Windsor native and harness racing driver Jason Bartlett is returning to the World Driving Championships after a four-year hiatus.

Bartlett leaves for France today and will race a series of harness races against international competition over the next 10 days. He’ll stay in Paris with his wife Kristen and race at various tracks around the country where the sport is quite popular.

“It’s bigger in other countries (than the U.S.),” he said. “There will be a lot more people in the stands than there are here.”

Bartlett, who graduated from Erskine Academy, grew up around his grandfather’s horses in Windsor and soon became one of the top drivers in the state. He moved on to full-time racing at Yonkers Raceway in New York in 2007 and has since won three track championships. Through the end of May, Bartlett was fourth among Yonkers drivers with 93 wins and $1,771,151 in purse earnings. Brian Sears is first with 242 wins and $3,938, 032.

An influx of drivers from the Meadowlands and other tracks has tightened the competition at Yonkers, Bartlett said, and top horses are much harder to come by.

“You don’t get the pick of the litter like before,” said Bartlett, who added, “it’s going good. I’m making a living.”

Bartlett, 32, drove in the World championships in 2009 in Norway where he finished sixth. He was scheduled to represent the U.S. in 2011 but was unable to participate after getting in a car accident.

“They let me have it back this year,” he said.

The competition takes place over five of six days with four races a day and involves 12 drivers. Horses are drawn through a lottery and the racing is quite different from the sort Bartlett sees in the states. First, horses begin from a walk-up start with no gate and distances vary to as long as two miles. And on a couple of the French tracks, horses race clockwise rather than counter clockwise as they do here.

“My experience in Norway will help me because it’s similar racing,” Bartlett said. “It’s a lot different from what we do here. We race a lot more.”

Bartlett competes six nights a week most of the year, five of those at Yonkers, and during the summer months he goes every night.

“We go a lot more single file,” Bartlett said. “They kind of go two wide the whole way. If you’re third or fourth on the rail, you may never get out.”

There will be a couple of days to visit cultural sites in Paris during his stay, one Bartlett is looking forward to.

“It’s a great experience,” he said. “You get to represent your country, which is always a huge honor.”

Gary Hawkins — 621-5638

[email protected]

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