Nathan Dawson drives into the record books after sparkling 2023

The year 2023 has yielded hundreds of winners, Group 1 victories and an Australian Drivers Championship title, among other prestigious achievements, for leading Queensland reinsman Nathan Dawson.

They are all milestones he will cherish for the rest of his career in a campaign that has delivered the top driver more than 400 victories.

There might be one moment during the year of 2023 that stands out above the rest, however.

The 28-year-old Sunshine State driver became just the second ever reinsman in Australia to tick past 400 winners for a term when he achieved the tally at Redcliffe last week.

Nathan stands alongside champion harness man Chris Alford in the ‘400 club’.

Born into the racing caper, Nathan has looked up to Alford his entire life.

Alford was in town over the weekend for the Inter Dominion decider and when Nathan was able to chat with the legend of the game and take a photo with him – that was extra special.

“He has looked up to Chris Alford all through his driving career and now he is in the 400 club with him,” Nathan’s partner Samantha Barletta said.

“For him the other day to get that message from Chris saying that he thought Nathan had done well – I think that was pretty meaningful to him.”

Nathan is a quietly spoken and a modest man.

Leading Queensland reinsman Nathan Dawson.

The nod of approval from the great Alford gave him a sense of satisfaction.

“It was a point where Nathan went ‘wow, I am really achieving something here’ to be standing next to one of my heroes in the sport,” Barletta said.

“He is very humble Nathan and down plays it all but something like that is meaningful.”

Nathan’s mum Wynetta saw him idolise Alford – who is nicknamed ‘The Puppet’ – from his earliest days following the sport.

“He has always looked up to Chris Alford and for him to drive as many as him, he would be very proud of that and being up in that league,” Wynetta said.

Earlier this month Nathan became the first Queensland driver and just the second in the country to reach 400 in a season.

Alford is the only other driver to have achieved the feat, having reached the number twice in the 2017-18 and 2018-19 racing seasons with 456 and 420 winners respectively.

With a week to go in 2023, Nathan can nip away at the total to try and reach his idol at 420.

Still yet to turn 30 years of age, Nathan has built towards his record campaign as his career has progressed and blossomed.

He has often been ‘second fiddle’ in the Sunshine State driving ranks behind his cousin Pete McMullen as ‘Leader Pete’ has broken record after record.

Nathan has gone past 200 winners in four of the last five seasons before his big breakout year in 2023.

Leading Queensland reinsman Nathan Dawson driving at Redcliffe.

Barletta believes that the current season is not by chance, but that Nathan has been progressing and growing every year to reach his ‘peak performance’.

“He has not achieved what he has this year just in this year,” Barletta said.

“It has been years of hard work and dedication and he has really matured as a driver and it has showed this year.

“He has put everything that he has learnt over the years into this year, he has really grown as a person as well. It has been really good for him to relay that out on the track.”

Barletta has travelled Australia with Nathan this year as he has racked up Group 1 triumphs and special milestones.

But, back home in Queensland, Nathan’s family have watched on every day and beamed with pride throughout.

Glenn and Wynetta – Nathan’s parents – as well as his two siblings lead the charge alongside the entire harness-mad clan.

While chuffed with Nathan’s results on the track, Wynetta is often reminded by people within the industry that she has raised a polite and respectful young man.

“I could not be prouder of him, the man that he has turned out to be and his work ethic,” Wynetta said.

“He works so hard and treats every person with respect that he deals with. I am really proud of what he has achieved and the man that he has grown to be.

Leading Queensland reinsman Nathan Dawson in the sulky behind Not As Promised.

“I think he is well respected within the industry and that is all you can ask for as a parent. He stops and talks to everyone and will help anyone.”

Glenn and Wynetta as well as Nathan’s first boss – his uncle John McMullen – both regard his weight loss in his younger years as the turning point in his driving career.

Almost a decade ago, Nathan slimmed down from around the 110kg mark down to around 75kgs.

Glenn drove in races previously himself while Wynetta was also heavily involved in the game.

Nathan and his siblings would drive Shetland ponies from when they were just eight years of age.

Wynetta initially told a young Nathan that he should pursue a career outside the harness racing industry.

“Maybe he is trying to prove his mum wrong after I told him that he could never make a living as a driver,” Wynetta said with a smile.

“He has proved his mum wrong and proved he can make it. As well as driving 400 winners, I think he should be really proud of himself on a personal level.”

Wynetta made sure she was at the track to see Nathan record the special 300-winner milestone as that was her son’s initial goal for the year.

He never could have dreamed he would go past 400 victories.

Glenn and Wynetta showcase some of Nathan's achievements in the bike.

Nathan joked to his mum that she might jinx him if she was at the races as he neared the 300 win mark so Wynetta made sure she not visible on course before the number was achieved.

“He has just been trying to achieve his goals,” Wynetta said.

“Normally every year he sets himself a little goal he would like to achieve for the year and he does it.

“This year it may have been a bigger one but he has worked really hard and achieved it.”

Star juvenile trotter Not As Promised has taken Nathan around the country chasing elite level success this year.

As he had to give up local drives to head interstate with Not As Promised, as well as competing in the Australian Drivers Championship in Tasmania, Nathan’s win tally could be much higher if he had remained and just driven in his own backyard every week.

As the media spotlight and attention has grown as Nathan’s winners tally has risen through the year, Barletta says he has remained his cool, calm and collected self throughout and focussed on the task at hand.

While Nathan is as humble as they get, his parents and partner both believe that deep down he would be immensely proud of his achievements this season.

Glenn thinks 2023 will forever be Nathan’s legacy in the sport in Queensland as the 400 winner mark is unlikely to be repeated any time soon, he thinks.

Leading Queensland reinsman Nathan Dawson.

Leading Queensland reinsman Nathan Dawson.
Glenn believes Nathan has matured as a driver in recent years as he was often regarded as being ‘too competitive’ early on and now he drives in a more considered manner.

Uncle John saw his son break records just a couple of years ago and now he can sit back and enjoy his hard-working nephew do the same.

“Nathan was always a pretty good driver from the word go,” John McMullen said.

“He was a great kid and he has been one of the best workers I have ever had at my stable.

“My son Pete has got the 300 winners in a season and for Nathan to get 400 plus, it is just incredible.”

Nathan worked for John McMullen for a decade, starting out as a 15-year-old.

Glenn and Wynetta both credit John McMullen as being a key influence on their son’s journey.

As Barletta also works in harness racing, she has been along for the ride every day with her partner.

“This has been a dream season and it may never happen again so we need to appreciate it while we are in it,” the proud Barletta said.

By Jordan Gerrans​