FROM UNITED STATES HARNESS WRITERS ASSOCIATION—GOSHEN, NY – Results from the balloting for harness racing’s highest honor, membership in the Harness Racing Hall of Fame, and from the balloting for the Communicators Hall of Fame, have been tabulated and certified.
Four candidates have received the sport’s highest honor, election into the Harness Racing Hall Of Fame: Tom Charters, of the Hambletonian Society and Breeders Crown; Jeff Gural, racetrack executive and owner/breeder; Bill Popfinger, a respected horseman for over half a century; and Tim Tetrick, who has set new standards for harness racing sulky success before reaching the age of 40.
In addition, Phil Pikelny, noted primarily as an author and a publicist for the U.S. Trotting Association and Columbus (OH)’s Scioto Downs, and Ken Weingartner, the USTA’s Media Relations Manager, have been elected into the Harness Racing Communicators Hall of Fame.
The Hall of Famers achieved their distinction by getting 75%+ of the “yes-no” ballots distributed in mid-summer; eligible for voting for the Hall of Famers were qualified members of USHWA and the existing Hall of Fame members. Those on the ballot were decided by the USHWA Screening Committee from the nominations of the Writers’ chapters.
Tom Charters worked his way through the ranks in harness racing, starting out as a caretaker (among his charges was Horse of the Year Delmonica Hanover) before becoming a racing secretary. In 1984 the Hambletonian Society hired Charters as executive director of the Breeders Crown, a newly-created series of season-end championship races, and his work in establishing the Crowns as signature events led to his being named executive director of the Society in 1994, then being promoted in 1998 to president and chief executive officer.
Charters’ tireless work in such diverse fields as increasing racing handle, simulcasting and television production, international racing, and brand name establishment, plus the temperament to juggle all of these jobs along with dealing the wide range of personalities at the highest levels of the sport, firmly established him as one of the captains of the industry.
Jeff Gural was a longtime racing fan, owner, and breeder, associated with Allerage Farms, Little E LLC, and other equine partnerships, along with proprietorship of New York’s Vernon Downs and Tioga Downs racetracks, when he undertook the monumental task of leading the privatization of the sport’s flagship track in North America, The Meadowlands, away from a state-run operation of New Jersey.
Enlisting the aid of many of the sport’s top figures in addition to large investments of his own money, time, and expertise, Gural has been the directing force of the revitalization of the mile oval, with a new grandstand built on the old backstretch side of the track, a facility and the parallel racing program aimed squarely at maximizing revenue for all of racing’s interlinked parties in today’s changing, challenging gaming environment.
Bill Popfinger has been a horseman for over 50 years, going from success at smaller tracks to operating a powerful Grand Circuit stable, and he continues his winning tradition today. Popfinger first hit the harness limelight 50 years when he guided Lady B Fast to an upset win over the great trotters Fresh Yankee and Nevele Pride at Yonkers.
He cemented his stardom with his famous daring early move to the lead with Happy Escort, “the lights on, the horn honking, and the pedal to the metal,” to defeat heavy favorites Falcon Almahurst and Flight Director in the 1978 Little Brown Jug raceoff.
That quote also cemented Popfinger’s nickname of “Showbiz,” and over the years he campaigned such marquee horses as Happy Motoring, Praised Dignity, Spellbound Hanover, Say Hello, and Spicy Charlie.
Tim Tetrick, at age 37, has already become one of only four drivers to have driven the winners of over $200 million in his career, and few doubt he will contend for the top spot, John Campbell’s $299M+ career total, before all is done – after all, any possible mishaps may not slow a man who already has two “bionic hips” after replacement surgery.
Also the single-season money recordholder for a driver with $19.7M in 2008, Tetrick also produces quantity with quality, driving his 11,000th winner earlier this year, putting him ninth all-time, fifth among active drivers, and second in the 2019 dashwinning standings.
The list of top horses associated with Tetrick is too long to mention here, but it is fairly safe to say that when it comes to Breeders Crown time and the selection of year-end award winners, the name “Tetrick” will be associated with several of the champions.
To determine the Communicators Hall of Famers, chapter nominees were whittled down to five finalists by a blue-ribbon panel of USHWAns, and then the organization’s directors selected two of that quintet for placement on the summer election ballot. They too were elected by winning 75%+ of the “yes-no” ballots returned, with all Active members of USHWA eligible to vote.
Phil Pikelny was first noticed by harness executive Stan Bergstein while still at Northwestern University. He worked for the Horseman and Fair World, then at age 23 he became the youngest national publicity director in any sport when joining the U.S. Trotting Association.
During that period he authored, with Don Evans, the book Rambling Willie: The Horse That God Loved, about the sport’s first double millionaire, who had his earnings tithed to an Ohio church. He then was publicity director at Scioto Downs for a number of years. He was the president of the Harness Publicists Association, and the president of the Ohio Chapter of USHWA.
Ken Weingartner first went to the harness races with his father “before I could walk,” and upon returning to his native New Jersey after college and early newspaper work, his harness racing stories attracted the notice of the U.S. Trotting Association, for whom he now works as Media Relations Manager, writing stories about the leading horses and humans in the sport and conducting the national Top 10 weekly balloting.
Weingartner received the Allen Finkelson Golden Pen Award for excellence in harness racing publicity, and also has been honored by Harness Horsemen International.
The honorees will first be publicly honored at the USHWA Dan Patch Banquet, to be held on Sunday, February 23, 2020 at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort in Orlando FL, where the Halls of Famers will take their first ensemble bow during the banquet honoring the top humans and equines of the previous year’s racing.
Then comes next July 5’s formal induction to the Halls of Fame, at a dinner set just outside the building in which their likeness will be placed to immortalize their selection as harness racing’s best of the best.