(WOODSTOCK, VA — 9/23/2020) — When Winston Lineweaver got in the sulky behind Hillbillys All In at the Virginia Harness Horse Association’s Matinee Meet in early September, he was preparing to drive the two-year-old trotter in his first career start.
The outing wasn’t just any ordinary start for the 77-year-old trainer/driver. That moment, at the Shenandoah County Fairgrounds, marked his first return to action since having a heart attack on the same track four years prior.
On October 2, 2016, — the first year Shenandoah Downs started racing — Lineweaver directed Outsmart Me to a third-place finish among a field of seven pacers in a non-winners of one event. The Mauertown, Virginia native crossed the finish line and continued on to the backstretch. That’s when his daughter Dee knew something was wrong.
“Dad finished the race but when he went to pull the colt up, he got tangled in the stirrup,” she recalled. “The colt knew that he was loose and went towards the fence. When the colt stopped, it jarred Dad out of the bike where he was stuck and he landed on track.”
Through a series of fortunate and timely occurrences, tragedy was averted. Track Superintendent John Dale Thomas and his assistant Robert “Bear” Laster arrived on the scene first. “I saw him roll off his bike so as soon as we got to him, Bear started pumping his chest.” said Thomas.
Joey Mapes, who finished right behind Lineweaver and was the only driver who had not yet turned around to go back to the draw gate, stopped and called for the track ambulance which was based nearby. “The attendants checked on him for a bit to try to get him aroused,” said daughter Dee. “Scott Woogen, who is a doctor and also drove in the race, came to assist and noticed immediately he was in AFib (Atrial Fibrillation). “As soon as he figured out what was going on, they shocked him and brought him back.”
Lineweaver was immediately transported to the local hospital, then was transferred to Winchester where he spent ten days recovering and got a pacemaker installed.
“Talking to the judge afterwards,” Dee added, “He noticed that Dad dropped his leg out of the stirrup at the third fraction and kind of leaned to one side, so he thought something was wrong but didn’t know for sure until he didn’t turn around to go back to the paddock.”
Lineweaver’s health got better and better as he recovered, and his doctor finally told him he could drive again. During the Matinee Meet, he piloted Hillbillys All In to a fourth-place finish on the first day and a runner-up finish two days later during the meet finale. “I felt like I was back home again,” he said afterwards.
“I watched the man take his last breath and four years later, here he is competing again,” said Thomas. “Before the race started, I went to the ambulance and made them aware of his prior heart attack and they thanked me for the heads up. We were on pins and needles during the race.”
“Dad was smiling all week about being back in the sulky,” said Dee, who serves as Race Secretary for both the Matinee Meet and the Shenandoah Downs extended season. “His horse raced good both days and learned a lot. He was tickled pink.”
Lineweaver has competed in racing most of his life, many of which were spent on the Pennsylvania fair circuit where his other daughter Joyce currently competes. Since 1977, he has driven 1,628 winners. His best year was in 1980 when he made 503 starts for purse money and had 70 wins, good for a $135,903 bankroll. Lineweaver also made 56 matinee starts that year.
This summer, he spent time with his two grandchildren — Dee’s kids — who helped out with duties and chores at the farm. Weston turns 16 in November and Margaret is 14. “They both enjoy racing and wanted to jog Hillbillys All In at the farm, but he’s just a two-year-old and they need more experience before they can do that,” he said.
If either grandchild bites, it would create a fourth generation in the sport. “I remember when I was their age,” said Dee. “My mother (Eileen) preached to me about finding something else to do, that horse racing wouldn’t be around to make a living in. Luckily that has not been the case. It’s tough being a horseman these days though. If my kids want to pursue it and it’s in their blood, I’m fine with it. I’ve told them they need to go to school and learn a trade but no matter what they choose to do, they need to pay bills and take care of their family. Both worked at Shenandoah Downs last year and enjoyed it. Horsemen actually fought over their services on race day.”
Lineweaver’s pacer, who is trained by Wayne Long for Ellen Warren, will start in a Virginia Breeder’s $4,000 elimination race on Saturday (September 26) and he is expected to be back in the race bike. The family’s third-generation daughters will have the final say though.
“As a daughter, it’s scary to think about,” said Dee. “It would be scary for any daughter to watch their Dad do something he previously had a heart attack doing. And it’s at the same place where he laid on the track and had to have his heart revived. It’s gut wrenching to say the least. The atmosphere at an extended meet is also different than it is at a Fair or matinee meet, which tends to be more friendly and less stressful.”
“You know, my daughters pretty much tell me everything I can and can’t do these days, ” joked Winston. Come Saturday, he’s hoping both agree to let him try to reach the winners circle for the first time since 2016.
Update after September 26: WInston Lineweaver did indeed compete in the Virginia Breeder’s $4,000 elimination race and finished sixth in the eight horse field.