Trenton, NJ — After hitting career highs in wins and earnings in 2019,seemed on his way to breaking both of those marks again last year until the COVID-19 shutdown hit. He still finished with strong numbers, and has carried that momentum into this season.
Racing predominantly atduring the week and on weekends, Siegelman has won 54 races in 2021, a total that ranks 10th in North America. He is the leading driver at Freehold Raceway, where his 43 victories put him 18 ahead of second-place Jim Marohn Jr.
“I think it’s been a good start,” said Siegelman, who won the driving title at Freehold last year. “I wish I won a few more races at Yonkers to start, but that’s all right.”
Nonetheless, he is happy with the progress he’s made over the years, which includes winning the $100,000 Potomac Pace Invitational last year with Leonidas A.
“It’s getting to a point where I’m extremely confident on the racetrack,” he said. “I’m starting to get a little more finesse than I used to have and getting a little more polished than I used to be.”
Siegelman, who turns 29 on Saturday, has been steadily climbing the ladder since receiving the 2013 Rising Star Award from the Monticello-Goshen chapter of the U.S. Harness Writers Association. That was his first full year of driving and he won 90 races and earned $538,079 in 752 starts.
From there, he would win over $1 million each of the next four years. He cracked 300 wins and $2 million in earnings for the first time in 2018 and exploded in 2019 with career-highs in starts (2,587), wins (323), and earnings ($3.63 million).
He seemed ready to surpass those marks last year before the pandemic hit.
“It was pretty disappointing to finally get rolling and to get shut down like that but, it happens, so no big deal,” the laidback driver said. “I didn’t find it hard to get back in a rhythm when we started again, but it was definitely different. There was less work available, less purse money. Just a lot of less.”
In 2018, Siegelman’s main track was Monticello, and he began to drive at Freehold toward the end of the year with hopes of getting steady drives at Yonkers. That schedule slowly morphed into becoming a regular at Yonkers during weeknights and at Freehold on Fridays and Saturdays.
He is hoping to get some drives at The Meadowlands, and possibly The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono and Harrah’s Philadelphia.
“My Saturdays just opened up; Yonkers changed its schedule, so they picked up Wednesday instead of Saturday a few weeks ago,” he said. “I’ve been throwing around the idea of racing in Pennsylvania and still doing Yonkers at night.”
Siegelman will remain at Freehold, where he won 85 times in 2019 to capture the driving title.
“Doing it at Freehold is a little different,” he said. “Usually, you’re driving for different people every race and it’s not just one barn, so that’s always nice.”
When it comes to getting on a roll like that, Siegelman said, “You’re just thinking how to win the next one.”
There is, however, some confidence that starts to build.
“Oh yeah, absolutely,” he said. “Once you start to win a few, it kind of helps the train get rolling a little bit.”
Siegelman began driving at Freehold since its day racing fit well with his schedule. It has turned into a nice little haven for him.
“I feel very comfortable over at that track,” he said. “The atmosphere is a little more laid back.”
He is now looking to conquer Yonkers the way he has at Freehold.
“I like Yonkers, it’s tough,” he said. “I consider Yonkers my main track now. Even though I don’t win five a night at Yonkers, I’m there every night.”
Siegelman, who lists winning the Potomac Pace last year and “just making it this far,” as some of his biggest accomplishments, says his goal this year would be to get 100 wins at every track he races regularly. But for the most part, he is taking it drive by drive.
“Right now, I’m happy with where I’m at,” Siegelman said. “I drive for the overnight guys now. But when I’m ready (for stakes races), I’ll be ready for that.”
Austin is the son of trainer James Siegelman, who he still goes to for advice.
“We’re living in two separate places right now, but he still helps me out a lot,” Siegelman said. “I talk to him every night. He’ll criticize me every night or tell me I did good every night.”
Slowly but surely, he’s earning more praise with each of those talks.
by Rich Fisher, for the USTA