Hundreds of years ago, the Romans and Greeks gathered in stadiums to watch thrilling chariot races. As the crowds cheered, brave charioteers risked their lives in precarious carriages at breakneck speeds. The rewards for winning were plentiful, but the dangerous sport was not for the faint of heart.
Chariot racing continues to this day, and it is still a potentially treacherous endeavor for both horse and driver. Today, the horses pull carts called “sulkys.” Crashes and rollovers are common. New York entrepreneur and horseman Sam Stathis saw an opportunity to improve upon the ancient sport by making the chariots safer and faster. He modeled his new carts after sports cars. Stathis showed off his modern interpretation of the ancient chariots at the 111th U.S. Open Polo Championship April 19 in Wellington.
“The chariots look like Lamborghinis, Ferraris and Maseratis,” Stathis said. “They’re modeled after exotic cars. There is space to put advertising. They are much safer. Many accidents are caused when the wheels lock up on the jock cart. I’ve been in an accident and I wanted to prevent that from happening again. We’ve built the chariots to be safer, more aerodynamic, lighter and sexier.”
Inspired by Formula 1 and Nascar, Stathis hopes to rebrand and reenergize the sport of harness racing to the same level as any professional spectator sport. He started the World Chariot Racing Federation (www.worldchariot.org) as a way to promote the resurgence of the sport and foster worldwide competition. He wants to market harness racing as more eco-friendly than racing cars, but just as exciting.
“I came up with the idea of combining Formula 1 with harness racing,” he said. “It’s about thrill seeking and entertainment, rather than gambling. The existing model is too focused on gambling. It’s not set up to be watched. It’s not televised. There are very few sponsors. I saw a big opportunity.”
Stathis also is an inventor, business owner and engineer. Another project he’s working on is the creation of energy while the horses race, and using the excitement of racing to get kids interested in science, engineering and alternative energy.
“The latest versions (of the sulkys) have generators,” Stathis said. “When you exercise your horse or race, they create electricity. I don’t believe the amount of energy we’re creating is going to save the planet, but it’s a tremendous teaching tool for students to learn about inverters and charging and battery systems, which is a first step into electric cars and alternative energy. I started competitions at the high school level. The first one is a design competition. The second one is a build competition. The third one is to see who can produce the most electricity. At the end, we race them.”
Like many people in the equestrian world, Stathis loves speed. He plans to keep promoting chariot racing until it is as popular as auto racing.
“I’m a thrill seeker,” he said. “I fly planes and race cars, boats and motorcycles. There is nothing like racing a horse. You need your own human athletic skills, the mechanical component of the cart, and the equine component. It’s very thrilling.”