Riverhead Raceway in Riverhead, New York is the last remaining race track on Long Island. It was built in 1949. The 0.25-mile track hosts weekly events on Saturdays, partnering with the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series and the Whelen Modified Series for some national attention. Besides the two modified divisions, Riverhead is also home to the INEX Legends national qualifier, the NEMA Midgets, enduro races, demolition races, school bus figure eights and demolitions, as well as monster trucks.
The most successful racer from Long Island is Andy Lally, who has competed in hundreds of stock car and sports car races. The native of Northport won the 2011 NASCAR Cup Series Rookie of the Year award. He has also won three titles in the Rolex Grand-Am Sports Car Series (now known as IMSA).
It is considered one of the most prestigious events in sports car racing. Lally has won five Rolex 24 at Daytona contests. As well as competing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans twice (2005-06), he finished third in the latter event.
Long Island’s racing history remains strong in 2019. Several years ago, Riverhead Raceway was purchased by new owners, who remodeled the entire facility to ensure that racing would stay on Long Island for years to come.
While the roar of acceleration reaches heavy-metal decibel levels, the aroma of racing fuel and burning rubber fills the air. Although the charming Hamptons are less than twenty miles away, Saturday night is all about speed in Riverhead, Long Island.
Over the past 67 years, this racetrack has drawn locals — largely blue-collar workers who fix cars, exterminate vermin and renovate homes for rich residents of the surrounding upscale townships — eager to get some exercise.
“I’ve been racing for 20 years and don’t know anything else to do on a Saturday night,” said Tom Rogers, 40, a mechanic in the town of Riverhead. “This is an escape. I focus on the race, try to pass everything in front of me and don’t think about anything on the outside.”
A variety of vehicles compete at Riverhead, from $200 junkers with smashed windows to replicas of NASCAR racers powered by 500cc motorcycle engines.
A quarter-mile track’s most serious competitors, however, belong to a division of racing known as Modified, where custom-made NASCAR-regulation cars cost up to $100,000 to build and reach speeds approaching 100 mph.
According to the new documentary “The Last Race,” which premieres Friday, Riverhead Raceway is both a town center and a testing ground. Almost every race night, locals can gather here to socialize. If you are interested in competing, the track will provide an opportunity to showcase skills that are not found in less glamorous occupations.
“During the week, [the drivers] have tough jobs; they don’t have much dignity,” director Michael Dweck, a native of Jericho, New York, told The Post. “But on the weekends, these guys have 2,000 people watching them. Then, after their races, they sign autographs in the pit.”
The asphalt-paved oval track is rimmed with metal bleachers, where devotees can watch from a perch when they’re not revving their engines. At the race’s end, drivers return their vehicles to the pit area. There, they are met by friends and family members who congratulate them on a race well run.
But for local residents like Rogers, there is no time to celebrate victory or lament defeat after Saturday night’s race is done. They have Sunday church services to adhere to come morning. And then it is back to work on Monday at one of the many nearby construction jobs where weekend racing dreams are deferred until the next race begins anew each week.
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