Driver Robert McNeight’s comeback from a near fatal car accident in March 2022 reached new heights today during the Shenandoah County Fair’s meet kickoff card, in Woodstock, Va. The 37-year-old captured two trotting races aboard trainer Lou Goans’ Feathers Finale and Show The Will — his second and third fair wins since returning to action July 17 with a QF license — after spending 13 years away from the sport.
McNeight last drove professionally in 2009 and 2010 at Harrington Raceway and Dover Downs before leaving the business and moving to Texas. He had previously competed at Buffalo Raceway and Batavia Downs from 2004 to that point. Twelve years after he called it quits, he sustained multiple injuries from the car accident, including a shattered pelvis and five broken bones in his spine. He was in a coma for a while afterwards, almost lost his left hand, had reconstructive surgery on his face, and had to learn to walk again.
Robert McNeight scored a driving double on Wendesday’s opening card of the Shenandoah (Va.) County Fair. Darrell Wood photo.
“The fact that I’m doing this is pretty amazing,” said McNeight. “It’s been a long year. It feels good to be back in the bike doing this. I’ve always needed that adrenaline in my life and am glad I can still get it.”
McNeight connected in the fifth race with Teresa Heinnickel’s Feathers Finale, who had been competing at The Meadows this year. The 4-year-old Winning Mister mare won easily, leaving her other four competitors in the rear-view mirror.
Two races later, McNeight scored again with a 4-year-old Possess The Will gelding named Show The Will, who edged Gaareat Gaazoo by a head at the wire in 2:01.2.
“That’s the first tight race he’s won in his comeback,” said Goans, referring to McNeight’s remarkable journey. Goans co-owns the winning trotter with McNeight’s mother, Laurie Stark.
McNeight has had 20 fair starts in the last 10 weeks, mainly in Pennsylvania Sire Stakes action. He has three wins, three second-place finishes and seven thirds. He has also driven in three qualifiers at The Meadows.
In other opening day action, Roger Hammer had bookend wins aboard Vicki Lynn Fair’s Little Town Girl in the first race and with Cirrus De Vie — whom he co-owns with Fair — in the finale. The latter authored the afternoon’s fastest mile of 1:57.1. The 8-year-old Real Artist gelding came three-wide from fourth before the final turn and powered home to a nine-length victory, pushing his career earnings to $194,314.
Drivers Tyler Shehan and Billy Carter — mainstays at the Shenandoah Downs fall pari-mutuel meet — reached the winner’s circle twice. Shehan connected with Matthew Kieman’s The Phantom and Thomas Ryan’s Buffet. Both are trained by Tyler’s wife, Marna. Carter scored with a pair of 2-year-olds — Arden Byler’s trotter Speedy Town and Carter’s own pacer Bluebirds Ina, who crossed in 1:58.
The four-day Shenandoah County Fair meet continues Thursday (Aug. 31) through Saturday (Sept. 2) with post time at 12 noon each day. The seven-week Shenandoah Downs pari-mutuel meet kicks off Sept. 16.