For race teams and fans on Long Island the first practice day leading up to a new race season is a annual right of spring. Saturday morning Riverhead Raceway swung open the pit gates to officially start on track activity for the 72nd season of racing, quickly the paddock area was overflowing with race cars readying for opening night in tow weeks on Saturday May 7th. Local talent Dave Brigati of Calverton set the standard in NASCAR Modified testing.
“Spring is officially here at Riverhead Raceway” proclaimed track GM John Ellwood from race control during the afternoon. “Despite the obstacles facing short track racing I think we are going to have a great year in 2022”, John continued. Perhaps the largest challenge for Riverhead and hundreds of short tracks across the country is the ongoing race tire shortage. To that end Ellwood along with Hoosier Tire of Calverton and Chief Tech Inspector Randy Murray did not permit NASCAR Modified teams to purchase any tires for the practice days. “We told teams they can practice on tires from other tracks or series but buying one or two sets of new tires to test on like they had in the past was out” The only Modified tires sold Saturday were scanned in for the 50-lap opening night event May 7th. The tire conservation edict was also passed down to all other divisions with teams allowed to buy tires that were charged to the 2022 tire bank with those teams only allowed to purchase one tire per race meet.
On track Dave Brigati would top the charts among the 18 NASCAR Modifieds on hand for the afternoon with a lap of 11.666 during the fourth and final session in his Coors Light LFR. Chris Rogers of Patchogue who will drive for Brigati in the JDL Environmental Chevy was second quick in the 4th session with a 11.785, Roger Turbush of Riverhead was third in his Kennedy Realty of Long Island racer with a lap of f11.900. After practice Ellwood looked back on the NASCAR Modified tire policy, “normally late on practice day the better financed teams throw stickers on the car and are in the low 11’s, not today and we conserve tires for our regular season”.
Recently 2021 Street Stock champion Brian Brown of Calverton was tabbed by championship Late Model car owner Rob Pelis to drive the Eastport Feeds Chevy. The seat in the Pelis machine opened up when Jeremy McDermott notified Rob he was taking a break from racing to focus on family. Pelis will be aiming for his sixth straight LM title after Kyle Soper won two in a row for him in 2017 & ’18 before McDermott replaced Kyle and won the crown in 2019, ’20 and ’21. Brown was right at home setting the best LM time of the day in the fourth round with a lap of 12.803. Sophomore drivers Ethan Brown of Floral Park, 12.940 and Jerry Giordano of Freeport, 13.009 were right behind Brown.
Owen Grennan of Glen Cove would be quickest in Crate Modified testing with the Dillner Precast Chevy with his fast lap of the day, 12.556 coming in the third session. Max Handley of Medford, 12.581 and Vinny Delaney of Islip Terrace were second and third in that session. Grennan will be a busy driver in 2022 as word is he’ll also wheel a NASCAR Modified during the upcoming season for car owner Ken Matlach.
Defending Figure Eight champion Scott Pedersen of Shirley was quickest in the Land, Air & Water Environmental Chevy posting a 17.034 in the third session. Vinny Delaney, new driver of the Kathy Kraft owned entry was second at 17.065 and returning former champion Ken Hyde Jr. of Medford third, 17,336 in the third frame. Nine Figure Eight teams were on hand, a sign the class is headed towards a great 2002 season.
A quartet of Blunderbusts were on hand with defending champion Cody Triola of Bay Shore fastest in his Cesspool Pros racer during the fourth round, 14.698. Defending Super Pro Truck champion Jack Handley Jr. of Medford topped the charts for the trucks with a first round time of 13.452 in the River Walk Bar & Grille entry. Jack will be seeking the fifth consecutive championship for truck owner Andre Vega after Mark Stewart won titles for Vega in 2018 & ’19, with Handley taking the 2020 & ’21 crowns.
In INEX Legend Race Car and Bandolero testing during the afternoon the Morabito brothers set the tone. In the first Legend Race Car round of the day Nick Morabito was fastest for the day with a 13.458 in his Benimax Trucking racer. Younger brother Ben topped the Bandolero testing during the third round logging a lap of 15.216. Aside from his racing, Ben is a accomplished youth ice hockey player keeping parents Stan & Jen very busy.
Street Stock testing found Chris Lescenski of Riverhead the quickest on the day in his Eastport Feeds Chevy with a lap of 14.191 in the third session, while the Mini Stock fast lap of the day was turned in by Tony Collinsworth of Calverton at 14.629 in their third round on track. The Eddie Partridge Vintage All Stars saw Frank Saladino of Miller Place set the standard in his Richie Evans Rusty Nail tribute coupe with a lap of 13.154 in the fourth and final round.
Later in the afternoon the track was turned over to the Truck, 8-Cylinder and Gut & Go Enduro teams but not all cars were equipped with transponders with a complete list of practice times not available.
This Saturday April 30th it will be rinse and repeat at Riverhead Raceway with another practice day scheduled. Registration window will open at 8:15 am, haulers enter at 9:00 am with practice starting at 11:00am. Spectators are again invited to come check out the on track activity free of charge, the normal pit fees of $40 with a NASCAR/INEX License, $60 without a license will be in place.