Trenton, NJ — Perched one mere victory away from 5,000 for his career, that number has special meaning for driver Jim Marohn Jr.
But not in the conventional sense.
Sure, it’s a nice goal to reach, but its symbolism has more to do with what Marohn once witnessed as opposed to what he will accomplish.
“I try not to think about it; I’m just one of those guys I’ve always got my head down and I’m just working,” he said. “I’m never really thinking about the numbers, I’m just going out, doing what I can do with what I have in front of me.
“But one thing that does mean something to me as far as 5,000 goes is, I remember when my father got his 5,000th win. I was in high school at the time and that’s when I really, really was getting into the game. Right around that time is when I knew that’s what I wanted to do when I got older. So, the number always did stick out and every time I think about getting my 5,000th win, I remember being there when he got his.”
There is another number Marohn Sr. established that will soon loom large in his son’s life — 5,358 wins. If Junior continues at his current pace, he should pass that mark sometime next season.
Is there ever playful trash talk about that?
“No — not yet,” Marohn said with a laugh.
On the cusp of his impressive milestone, the 39-year-old shared some “Racing Reflections” on his career. Growing up in New Jersey, Marohn did not have the option of fair racing and had to look beyond the Garden State. Thus, his first three years as a driver were spent as far west as Ohio, as far south as Kentucky and up and down the East Coast from New England to Virginia.
He always wanted to race at the sport’s mecca in his home state, and recalls being a fan at The Meadowlands with nostalgic joy.
“When I was in junior high school and high school that was the place,” Marohn said. “It was always an experience to go there, whether I went up to the grandstand or if I would just go back to the backstretch. They used to have these booths that were all around and you could walk up to the track and watch races on the backstretch. When you’re really young it’s a great experience.”
Of course, being the son of a successful driver, Marohn had his favorite horses to root for at The Big M.
“There were horses I probably would follow when I was really young that he would drive,” Jim said. “A horse called Resonator was very, very nice. When I was starting to follow the game more, I would look for that horse.”
Another vivid childhood memory came at age 12, when Marohn jogged his first horse. It was everything he thought it would be, and set him on a career path.
“His name was Tough Knight,” Jim recalled. “It was a great experience when you’re really young and you watch it and then you actually get to do it. I guess for guys like us that do this professionally, it’s like a life changing experience.”
From there, things kept changing for the better and soon, Marohn helped care for one of his mom’s horses, Original Work.
“It was the first one I helped take care of on a regular basis,” he said. “I would help my mom out on weekends when I wasn’t in school, until I went to work for Billy Popfinger (at The Meadowlands). I started with Billy the day after I graduated high school.”
Marohn began his driving career in 2002 at age 20 and his debut race produced a second-place finish at Pocono.
“I probably studied the program for about four hours,” he said, laughing at the memory. “It was a great feeling. The horse was a longshot, so hitting the board was like a win.”
His actual first win came with the same horse at the same track six starts later, and Jim said, “I don’t think I slept the whole night after that.”
After getting his ‘A’ license, Marohn was finally able to race at The Meadowlands, and his first trip there was much like his first career start — a non-victory that made him feel like a winner.
“She was a trotting mare, Inviting Hanover; it was one of Billy Popfinger’s horses,” Marohn said. “I don’t even think we got a check. I think we finished sixth, but you might have thought I won.”
Actual wins began coming with frequency in 2009 when Jim won 200 races and $1 million for the first time. He won more than 300 from 2012 to 2018, including a stretch of 400-plus wins from 2015-17. His earnings climbed as high as $5.28 million in 2018 and he also won more than $5 million a year earlier when he reached a career-high 496 victories.
This season, Marohn has garnered 120 wins and $1.37 million in earnings. He drove at Freehold until it closed for the season, is a regular at Yonkers, and will drive at Pocono this summer.
When asked about his highlights during a career now in its 20th year, the affable driver responded that the sum of his work is what makes him proudest.
“I’ve had some big wins, one might be bigger than the other, one horse might be bigger than the other; but I actually like the fact that when I look back on my career, I’ve been to a lot of places, and every place I’ve been to I’ve done real well,” Marohn said. “Overall, that can describe how a career is going. I’ve gotten good horses everywhere I’ve went and done well everywhere.”
Marohn’s accomplishments include driving titles at Tioga Downs and Monticello Raceway. Through it all, his dad has made a lasting impression. Marohn feels the best advice Jim Sr. provided was not about when to pull the plugs, but how to stay mentally tough.
“He’s had a big impact,” Marohn said. “He instilled some things in me real early in my career that I still stick to by this day, and that’s you’ve really got to learn to turn the page in this game. If you drive a bad race, don’t carry it over to your next race. Things happen and you’ve got to go into every race with an even head and just a good outlook.”
Jim Jr. has taken that advice to another level. He turns a bad day into inspiration for the next day.
“It’s almost kind of a weird mindset I have,” Marohn said. “When I don’t have a good night, I can’t wait to get back in the paddock the next day, more than if I have a good night. Truthfully, I don’t like too many days off either. I like racing a lot. When I do race enough and get a little tired, I like one, two, maybe three days off. After that, I’m stir crazy.”
Marohn is in the midst of a slight break with Yonkers being closed this week and is anxious to get back. His next win will be a milestone, but he is looking well beyond that.
“It’s still fun,” he said. “I look forward to it every day. Even though every day isn’t great, some days are better than others. I still get excited every day going into the paddock to race. I try to race as much as I can. My body, thank God, is in good shape. I stay in good shape. Even though I’ve got a lot of starts in me I’m not beat up, I take care of myself. I try to do the right thing by myself by working out and eating right. I definitely have a lot more to go.”