Lexington, KY —– Harness racing Hall of Famer Joe DeFrank, 87, died Dec. 12, 2020.
Growing up in Holly, N.Y., Mr. DeFrank fell in love with harness racing at nearby Batavia Downs. That is where he met his mentor and longtime friend, Don D’Andrea, who recommended to the late Hall of Famer Jim Lynch that Mr. DeFrank be given a chance to be an assistant in the race office at Hilliard Raceway in Ohio in 1956.
That was just the start of a long career that took him to the race office at other tracks, including Baltimore Raceway, Green Mountain Park, Grandview Raceway, Painesville Raceway, Northfield Park, Windsor Raceway, Freehold, Brandywine and Ponce DeLeon.
Mr. DeFrank was hired by the late Delvin Miller to help start The Meadows in 1963. He was at Windsor Raceway in 1976 when Bob Quigley enticed him to leave and become the director of racing at a new racetrack across the Hudson River from New York City — The Meadowlands.
Mr. DeFrank also encouraged a young driver named John Campbell to join him in leaving Windsor and ply his trade at the Big M, resulting in both eventually being honored with induction into harness racing’s Hall of Fame in Goshen, N.Y.
While at the Meadowlands, Mr. DeFrank created races such as the Meadowlands Pace and Woodrow Wilson, both of which offered purses of more than $1 million. The Woodrow Wilson purse reached as high as $2 million, the most ever offered in the sport. He was also instrumental in bringing the Hambletonian from the Midwest to The Meadowlands in 1979.
In addition to his duties at The Meadowlands, when Garden State Park opened in 1985, Mr. DeFrank was named director of racing. One of the major races he helped bring to that track was the 1988 March of Dimes Trot. The field included the North American star Mack Lobell and foreign standout Ourasi, with the event turning out to be what many consider the sport’s greatest race ever.
Mr. DeFrank was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1994, with presenter Stan Bergstein, a former race secretary himself, noting, “I realized quickly and instinctively that he was going places. I simply underestimated how far he was going, how fast he was going, and how impressively he would get there.
“No one in our business has mastered his craft more completely, elevated its power and stature, introduced more new ideas, commanded more respect or ruled with such absolute power as the man we how honor.”
A full obituary will be posted when available.