High Profile | Dawnelle Mock is the face of modern marketing in harness racing
story by Evan Pattak
Fresh out of high school, Dawnelle Mock saw a clear professional path ahead. She would attend Youngstown State University, major in computer science and pursue a career in that field. But life, as it sometimes does, had different ideas.
First, when her older sister, Dana, took over their father Dan’s racing operations and expanded them in partnership with her future husband, trainer-driver Spencer Kahrig, Mock began helping them in the mornings. As a reward, they gave her 25-percent interest in a racehorse, Wingman Lauxmont, who made them all a profit. That hooked Mock on the hands-on aspects of the business.
Then, while in college, she tagged along to the Dan Patch Awards ceremony in Orlando, Fla., with Heather Wilder, the banquet’s co-host, who sometimes employed Mock as a babysitter. Mock attended several meetings that further refined her interest in harness racing.
“The Harness Racing FanZone was taking off around that time, and I attended a seminar on that,” Mock said. “I really liked the marketing aspect of harness racing and I decided to switch my major to marketing.”
Not long after graduation from Youngstown State, Mock began handling social media for the Meadows Standardbred Owners Association (MSOA) and soon was promoted to marketing director, her current position. All that happened over a roughly three-year period that saw Mock win the 2019 Dan Patch Breakthrough Award from the U.S. Harness Writers Association and—largely because of her social media savvy—become the very face of modern marketing in harness racing.
“We’re not the only ones who think so,” said Kim Hankins, the MSOA’s executive director. “John Campbell (president and CEO of the Hambletonian Society) invited us to attend a meeting on social media that the society hosted. He told Dawnelle that he wanted her there because she’s among the leaders in social media for harness racing.
“Her on-air presence is great. She knows the industry and has contacts everywhere. Above all, she has a vision unlike what we imagined before. It’s been a fantastic ride for her.”
That ride began in Somerset County, Pa., where the Mocks lived when Dawnelle was a youngster. When the family relocated closer to The Meadows, it was a key move that facilitated the growth of Dan Mock’s small stable, its subsequent expansion by the Kahrigs—and the introduction of Dawnelle to harness racing. At those Dan Patch Awards, Wilder learned that her young companion was nothing if not a self-starter.
“You know the way those meetings are—people in and out all the time,” Wilder said. “Not Dawnelle. She sat through all the meetings. I wish you could have seen the way she immersed herself, personally connecting with people beyond their work. The people I look up to in the sport were impressed with her work ethic.”
Today, much of the energy in marketing has shifted from racinos, which may or may not have an active interest in promoting racing, to horsemen’s organizations, whose lives and careers depend on it.
The MSOA’s marketing group is particularly sophisticated. It begins with Mock but also includes such consultants as Corkboard Concepts, a marketing agency with expertise in Web development, and Miele Enterprises, the MSOA’s media buyer that emphasizes digital platforms, which command about 50 percent of the MSOA’s advertising budget.
Mock is the clear center of that network. She conceives and plans the MSOA’s steady diet of special events, including Family Fun Nights, which bring newcomers to the backside for paddock tours and starting gate rides. She’s involved with the smallest details, even contracting the operators of those ever-popular bounce houses.
She also works with The Meadows on such joint efforts as Food Truck Days, wiener dog races and, of course, entertainment for Adios Week. And her Standardbred holdings are increasing, as she and her boyfriend, trainer Johnny Yoder, campaign a stable of about six. But it’s her wizardry with social media that sets her apart.
“I feel like I grew up with social media,” she said. “You have to learn the engagement, like boosting a post. But as far as how it works, that wasn’t too hard.”
On race days, she’s a whirl of motion, posting, tweeting, retweeting, linking, deleting, all in an effort to attract new fans—ideally new, young fans—to the sport. And she hopes to do still more.
“I’d like to produce more video content, bring in a camera crew and show what happens behind the scenes,” Mock said. “That’s an area where we could do more.”
As sharp as Mock is with social media, then, it may be surprising to learn that it’s all aimed at the time-honored objective marketers long have pursued—putting people in seats.
“It’s better when you can bring people to the paddock and personally interact with them,” Mock said. “The idea of harness racing takes hold when they can see it up close and be a part of it. You won’t fall in love with the sport betting online.” HB
Evan Pattak is a veteran harness writer, publicist, on-air analyst/commentator and owner. He provides public relations services to the MSOA. To comment on this story, email us at email@example.com.
A Day with Dawnelle
For Dawnelle Mock, the typical race day at The Meadows begins with social media work. Later, she gets into some social media. Finally, she ends her day with—you guessed it—social media.
It isn’t that Mock’s job doesn’t include other responsibilities, but social media—where new fans from desirable demographics can be reached—occupy most of her time. Mock is, in short, a social media maven, as this log of her day at the races on Jan. 27, demonstrates.
9 a.m. Meets online with Corkboard Concepts, the MSOA’s web consultant, on how best to update the website to include the new live racing schedule and the times/dates when the track will offer live racing to complement the Thoroughbred Triple Crown events.
9:36 a.m. Stops by the MSOA offices to help with administrative matters.
10 a.m. Posts Professor’s Picks on Facebook and Twitter. (The Professor is the nom de course of the MSOA resident handicapper; his identity is a closely guarded secret, but the rumor is he became a handicapper when his bowling career guttered.)
11 a.m. YouTube has a tutorial on how to read a race program that she likes. Posts a link to it on Facebook and Twitter.
12:30 p.m. Mock usually invites fans to submit their picks and sometimes rewards them with free T-shirts. No freebies today, but she links fans’ selections for today’s card to a number of platforms.
12:35 p.m. Takes several dozen race programs from MSOA offices, heads to the paddock lounge and distributes the programs to horsemen. She’s in the paddock and paddock lounge the rest of the day.
1:15 p.m. Likes what she sees of a horse warming up and posts the image to Facebook Stories and Instagram Stories.
1:18 p.m. Retweets congratulations to the winning stables in the day’s first two races.
1:29 p.m. Responds to a fan’s Facebook question about The Meadows winner’s circle policy, explaining that, due to COVID-19 restrictions, no more than six people are permitted there at a time.
1:30 p.m. Retweets the day’s winners so far.
1:32 p.m. Monitors Facebook, a task she repeats throughout the day, for any nasty comments to delete. None this time.
1:35 p.m. Notices that the USTA website has a story about the 1,000th career win for Meadows-based trainer Andy Rickert. Shares story on Facebook and Twitter.
1:45 p.m. Trolls the paddock and catches a wave from driver Wilbur Yoder as he mounts a sulky. Shoots it and—presto—Yoder is waving on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
1:50 p.m. Retweets some winners that track announcer Jeff Zidek has given out today.
1:53 p.m. Retweets the GIF of the Madonna that track photographer Chris Gooden tweeted to congratulate a winner, a horse named Little Mary.
2:21 p.m. Retweets Zidek’s interactions with fans. Why retweet stuff that Zidek and Gooden already have communicated? “Our followers are different,” Mock says.
2:23 p.m. Responds to a fan who has posted that her link to Meadows Racing is not working. Finds no technical problems and reports that to her correspondent.
8 p.m. Checks the USTA website for the day’s recap of The Meadows races. Finds it, posts it on Twitter and Instagram.