September 29th, 2003
KIRKWOOD, NY...After 15 years at the helm and a lifetime at the track, Five Mile Point Speedwayís Dan Harpell is stepping down as Promoter. The last race will be the running of the Southern Tier Open on Saturday, October 18th, marking the end of an era.
"It is with a heavy heart and at the same time a great deal of satisfaction and also relief, that I will step down as Promoter of Five Mile Point Speedway", said Dan Harpell. "There comes a point when you realize itís time to move on. That came for me a couple of years ago but I just couldnít let go. I am now able to do so without any reservations".
Harpell, 41, is the grandson of track founder the late Irv Heath and owner Anna Heath. He has spent virtually his entire life around the famed quarter mile oval and took over as Promoter prior to the 1989 racing season. Previous to that the Brockport State graduate completed a successful Sports Management Internship with the New Jersey Nets of the NBA. He also worked for the New Jersey Generals football team of the now defunct USFL. From there Harpell went to work as Director of Marketing and Public Relations for DIRT, where he began his professional career in motorsports.
Harpell also worked at Dundee Raceway Park, Fulton Speedway and Gater Racing News before moving back home to take over Five Mile Point Speedway in 1989. Harpell immediately made a major impact, turning the track into a huge success in his first year at the helm. After several strong years, numerous outside factors put the track into a decline in recent years. After the 1997 season Harpell made the controversial decision to drop the Modifieds in favor of the more economical Sportsman. It proved to be a successful decision.
However after three years with the Sportsman as the headline division, the decision was made to bring back the Modifieds for the 2001 season. The 358 Modifieds have been the headline division through this season.
"I have poured my heart and soul into this place but the time has come where I need to step aside and move in a new direction", said Harpell. "Itís a tough business that can really eat you up and I am proud to have been able to do this for the past 15 seasons. There arenít many people who can say that. I am very proud of the many accomplishments that I have achieved over the years. More than anything I am proud to have been able to reestablish Five Mile Point Speedway, and restore the great history of the track".
One of the first orders of business for Harpell when he took over the track was to bring back the Southern Tier 100. The race, that got its start in 1964, was discontinued in 1983. Harpell brought it back in 1989 when he took over and was greeted by 70 Modifieds in the pits. In 1990 that number swelled to 81 cars. The event turned into the two day National Quarter Mile Dirt Track Championship Weekend in 1992 and that event continues to be a huge success to this day. One of the highlights of Harpellís tenure at the track was the 50th Anniversary Season in 2000. "That was a special year and really meant a lot to me personally. To be a part of naming the 50 Greatest Drivers and to be able to honor so many of the pioneers of the track, not to mention my racing heroes, was a great thrill", said Harpell.
"I was very proud of building the great rivalries between Chuck Akulis, Mike Colsten and Doug Worthing in the early 1990ís. Those were some of the most exciting years in the history of the track. I have also enjoyed being a part of the changing of the guard as the young drivers have made their mark and put their names in the history pages of this track".
"Without a doubt, the most memorable occurrence in my 15 years came in 1997 when my wife Kami gave birth to our third son, Tucker, right in the middle of our National Quarter Mile Dirt Track Championship Weekend. After finishing Fridayís races, we went to the hospital, had the baby Saturday morning and then came back to the track and finished off the weekend. It was quite a whirlwind".
"Five Mile Point Speedway has given me so much", said Harpell. "It is where I met my wife and weíve been able to have our three boys with us at the track as they grow up. Iíve watched the boys cultivate a love for the track that I have always had. That being said, it has also taken a lot from me as well. I have given this place everything I had to keep my grandfathers dream alive. The pressure that comes with that can take its toll on you after awhile".
"It has been a long time since I have been able to operate the track the way I wanted to instead of the way I had to. You can only put band aids on things for so long before it catches up to you. I certainly havenít lost the ability, but I havenít had the proper finances to do it the right way in a long time and I have finally come to terms with that".
It is no secret that the economy in the Binghamton area has been in dire straights for several years. An overwhelming amount of jobs have left the area and with the jobs went the people. In addition, there is an inordinate amount of racetracks within a 45 mile radius of the track that has left for some slim pickings amongst everyone.
"The short track racing industry has really struggled in recent years nationwide. Itís a serious concern for Promoters everywhere. The numbers are about a third of what they were ten years ago. With the increase in the popularity of NASCAR came the decrease in interest in the local short track racing. We take an enormous hit every time there is a Winston Cup race on a Saturday night", said Harpell.
As to whether the track opens next year remains to be seen."If the track continues to operate next year, I hope to come back with my family and enjoy the show from the stands as the fan that I have always been. If the track doesnít reopen, I can walk away knowing that I gave the fans and drivers 15 years of my life and kept this place alive far longer than anyone ever thought it would be here", said Harpell. "I can sleep at night knowing that I treated everybody fair and always promoted a fun, family atmosphere, he added."
"I would like to thank everyone that has been a part of my 15 years as Promoter. From the drivers to the fans and sponsors and my staff over the years, I owe you great thanks. Mostly I would like to thank my family for their support over the years through all of the highs and lows. And finally I want to commend my remarkable grandmother. My grandfather passed away in 1965 and she could have easily closed the gates then. She instead kept the place going for all of these years. At 92 years young, she is still at the track every Saturday night, as she has been for the past 53 seasons. She is a very special person, who everybody should thank for giving them a place to build their own dreams and memories over the years". The track is preparing for what may be the final show ever at Five Mile Point Speedway. It will take place on Saturday, October 18th with the running of the Southern Tier Open. The race will find the Big Blocks returning one last time to take on the Small Blocks in the open show. They will be joined by the Pure Stocks and Four Cylinder Stocks in Championship events.
Making the show even bigger is that the Binghamton Pepsi-Cola Southern Tier 100 feature was rained out and the 100 lap race will run prior to the Southern Tier Open. Thatís 150 laps of Modified feature action to bring down the curtain. Race time will be 4:00 p.m. and will be filled with many special moments.