The scent of racing gasoline and burning rubber cling closely within the air, whereas the roar of acceleration reaches heavy-metal decibels. The bucolic Hamptons are solely 20 miles away, however in Riverhead, Lengthy Island, Saturday night time is all concerning the want for velocity.

For 67 years, the racetrack right here has been drawing locals — largely blue-collar people who exterminate vermin, restore cars and renovate properties for rich residents within the neighboring upscale townships — seeking to blow off steam.

“I’ve been racing for 20 years and don’t know the rest to do on a Saturday night time,” stated Tom Rogers, 40, a mechanic within the city of Riverhead. “That is an escape. I deal with the race, attempt to go all the things in entrance of me and don’t take into consideration something on the surface.”

Autos competing at Riverhead vary from $200 junkers which have their home windows smashed out to five/8-scale NASCAR replicas powered by 500cc bike engines.

The quarter-mile observe’s most critical practitioners, although, belong to a division of racing often called Modified, the place custom-made NASCAR-regulation automobiles price as a lot as $100,000 to construct and attain speeds close to 100 mph.

As captured within the new documentary “The Final Race,” premiering Friday, Riverhead Raceway is part-town middle, part-proving floor. It’s a place the place locals can reliably socialize on nearly any race night time. And for many who wish to compete, the observe supplies alternatives to indicate off abilities that transcend these deployed in lower than glamorous occupations.

“Throughout the week, [the drivers] have robust jobs; they don’t have a lot dignity,” director Michael Dweck, a local of Jericho, New York, advised The Submit. “However on the weekends, these guys have 2,000 individuals watching them. Then, after their races, they signal autographs within the pit.”

After they’re not revving up their engines, devotees are completely content material to look at from a perch within the metallic bleachers that rim the asphalt-paved oval observe.

Two young race fans at Riverhead Raceway.
Two younger race followers at Riverhead Raceway.Stefano Giovannini

“I just like the individuals and the ambiance right here; Riverhead feels extra like a household and fewer like a money-making operation,” stated George Jacobi, a 62-year-old retiree from Jericho who introduced alongside two of his Matchbox-car-obsessed grandchildren on a Saturday in September.

“I’m rooting for No. 15 in a race in a while tonight. He’s a younger man who’s coming in properly. My grandkids and I’ll meet him after the race. They’ll sit in his automotive and he’ll signal their checkered flags.”

Again within the 1960s, there have been 40 some odd auto-racing tracks on Lengthy Island.

Drivers gave the impression to be all over the place, and native scenes had been popping. Now only one stays.

Riverhead Raceway, opened in 1951, trundles on because the final of an endangered species. It occupies 22 acres in a neighborhood wealthy with purchasing malls, the place land is alleged to be price $1 million per acre.

Barbara and Jim Cromarty owned the observe for 30 years and have seen all of it — together with the time a driver had a coronary heart assault behind the wheel, the night time a demolition-derby automotive burst into flames and the race that ended with a automotive veering into the stands.

However as they entered their 80s, retirement in Florida beckoned. Over time, they are saying they turned down affords from builders supposedly keen to pay market fee for the property.

“It was essential that racing stayed in Riverhead,” Barbara advised The Submit. “We had robust emotions about not wanting one other shopping center there.”

And so when Eddie and Connie Partridge, residents of close by Wading River, made the Cromartys a proposal in 2016 — with the promise to maintain the place going — they agreed to a sale of $four million in money.

Eddie Partridge, who had already been peddling tires and gasoline on the observe, owns a tree farm and concrete-crushing operation. Riverhead, alternatively, is a labor of affection. “This isn’t the type of enterprise you wish to have with a [bank] be aware,” he stated, hinting that working Riverhead will not be wildly worthwhile. Nonetheless, there’s a sure satisfaction that comes with holding the “Saturday-night warrior” custom alive.

“Folks come as much as me and say, ‘Thank God you acquire the observe,’” Eddie stated as he watched the automobiles whizzing by. “I respect that, nevertheless it will get tougher and tougher with the city and the neighbors. They don’t just like the noise. However we had been right here first.”

The specter of hazard is a part of what attracts followers to Riverhead — nevertheless it’s additionally very actual.

On the sting of the observe, ambulances idle, positioned on the prepared. On this specific Saturday, a automotive careens fender-first right into a concrete retaining wall.

