Veteran promoter Howie Commander, who steers the ship at New York tracks including Lebanon Valley and Albany-Saratoga, led the cause for justice in getting all New York state tracks to be open like other outdoor venues during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ever since Commander’s Uncle Harry gave him a box of Sugar Daddy candies and suggested he try selling them to fellow elementary school students at a small profit, which he did, business success has come with hard work by the promoter.
Commander, at 76, is just as energetically running his tracks today as when he began taking care of the concessions at Lebanon Valley 60 years ago.
In 1962, Commander’s family recognized that the 18-year-old’s skills and work ethic would be of great benefit to the track. His Uncle Lou asked Howie to come along to Chicago, so they could attend one of the first-ever racing promoters’ workshops in 1962.
In the spring of 1970, Commander became general manager of the speedway and took over operations while still prepping the track each week. His first step was to raise first-place money to $1000 among the highest in the nation, especially for the track’s headline division which had rules designed for cars that could be competitive on a reasonably-affordable budget.
In the 50 years since, Commander has made speedway success look easy, surrounding himself with quality officials while regularly improving the track experience for fans and teams.
This year, he was focused on opening his tracks to fans, so when he noticed that certain religious groups sued the state and won the right to gather in worship, he was convinced that race tracks should be offered the same opportunity.
Commander filed suit and welcomed area tracks to join the action. While ultimately unsuccessful, largely due to delaying tactics that would preclude operation beyond when it is seasonably feasible, Commander’s effort, dedication, and willingness to apply his own resources for the benefit of racers, fans, and the sport in general have never wavered.