By Duane Ranger
Seven months after tragedy hit his family, one of Queensland’s top reinsman, is still not ready to grace the racetrack.
In fact, we may never see Gary Whitaker driving as a professional again. The 40-year-old said he was still traumatised by the accident which left him, and his children Lara (3) and Josh (18 months) fighting for their lives in separate hospitals in Brisbane.
“It’s still a mental thing with me. I’m not sure I’ll ever get over it, but even talking to you is helping me deal with these issues lot better.
“I’m almost ready to come back to the track and talk to all the wonderful people in the industry, but I’ll doubt I’ll ever be a professional driver again.
“I love the game and Joedy (wife) has horses and I enjoy working with them at home, perhaps in an amateur form you might see me back, but for now it’s all about focusing on my family and doing what’s right for them,” the Kensington Grove (Hatton Vale) father-of-two said.
Just before 7pm on March 24 at Redcliffe Paceway, the arm of the pace car unfortunately came into contact with the three Whitakers. ‘Dad’ was holding his daughter at the time. They were all left with severe head injuries’, with little Lara left fighting for her life.
“Josh and I have fully recovered. Josh had a fractured skull and is fine now. We both have thick heads,” he joked. “Lara is a super, happy little girl. She’s not fully recovered though, and still needs a few operations on her eyes.
Whitaker said harness racing had been in his blood since he left Springwood High School in the late 1990s.
“We are breeding out of our 13-year-old Malabar Maple mare, Calder Luck, and Shes No Fake. I’ve been doing a bit of riding and also helping Joedy out with her horses, including 7-year-old Federal Flex gelding, No Transactions,” Whitaker.
The couple work their horses out of Lowland Lodge.
“I actually named our place after Lowland. He was my first race-day winner, and the first one I trained. That was at Darling Downs on December 19, 1997.
Since then Whitaker has had more than 10,000 drives and won almost 1,200 races and netted $5 million in stakes.
He notched up his 1,000th career win behind the Bill Crosby trained Constantly Sideways at Albion Park on February 23, 2016.
Whitaker said he wasn’t really born into a harness racing family.
“Dad (Geoff) was a penciller for bookmakers as a young man, and in later life he owned the handy pacer Warman.”
While still at school he spent his spare time with trainer/driver Philip Dean, and was then employed by the late John Kann, who at his peak was one of Brisbane’s top trainers.
Whitaker said he then went to Egmont Park/ Goldrush Lodge for three years working under Mark Lichtwark. He then ventured out on his own before being employed by Bill Dixon at Stapleton.
“After that I went to Victoria for three years from 2005 to 2008, and have been back here since. I didn’t have much luck down there, and have worked for Bill Crosby since coming home.
“But I’ve largely been a freelance driver. I’ve driven three Group One winners I think – Shes No Fake, Lady Whitewater, and Western Mail,” he said.
Whitaker said he had trained a “few” winners over the years, but enjoyed driving more.
“I’ve enjoyed working with trotters over the years. Honky Tonk Hanover was one horse I really enjoyed training. But like I said earlier, these days I enjoy staying in the background and helping Joedy.
“If and when I come back it will be as an amateur, but for now I don’t want to push the envelope. It’s a mental thing with me now,” Whitaker said.
“Deep down though I do miss it,” he added.