by Ken Weingartner, Harness Racing Communications
From his earliest days in harness racing, driver Jim Marohn Jr. has been a man on the go.
Born on Long Island, Marohn grew up mostly in New Jersey and followed his father — the winner of 5,358 career races as a driver — into the sport.
Without the benefit of fair racing in New Jersey, Marohn took to the road to find opportunities in the sulky. During his first three years, a span of 1,654 races, he competed at 12 different tracks, winning at nine of them, from New England to Virginia and west to Ohio and Kentucky.
Overall for his career, Marohn has visited 23 different racetracks and posted victories at 20.
The 34-year-old Marohn has won four driving titles at Tioga Downs and also been the leading driver at Monticello Raceway during his career. This year, he is second in the standings at Freehold Raceway and sixth at the Meadowlands. He is coming off a season in which he established career highs for starts (2,507), wins (435) and purses ($2.63 million).
Other accomplishments for Marohn include winning the 2013 Vernon/Tioga Drivers’ Championship and being the recipient of the U.S. Harness Writers Association’s Monticello-Goshen chapter Rising Star Award in 2008.
Marohn recently slowed down to talk with Ken Weingartner of the USTA’s Harness Racing Communications division about his career and life on the road.
KW: You had career highs across the board last year — drives, wins, purses — how did it come about?
JM: I got a lot more opportunities last year. I traveled more through the tracks in the Tri-State area and got more work from a lot more trainers. I raced a lot for (trainer) Rob Harmon. Once he got more confident in me and put me up in more places, it just kind of snowballed that I picked up other accounts also. That’s really what contributed to the year last year.
KW: You’ve been a traveling man since Day One.
JM: When I wanted to drive, I grew up in New Jersey, and Freehold and the Meadowlands weren’t places where I was going to get any opportunities just starting out. I had to go where I could get opportunities. I was working for (trainer) Billy Popfinger at the time and he would send strings of horses all over the place. He put me in charge of the strings he sent out on the road and let me drive the horses. So that contributed too to me traveling.
KW: Do you enjoy the traveling?
JM: Totally. I like going to the different tracks and driving against different drivers and different horses.
KW: Did it benefit you to go to different places and drive different tracks sizes and against different people?
JM: Yes, it did. It got me accustomed to driving on different track sizes, different styles. One of the biggest things it did was introduce me to people. That helped me down the road when I would meet those people again and they were familiar with me. They would throw me work then.
KW: What track that you haven’t been to would you most like to drive at?
JM: Pompano in February. (Laughs.) Growing up in the Northeast, the winters can be brutal. I turn on Pompano and I see those guys in February wearing short sleeves. I almost believe it’s a myth, like they’re showing replays of races from the summer. Until I go and see it, then I’ll believe it. (Laughs.)
KW: Who has been the biggest influence on your career?
JM: There are a lot of people. Popfinger taught me a lot. But I’d say that always changes. You meet so many people who are really good in this game; I can’t really pick out one person. As I got to race around with other guys and pick up traits from (John) Campbell and (Ron) Pierce; Pierce was a guy you could watch on the racetrack and learn a lot from. You pick up so many little things from so many people it’s hard to say one is the most influential.
KW: When you watch guys, what do you see that can help you?
JM: If I’m familiar with the horse they’re driving and I see they can get a little more out of that horse, I look back to see what they did. Then I’ll emulate it; I’ll try it. And just the way guys handle races. The guys who always seem to be in the right spot at the right time, I think that’s great. I like watching guys trip horses out and be right there at the end of the race. To me, those are great drives.
KW: When you look back at yourself from the beginning of your career, how have you seen yourself change?
JM: I think I handle all types of horses better than I did back then. I think I’m more aggressive now than I was back then.
KW: Is that a matter of confidence?
JM: Confidence and experience.
KW: You topped 3,000 wins last year. What was that like for you?
JM: That was great. I knew I was getting close to the number, but I didn’t know when I got it. One of the races up at Tioga was my 3,000th win, but I didn’t even know.
KW: What’s been your biggest thrill so far?
JM: It had to be a couple years ago when I won the Drivers’ Championship between Vernon and Tioga. It’s something I didn’t really expect going into it. I drove really well through the competition and things worked out. And the way the competition ended, with me having to win the last race and Brian (Sears) and Timmy (Tetrick) not having to hit the board, it was just something that will never happen again.
KW: Are you going to be racing again at Tioga regularly this year?
JM: Right now, I’m just going up on Sundays. I’m going to stay at the Meadowlands through the summer again and I’ll do Tioga on Sundays and Pocono on days when the Meadowlands doesn’t race.
KW: What do you like to do when you’re not driving?
JM: I really like spending time with my wife (Christie) and daughter (Gianna). I have a daughter who is 2-1/2 and I really enjoy watching her grow up. I like going out with them to do things. With me running the roads right now it’s tough to do a lot of things, so when I do get time off that’s really what I like to do.
KW: Since you’re driving around so much, what do you listen to in the car?
JM: I’m a big Howard Stern fan. I also play a lot of daily fantasy sports, and they have a channel for that too. So I’m constantly going back between Howard and the daily fantasy channel. A lot of times at night when I’m driving home, like from Pocono, I’ll have guys playing in the late baseball games so I’ll listen to the games.
KW: Are you any good with the daily fantasy?
JM: I’m probably a little below average to average. But I enjoy it. I enjoy listening to the games and having something that keeps my mind going because I’m in the car so long. It’s fun.
KW: What is your favorite food?
JM: I’m a steak guy. I don’t get to eat it as much as I’d like because I’m always running around. I’d say the most stuff I eat is probably anything off the Starbucks menu. Traveling around as much as I do, I know where all the Starbucks and cheap gas stations are.
KW: What is your favorite movie?
JM: My favorite movie is “Rounders.” I like the whole movie from beginning to end. I like those kinds of con artist/suspense movies, from “Rounders” to all the “Ocean’s Eleven” movies. Those are my types of movies.
KW: What would you like to accomplish this year?
JM: I’d like to win a major stakes race. I don’t really have any major stakes horses that I drive consistently, but I’m hoping that maybe as hard as I work and run around that something will fall my way.
Check out Jim Marohn Jr.’s driver card as well as many others!