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Nearly 150 years around the track

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CONCENTRATION: Drivers wear a look of concentration as they drive toward the finish line.
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THE PACK: Drivers urge their horses to go faster and break away from the pack to victory.

By Leeann Doerflein - news@times.com

For 149 years harness drivers have hitched their wheeled carts up to their best horses and raced around the track at Clinton County Fairgrounds.

For Pam Royer, the Clinton County Fair Council’s Race Secretary, and her crew of volunteers, keeping up the track throughout the year has been a labor of love.

Royer is a former racer who has been around the sport since she was five.

“I’ve been around these fairgrounds and racing since 1962,” Royer said. “It gets in your blood and you just want to keep doing it.”

According to some racers, the harness racing track at the Clinton County Fairgrounds is among the best. Bob Wyman, a 30-year harness racer of Nappanee, said the track is one of his favorite fairgrounds racetracks to visit.

“I think the Frankfort track is one of the best,” Wyman said. “I think a lot of people like to race here because of it.”

Further proof of popularity is also found in the sheer amount of horses and racers who attend, Royer said. On Saturday, there were 22 races throughout the afternoon.

Royer said the track also attracts a lot of talent and some very fast horses, with out-of-the-gate speeds reaching toward 40 miles per hour. Current track records are at one minute, 57 seconds, which makes the Clinton County track “among the fastest half miles in the state,” Royer said.

Each year, the track hosts five races – two before the fair, two during the fair and one in fall. Though the crowd is not always large these days, the sport still has many devotees.

Royer said harness racing has all the excitement of NASCAR without the flash and with the added touch of getting a glimpse at the looks of grit and determination as drivers lead their horses around the track.

“I think if people would come they would enjoy it,” Royer said. “The era has changed, people are busier, and a lot of people don’t know what the race is anymore. But new people who come are excited by it. It’s fun to watch.”

Royer said the race committee and the fair council are already working on new ways to pull in new fans and raise awareness of the sport for the 150-year celebration during next year’s fair.