Meadowlands Racetrack Pioneer Joseph A. DeFrank Dies, 87

Joseph A. DeFrank Jr. (DeFrancesco) of Lake Pleasant, NY — who helped pioneer North Jersey's famed Meadowlands Racetrack — passed away peacefully at home on Dec. 12. He was 87 years old.

Joe DeFrank was the former director of racing at the Meadowlands and the Garden State Park Racetrack.
Joe DeFrank was the former director of racing at the Meadowlands and the Garden State Park Racetrack. Photo Credit: Contributed by the DeFrank Family

Born in Holley, NY on Aug. 27, 1933 to Joseph Sr. and Florence DeFrank, he was a proud member of the U.S. Army and a 50-year member of the American Legion Post 529 Holley.

Beyond the racing world, Joe’s main priority was his family, who he loved wholeheartedly. 

Joe and his wife Beryl loved gardening and cooking together. They spent their retirement years enjoying the beauty of the Adirondacks from their lovely home in Butternut Hill in Lake Pleasant. From the garden came many vegetables and herbs to complete the home-cooked pasta dishes the family enjoyed so much.

Joe fell in love with harness racing at Batavia Downs and that is where he met his mentor and lifelong friend, Don D’Andrea. In 1956, Don recommended to the late Hall-of-Famer Jim Lynch that Joe be given a chance to be an assistant in the race office at Hilliard’s Raceway in Ohio.
That was just the start of a long career that took him to the race office at other tracks, including Baltimore Raceway, Green Mountain Park, Grandview Raceway, Painesville Raceway, Northfield Park, Windsor Raceway, Freehold, Brandywine and Ponce DeLeon.

Joe was hired by the late Delvin Miller to help start The Meadows in 1963. In 1976, while Joe was working as the director of racing at Windsor Raceway, Bob Quigley enticed him to leave to become the director of racing at a new racetrack across the Hudson River from New York City: The Meadowlands Racetrack, which came under the auspices of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority.

Joe encouraged a young driver named John Campbell to join him in leaving Windsor and ply his trade at "the Big M," resulting in both eventually being honored with induction into harness racing’s Hall of Fame in Goshen, NY. While at the Meadowlands, Joe created races such as the Meadowlands Pace and Woodrow Wilson, both of which offered purses of more than $1 million — the Woodrow Wilson purse also reached as high as $2 million, the most ever offered in the sport. Joe was also instrumental in bringing the Hambletonian from the Midwest to the Meadowlands in 1981.

In addition to his duties at the Meadowlands, when Garden State Park Racetrack in Cherry Hill opened in 1985, Joe was named director of racing. One of the major races he brought to that track was the 1988 March of Dimes Trot. The field included the North American star Mack Lobell and foreign standout Ourasi, with the event turning out to be what many consider to be the sport’s greatest race ever.

Joe was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1994 with presenter Stan Bergstein, a former race secretary himself, noting “I realized quickly and instinctively that he was going places. I simply underestimated how far he was going, how fast he was going, and how impressively he would get there.

"No one in our business has mastered his craft more completely, elevated its power and stature, introduced more new ideas, commanded more respect or ruled with such absolute power as the man we now honor.”

Throughout the years Joe received many awards honoring his talent and innovative style for the sport of Harness Racing which he loved so much.

Relatives and friends are invited to call from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 19 at the William J. Burke & Sons/Bussing & Cunniff Funeral Home located at 628 N. Broadway, Saratoga Springs, NY. 

A funeral home service will be conducted following calling hours at 2 PM. A private burial with military honors will be held in the spring in Lake Pleasant, NY. In lieu of flowers, donations in memory of Joe may be made to the Michael J Fox Foundation or The Harness Racing Museum & Hall of Fame invGoshen NY.

He is survived by his loving wife of 39 years, Beryl DeFrank; his children Greg DeFrank (Beth), Doug DeFrank (Betsy), Michelle Goudreau (Mike) and Terri Fanton (Gary); his grandchildren Shelly Goudreau, Jr. (Samantha), Jamie Fanton, Dani Fanton, Nicala Visscher and Scott Visscher (Tiffany); his great grandchildren Noah Goudreau, Taryn Fanton and Korban Goudreau and his siblings Madelyn Welsh, Dale DeFrank (Ellen), Scott DeFrancesco and Todd DeFrank. Joe was predeceased by son-in- law Shelly Goudreau, daughter Beverley Visscher (Mark) and siblings Gary DeFrank and Roger DeFrancesco (Kathy).

Online remembrances may be made at William J. Burke & Sons/Bussing & Cunniff Funeral Home.

This obituary is provided by William J. Burke & Sons/Bussing & Cunniff Funeral Home.

to follow Daily Voice Rutherford and receive free news updates.