“Wrecks are a part of it,” stated spectator Jacobi. “Simply so long as no one will get harm.”

The driving force walks away unscathed, however the accordioned car will get showily maneuvered by the racing pit by way of tow truck. Steve Booker, a automotive proprietor, seems up from the auto he’s prepping for the subsequent race. He takes within the crunched entrance finish and shakes his head. “Lots is damaged,” he stated. “That could possibly be an enormous invoice.”

Booker’s driver, Kyle Ellwood, a 21-year-old landscaper, ranks among the many speed-loving devoted. He started racing go-karts at Riverhead quickly after turning 5 and just about lives for jamming across the observe in his 640-horsepower, NASCAR-regulation custom-made vehicle.

He doesn’t thoughts what he describes as “the common misfortune” of the game. “You get caught up in wrecks,” stated Ellwood. “I as soon as acquired caught in a hearth. The oil got here free, caught the heater and the entire automotive went up. It was most likely the scariest scenario I used to be ever in. My hearth swimsuit, hearth sneakers and eyebrows all went up.”

‘I’ve been racing for a very long time at Riverhead. It’s going to all the time be a particular place for me.’

However Ellwood, who emerged from the expertise kind of unblemished, instantly resumed racing. Just like the others at Riverhead, he factors out that it’s all concerning the rush of successful. “You get $1,500 in the event you end first,” he stated. “However I don’t get any of the cash.”

The payout goes to Booker, who works within the observe division of the Lengthy Island Rail Highway. Tires alone run him $1,000 per racing week.

“My extra time pays for it,” he stated. “My spouse doesn’t like that. She says, ‘You’re spending some huge cash.’ However I personal the automotive for the love of racing.”

He shrugged and added, “Some individuals fish, some individuals golf. We go racing.”

To assist drum up enterprise, Partridge has initiated appealingly stunty choices comparable to a school-bus demolition derby. He’s additionally saved going a extra accessible, bottom-of-the-barrel type of racing referred to as the Intestine and Go, which requires avenue automobiles which can be stripped down and fire-resistant.

Steve and Austin Elliston will probably be competing and are stoked to be going up towards each other.

“I can’t wait to beat my dad,” stated Austin.

Steve crowed again, “You’re shopping for me dinner.”

Austin is barely 17, and it’s simple to wonder if or not he’s sufficiently old to race. Getting behind the wheel of his practically junkable 2000 Nissan, although, the child makes it sound like he’s virtually over-qualified.

“You don’t even want a driver’s license,” he stated earlier than revving up and rumbling towards the observe. “You simply should be 14, have father or mother’s consent and know the place the gasoline pedal is.”

If native racing is a lark for the Ellistons, the game is something however that for 22-year-old Kyle Soper — the No. 15 modified-class driver that race fan Jacobi has his eye on.

“This can be a second job,” stated Soper, who does development estimating by day.

“The automobiles take loads of consideration. I go away my day job at 5 and from 6 until 10, I’m within the storage of the automotive proprietor. It’s purported to be enjoyable. However for me, it’s a stepping stone. I dream of constructing a dwelling in NASCAR.”

Kyle Soper.
Kyle Soper.Stefano Giovannini

Soper was simply 7 years outdated when he started racing go-karts at Riverhead underneath the tutelage of his car-loving dad, Tom. These days, he’s behind the wheel of a red-and-white aluminum-bodied car with a metal chassis, festooned with the logos of native sponsors comparable to Eastport Feeds, Atlantic Chevrolet and a dentist, Dr. Martha Baker.

This previous season, Soper gained the Modified NASCAR championship at Riverhead and completed first in New York State. Subsequent month, he’ll attend a particular NASCAR dinner held in racing capital Charlotte, North Carolina, for all Modified Division I state champions.

“They’ll be giving me some cash [around $7,000], a custom helmet, a trophy and a custom hearth swimsuit. I’ll be carrying that subsequent season,” Soper stated.

Extra importantly, he’ll have alternatives to fulfill movers and shakers from the racing world — individuals who would possibly have the ability to assist him shimmy as much as the subsequent stage.

Whereas he’s itching to maneuver on, Soper stated he gained’t overlook the place he got here from.

“I’ve been racing for a very long time at Riverhead. It’s going to all the time be a particular place for me.”

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