The Jug is ‘so special’ for race starter Michael Woebkenberg


The Little Brown Jug and all the other races this week quite literally couldn’t begin without Michael Woebkenberg, who starts each race during the Delaware County Fair.

Before each race begins, Woebkenberg rides in a rear-facing seat of his truck with a custom-built race gate and uses a throttle to accelerate the truck to about 35 miles per hour and make sure all the racers are lined up for a fair start.

“I’ve got about 30 seconds to meld normally eight or nine horses with distinct personalities that want to each do it their way and that many drivers, so I’ve got 30 seconds to meld 18 personalities into a fair and equal start for everybody,” Woebkenberg said.

“Plus, I’m going backwards 35 miles an hour,” Woebkenberg joked.

Woebkenberg said his job is essentially an art form.

“The biggest challenge is to get all the horses on the wing at the same time and to gauge speed,” he said. “You can’t go too fast and you can’t go too slow. It’s in essence an art form because each race is different. You learn every day.”

Woebkenberg said he’s a third generation horse racer and used to train and drive horses, but now starts races all over Ohio.

“I start about 4,000 races a year,” Woebkenberg said. “This is a very, very unique sport. It has a large economic impact on the state of Ohio and there’s no better place to race than right here in Delaware, Ohio. There’s nothing like The Little Brown Jug. It is the epitome of horse racing.”

Woebkenberg said he’s been coming to races in Delaware for 25 years and thinks the races are the most unique sport around.

“This is a sport that has men and women involved; we have a live animal involved; we have betting and you can be involved in this sport from just owning a horse to owning a broodmare and raising your own baby, to learning our amateur events, to learning to train and drive them yourselves. It’s a very unique sport and no other sport has these entities,” Woebkenberg said. “It’s a lot like NASCAR because we’ve got young drivers in flashing colors and wheel to wheel racing, but our motor doesn’t cost a million dollars.”

Woebkenberg said he may be from Preble County, but said Delaware and The Jug are always a special part of his year.

“The atmosphere here is just so special,” Woebkenberg said. “I don’t know how else to describe it. There’s nothing else like it. It’s just such a thrill and a privilege to be here.”

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Race starter Michael Woebkenberg lines up a race during The Jugette on Wednesday morning from the back of his truck with a race gate attached. Woebkenberg said he has to accelerate the truck at the right speed to keep the horses together for a fair and equal start.
http://www.delgazette.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/40/2017/09/web1_DSC_0646.jpgRace starter Michael Woebkenberg lines up a race during The Jugette on Wednesday morning from the back of his truck with a race gate attached. Woebkenberg said he has to accelerate the truck at the right speed to keep the horses together for a fair and equal start. Glenn Battishill | The Gazette

By Glenn Battishill

gbattishill@delgazette.com

Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.