For 63 years the Race of Champions has been among the biggest events of the year for pavement Modified fans and racers alike. For the last 20 years, part of that tradition folded into what is known at the Race of Champions Pavement Series, or RoC Mods for short. The Gerber family began it; Alex Friesen was part of it until his untimely death; Andrew Harpell holds the keys now and Joe Skotnicki will unlock a new era beginning next year.
It was officially announced Monday that the Race of Champions name, the race and both the pavement and dirt Modified series will change ownership in 2016. Andrew Harpell has operated the series for 20 years, but he has sold its rights to Joe Skotnicki, who has worked with both NASCAR and the World Racing Group in recent years.
Whenever big news happens, it is an unfortunate part of human nature that people ask the question, ‘Why?’ The answer, according to Harpell, is quite simple.
“It’s just trying to do too many things,” admitted Harpell, who will run the RoC brand and series through the end of the year, while also operating Five Mile Point Speedway in upstate New York. “I don’t have a family outside of my family here (at the speedway). I don’t have a wife or any kids. I’ve really gone full throttle for 23 years with this (pavement series) and the dirt series has been 11 years.
“I’m running all over the place and stressed out and I’ve always been my own biggest critic. In all fairness, whether it’s a dirt, asphalt, a sportsman driver, or just someone who runs at the track, they all deserve my full attention. It’s so busy that nobody is getting that.”
So now Harpell will hand off the baton to Skotnicki, whom Harpell has known for quite some time. He feels comfortable with that and the fact he will be able to concentrate on the dirt track that has been run by his family since 1951.
“The pavement series is on the upswing and Five Mile has been very positive,” added Harpell, now 46. “Part of me is thinking that we’re almost peaking right now, but that’s also why this change is a positive and things will be even better for Joe.
“I spend a lot of time just prepping the race track every week. There’s a lot of things I want to do with this race track that I haven’t had time to do, and those guys deserve my full attention as well. For me, this was the right time to get a grip on things. It’s all kind of led up to where we are at.”
And where the actual Race of Champions pavement Modified race is at was one of his biggest concerns.
“This has been something on my mind for a few years,” Harpell said. “I’ve had people call about the race itself, the RoC 200. I’ve had calls from collectors just wanting to buy the trophy with no interest in the racing. But, I want to see this thing thrive and continue to be successful and maybe even be better than it is. There’s no ego involved. I wouldn’t have stuck it out this many years if not for the drivers and the people that have been involved for so long. It’ll continue on with Joe and it’ll be a great fit because of his dirt and asphalt background. I’m really excited for this to tell you the truth. It needed a new set of eyes and some fresh blood involved. But I’m not going to disappear by any means. I just really needed to take a step back and try to focus on one thing.”
And while Harpell turns his attention to his race track, Skotnicki’s main focus will be not only the series, but also preserving the history of the Race of Champions.
“Quite honestly, it was the right time,” stated Skotnicki, who has also served for as a spotter for Modified teams through the years. “Andy and I had been talking for quite some time about what he was going to do and what I was going to do and what things looked like. In reality, there was one thing that we all have stake in and that was the Race of Champions trophy that gets presented at that special race every year. Somebody who was with me this morning was talking about it being like the Stanley Cup, and you know what? It is.”
Speed51.com will have more on Skotnicki’s plans for the Race of Champions and each series in the coming days.
By Bob Dillner, Executive Editor, Speed51.com – Twitter: @bobdillner