Ken Weingartner, the media relations manager for the U.S. Trotting Association's Harness Racing Communications arm, and Phil Pikelny, who worked as a publicist, broadcaster and co-author of a biography of the great pacer Rambling Willie, were selected for places in the mid-summer balloting which could lead to their being elected to harness racing's Communicators Hall of Fame, in voting conducted Saturday afternoon (Feb. 23) by the directors of the U.S. Harness Writers Association (USHWA).
Weingartner, who first went to the racetrack pushed by his father in a stroller, graduated from Lycoming College and then worked in the central Pennsylvania area before returning to his native New Jersey. Ken's column "Horse Play" in the Allentown (N.J.) Morning Press was honoured in 2001 by the New Jersey Chapter of USHWA and brought him to the attention of the USTA, for whom he has worked in his present position since 2002.
In 2007, he received the Golden Pen Award from the Standardbred Media and Marketing Association, and Ken was doubly honoured in 2015 by USHWA's Monticello-Goshen Chapter and by Harness Horsemen International. Weingartner serves as the chair of USHWA's Journalism Awards Committee and is co-chair of its Hirt Sports Media Workshop Committee.
Pikelny was spotted by double Hall of Famer Stan Bergstein when he started a harness racing club at Northwestern University near Chicago, and then became the youngest publicity director in any major sport when he went to the U.S. Trotting Association at age 23. He combined with author Don Evans to produce the book Rambling Willie: The Horse That God Loved, which followed the career of the sensational Standardbred who set records for both 2:00 victories and earnings — with 10 per cent of those earnings going to the church of Vivian Farrington, the wife of Willie's trainer. In 1981, Pikelny and the horse then went "on tour" throughout America, appearing at racetracks, shopping malls and other media opportunities.
Phil worked as publicity director at Scioto Downs and at the Standardbred meet at Del Mar. He then went on to a long career in many facets of communications while continuing to speak at harness conventions and mentor young publicists.
Pikelny and Weingartner will now be joined during mid-summer balloting by Hall of Fame nominees, who will be decided in early July. Those that receive 75 per cent of the yes-no voting will go on to receive the sport's ultimate prize, enshrinement in their respective Halls of Fame in Goshen, N.Y.
The voting for the summer ballot spots for the communicators was very tight, with Weingartner getting 11 votes, Pikelny 10, Jay Bergman and Joe Kyle nine each, and Bill Fidati five — the last-named three sure to be strong candidates in upcoming years.