04/09/2015 4:54PM

Giwner: Back in the driver’s seat?

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Mike Lizzi
Editor Derick Giwner driving Christy Rae.

Just like you may get the itch to head to your local casino or have a craving for your favorite flavor of ice cream, every once in a while the sulky calls my name. Harness Racing is one of the few sports in which anyone can ultimately participate professionally and the ability to jump in the bike and go behind the gate is one of the reasons I love this sport.

I’m certainly no Yannick Gingras, but for those that don’t know my resume officially includes 41 starts with 3 wins (one pari-mutuel), 4 seconds and 1 third. Having seen this sport from many angles, let me tell you that few experiences can equal the thrill of winning from a first-hand perspective.

Where on earth did this topic come from?

Well, I was planning on dusting off my colors to compete at Monticello Raceway in the Passover Pace on Monday (April 13). Along with seven of my ethnically-related brothers, it was a go for me to return to the scene where the driving “bug” first bit me after a win on Rasta Hanover in a jog cart media race in 1998. I dare anyone to steer a horse four-wide on the final turn knowing you have the power to win and not want to run to the USTA to apply for a license. It remains a fond memory in my mind.

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At least that was as of today (4/9) at 4:35 p.m. when I was posting this piece. By 4:36 I was wondering what to do as word came in via email that my charge, the 9-year-old Jim Clouser-trained mare named Aruba Sunset, was going to be scratched-sick!

Rather than allow my latest column to suffer the same fate, the show must go on . . .  

Amateur racing truly gives anyone the chance to get involved in the sport and the current opportunities are greater than ever before. When I was driving more regularly in the beginning of the century, an amateur who was willing to travel around the country could conceivably compete in 50-60 races a year. Now, a person living in the northeast can race close to that many times without travelling more than a few hours from home.

The GSY series currently in gear at the Meadowlands gives guys like myself a chance to race every single Friday. With a little luck I would have been out there over the last few weeks, but coming by a horse to drive has proven more difficult than I hoped (hint, hint for those that want to give me a drive).

The North American Amateur Drivers Association hosts multiple series a year at tracks like Yonkers, Monticello and Freehold Raceways. There are also clubs throughout the U.S., including upstate New York, Florida, etc.

Of course, you can’t just show up at your local track with a whip and expect to go “down the road” on the lead. There are some reasonably simple tests to take and of course you must prove your skill in qualifying races on the track.

Luckily the USTA offers a 4-day crash course in driving each year. The 2015 instructional outing is scheduled for May 13-16 in Goshen, NY. You’ll learn all the basics and in the end be on your way to a license.

I still recall my first qualifier. It was a bit intimidating looking to my left and right behind the gate to see accomplished drivers that I’d been betting on for years. The thing is, once you get on the track the nerves calm and instincts take over. And the excitement is somewhat addictive. If you think cashing a ticket for a few thousand is awesome, try winning a race behind a horse you own.

Even though I won't be donning by blue and gold colors, be sure to tune in to the third race on Monday at Monticello and root for some pretty good drivers. Most of these guys own horses and they all love competing in the sport. Hopefully one day you'll try it out too. You won't regret it.