my sweet potatoes?”
Most people didn’t give a damn about Smart’s sweet potato crop that year. They’d come to Delaware—many of them from great distances—to see the legendary Bret Hanover, touted by many as the greatest pacer ever. Bret had won all 24 of his races as a 2-year-old and dominated his crop. No one wanted to postpone the Jug and disappoint so many fans.
Smart and fair officials made a decision. They called in road graders and decided to peel off the wet surface of the Delaware track until they reached dry ground. It was the painstaking process with graders creating giant clay curly-cues that were pushed to the outside fence of the track. Curly Smart’s sharp eye supervised the entire process.
The graders left a smooth, uniform surface. The Jug would be raced!
Bret Hanover performed up to expectations—and then some. He won the first heat in 1:57, after being parked out for the first half. It was the fastest mile ever on a half-mile track. His foes were at his mercy in the second heat, which he won effortlessly in 1:57.2.
Bret received a rousing reception when he returned to the winner’s circle, but an outpouring of applause also greeted the second-place finisher in the Jug, too. That’s because it was Tuxedo Hanover, trained and driven by Thurman Wayne Smart, known and beloved to all as simply “Curly.”
This year’s 69th Annual Little Brown Jug is brought to you by Fazoli’s