Day At The Track

Stan Bergstein, 87, dies

04:26 PM 02 Nov 2011 NZDT
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The late Stan Bergstein
The late Stan Bergstein - stands proudly beside the entry to Harness Tracks Of America
Courtesy of the USTA - USTA/Ed Keys photo

Stanley F. Bergstein, a member of Harness Racing's Living Hall of Fame and longtime executive vice president of Harness Tracks of America, passed away peacefully at home at 4 a.m. this morning, Nov. 2, 2011.

At his side was his son Al, Al's wife, Megan, and a hospice care specialist. Daughter Lisa, her husband Craig, and grandson Michael Hentshel were also in Tucson for the end of Stan's amazing life.

Further details, including funeral arrangements, will be forthcoming.

"I worked with Stan in 1959 and 1960, and he was a dear friend of mine," U.S. Trotting Association President Phil Langley said. "His contributions to harness racing are innumerable and will never be duplicated. The industry has lost a great man. My thoughts are with his son, Al, daughter, Lisa, and their families during this difficult time."

It would be been enough if Bergstein had excelled at one profession, but he was so uniquely gifted that he was a master of many positions. Harness racing has never seen his equal.

First and foremost, he was the longtime executive vice-president of Harness Tracks of America. But he was also writer with few peers, a captivating speaker, an auctioneer, historian, race announcer, and former race secretary. And that's just the beginning.

His presence and his innovations were a dominant force in harness racing for the past half-century.

In the past decade, he has been known for his unwavering quest to restore integrity in harness racing and to eradicate the scourge of illegal drugs that stained the sport's reputation. While others wavered on the subject of integrity and looked to shrug off the subject, Bergstein was steadfast in his comments. He became harness racing's "Mr Integrity."

His strong stands won him countless supporters, but it also won him the enmity of people whose standards for integrity were considerably lower. Just as Abraham Lincoln was hated by the champions of slavery, Bergstein was hated by those who thought integrity in racing wasn't all that essential.

His opinions were seen by a few as being outdated and out of touch, as if integrity in harness racing was a trait that belonged in the sport's past. The vast majority of people in the sport applauded Bergstein's strong stands for honesty.

Bergstein was so admired throughout harness racing that he was the only person honored with induction into both the Living Hall of Fame and the Communicator's Corner at the Harness Racing Museum.

Bergstein's passing leaves a void in the industry that will be impossible to fill.

A native of Pottstown, Pa., Bergstein first learned about harness racing at the local county fairs. He attended Northwestern University in Illinois where he was offered the first television scholarship ever created by Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism.

He worked briefly as a publicist for the world-famous Harlem Globetrotters and traveled with the team extensively. His love of harness racing led him to begin working in the sport in various capacities. He loved telling the story about riding the famous trotting stallion Rodney in California once. He called races at the Chicago tracks, then moved up to race secretary.

It was in his role that Bergstein pioneered the use of claiming races, which were castigated by many harness horsemen. They gained acceptance, however, and they are now the bread-and-butter races for all harness tracks.

In 1961, Bergstein was named executive vice-president of Harness Tracks of America and he masterminded its operations from his office in Chicago. He spearheaded the growth of HTA from just 17 tracks to a high of 50 members.

One of the most popular series in the sport in that era was the HTA events for 4-year-old trotters and pacers. This was a traveling all-star show that allowed the sport's greatest stars to be showcased at tracks across North America. And there were very few HTA races contested where Stan Bergstein was not on the scene to help with the promotion and presentation of the races.

He joined the USTA as its vice president in the late 1960s and launched a series of innovations that were to transform the publicity and promotion of the sport. In his role with Hoof Beats magazine, he was instrumental in the formation of American Horse Publications, an all-breed organization. He served as its second president.

His personal book collection was the most extensive in harness racing and he operated Trotting Book Shop for many years to buy and sell classic works of harness racing literature. In the process, he encouraged many others to become collectors, thus assuring the preservation of rare books for future generations.

If one word could best describe Stan Bergstein's career it would be "innovator." He initiated many programs which have been standard in harness racing for decades. Among them are the John Hervey Awards for journalism, the Harness Publicists Association and Harness Racing Hotline.

He was particularly proud of his role in creating the HTA Art Auction, which annually inspired countless artists to depict harness racing in their work. The auction in Lexington raised money for the HTA's Scholarship Awards.

Bergstein had the most extensive knowledge of Standardbred art of any person in the world and he used that knowledge to organize the event, and also when he was serving as its auctioneer.

He also worked as an auctioneer at many horse sales, developing the rhythmic and rapid cadence by endless repetition.

Bergstein was known and respected far beyond North America as he organized the first World Driving Championship and pioneered the participation of North American horses in major European classics. The leaders of harness organizations in other countries all knew Stan Bergstein to be the one person most identified with American racing.

Harness racing is but a small slice of the overall equine industry, but Bergstein transcended the sport and gave him enormous stature in many horse industry organizations.

To list all of his honors would take pages, but it is his character and commitment to the sport that are most enduring. He could have moved to a rocking chair retirement decades ago, but he labored on for the good of harness racing, suffering the slings and arrows of those who felt that some chicanery could be tolerated in racing. Bergstein simply adhered to higher standards.

Often when a great person dies, it's said that "it's impossible to replace him." In Stan Bergstein's case, harness racing understands how true that is.

from Harness Tracks of America 

Courtesy of the US Trotting Association's Web Newsroom

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