After setting the record for most lifetime victories by a driver in North American harness racing history, as well as capturing the fourth dash-winning title of his career, Dave Palone has a simple goal for 2013.
“Show up every day and prove that I can win races; it’s the same old grind,” Palone said. “You can’t ever stop. You’ve got to stay on the gas in this business. I’m still honored to be one of the top guys out there and I’m anxious to get right back out there and prove myself.”
The 50-year-old Palone, who drives predominately at The Meadows, won 675 races in 2012, finishing five victories ahead of Tim Tetrick for the most in North America. Palone has finished among the top four dash-winning drivers 20 times in the last 21 years.
He ended the year with 15,523 career wins, which are the most for any driver in North America history. He passed Herve Filion, who held the record of 15,180, on July 5 at The Meadows.
“It was a big honor to pass Herve because he was one of my heroes growing up,” Palone said. “When you go and race at different places and see people and they’re constantly congratulating you, it really sets in how many people I had supporting me and rooting for me.”
Chasing the record was not easy, especially as Palone neared the mark.
“It was very nerve-racking trying to get numbers,” Palone said. “I remember how nervous I was when I heard Herve was going to be here for the ceremony, and I still had something like 10 wins to go. I knew I had to get to work. It’s a different pressure than winning a stakes race. It’s not a pressure I’d like to face every day. There’s nothing harder than to win races when you have to.”
Winning the seasonal dash title in the same year as becoming the top winner in North America was special for Palone, but he did not change his routine to try to end the year on top.
“It really does mean a little more, but I’ve never been a guy to follow the numbers every day,” Palone said. “I never really got caught up in that too much until late in the year when some people started mentioning it. I knew it was going to be real tight with Timmy, but we decided to go on our vacation (at the end of December).
“I didn’t think it would be right if I decided to go somewhere else and race to get it done. It wouldn’t be fair to the guys driving at the other tracks and it wouldn’t be fair to the people at The Meadows who helped me get it done. If I didn’t do it, there was no one to blame but myself. We went on vacation and had a good time, found out I won it, and it was icing on the cake.”
Palone’s most memorable win in 2012, aside from his triumph with Herculotte Hanover that moved him ahead of Filion, came behind 3-year-old pacer Sweet Lou in the $510,300 Tattersalls Pace. Sweet Lou won by a head over stablemate Hillbilly Hanover in 1:48.1 at Lexington’s Red Mile.
“I love going to The Red Mile and that race stands out,” Palone said. “He went such a rough trip and came out on top with everybody in the industry down there watching. That was a fun day.”
Worldwide, Palone is No. 2 on the list for harness racing wins among drivers. Germany’s Heinz Wewering sits atop the rankings, with 16,643. Wewering won 90 times in 2012.
“I still have to shoot for that,” Palone said, laughing. “It doesn’t get any easier.”