Vernon Dancer, a harness driver, trainer and breeder who was recently nominated for the sport’s Hall of Fame, died Tuesday. He was 77.
Dancer, whose candidacy to the hall will be voted on this fall, had been hospitalized at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia since early July with a number of illnesses. His younger brother, Stanley Dancer, is a member of the harness racing Hall of Fame.
A native of New Egypt, N.J., Vernon Dancer drove in his first race in 1952.
One of Dancer’s best-known trainees was the trotting filly Honeysuckle Rose, who won multiple stakes races and never made a break. On the pacing side, he trained Tempered Yankee, who beat the top contenders of his day, including Rum Customer, Fulla Napoleon, Laverne Hanover and Sunnie Tar.
Dancer was also a substitute driver for his brother Stanley’s stable and won a heat of the 1976 Hambletonian with Zoot Suit. He also drove Super Bowl in 1971, the year before his brother guided the colt to trotting’s Triple Crown.
Vernon Dancer drove 1,723 winners, had earnings of $8.96 million and a lifetime winning percentage of .395.
A serious racing accident at Freehold Raceway in 1977, in which he broke his leg in several places, curtailed his driving career.
Vernon Dancer also successfully challenged a New Jersey Division of Taxation ruling that made grooms’ wages subject to the sales and use tax.
Dancer was predeceased by his wife, Carolyn. He is survived by his brother; sons, Vernon and Donald; and daughters, Carolyn Joyce and Joan Ann.
Funeral arrangements were pending. Arrangements are being handled by Tilghman’s Funeral Home in New Egypt.