03/10/2003 1:00AM

Joseph E. Carney, Jr., Rockingham owner, dead at 70

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SALEM, NH - Joseph E. Carney, Jr., the man who helped rebuild and restore racing in New Hampshire as president and owner of Rockingham Park died Sunday after a long illness. He was 70.

As a founder of Rockingham Venture, Inc., Carney and his partners rebuilt the Rock in 1984 after a fire destroyed the grandstand in 1980. He led the track through 18 tumultuous years which saw some of New England's most historic racing events but also declines that have led to the abandonment of Thoroughbred racing and potential closing in two years.

Rockingham Venture, Inc. serves as the parent corporation both Rockingham Park and Seabrook Yankee Greyhound Park in Seabrook, New Hampshire. Carney was also a director and founder of Connecticut Yankee Greyhound Park in Plainfield, Connecticut, and a former director of New England Harness Raceway in Foxboro, Massachusetts, Audobon Racing/Midwest Raceway in Henderson, Kentucky, Key West Kennel Club in Key West, Florida, and Pensacola Greyhound Racing in Pensacola, Florida.

Carney saw Rockingham expand through the 1980's including the installation of a state-of-the-art turf course. He kept racing alive in the region from 1990 - 92 when Suffolk Downs in Boston closed. In 1991, Carney helped create the $500,000 New England Classic to be a part of the American Championship Racing Series. He also helped return the New Hampshire Sweepstakes to prominence as mid-summer grass racing event.

Carney was also prominent in his work to create assistance programs for industry workers and backside employees.

Carney is survived by his wife, Jill, and three daughters, Kathleen, Mary and Ellen, and two sons, Joseph III and James, five grandchildren, two sisters, Joan O'Donnell and Mary Linnehan, and two brothers, Dr. Thomas Carney and Daniel Carney, and many nieces and nephews. Dr. Carney is a founder and director of Rockingham Venture, Inc., James Carney is the general manager at Seabrook Greyhound Park and Kathleen Carney Brothers is the director of mutuels at Rockingham Park. Another brother, the late Hugh Carney, was an executive at Seabrook Park.

Arrangements have yet to be finalized.