Riverhead, NY – On a cold blustery & snowy Friday evening on Long Island over 300 guests filled the banquet room at Giorgio’s of Baiting Hollow to celebrate the 2017 Riverhead Raceway champions. Eddie & Connie Partridge and Tom Gatz crowned 13 track champions in both the Enduro race series as well the NASCAR Whelen All American Series. The seven NASCAR WAAS champions not only received a championship plaque but also a commemorative championship ring in a tradition the ownership trio of the track introduced in 2016.
Two 2017 champions received not one but two championship plaques & rings Friday night with Tom Rogers Jr. of Riverhead taking the NASCAR Modified and Figure Eight championships while Dave Brigati of Calverton won the Eagle Auto Mall Modified Crate and Super Pro Truck titles this past season. For Rogers it was the second time in the past three years he swept the NASCAR Modified and Figure Eight championships having turned the trick in 2015. Tom’s race team and family surprised him when they arranged for his first major sponsor  John Wellman of the Big Brothers & Big Sisters of Long Island join them Friday night. “George Brown saw something in this little skinny kid back in my Go Kart days and put me in a Figure Eight car. John Wellman had enough faith in me and my team to become our first major sponsor back in those Figure Eight days, without them along with a loyal legion of family members and team members I’m not standing here tonight” Rogers noted. In a tradition that has been continued by both the former and current owners of Riverhead Raceway the Big Brothers & Big Sisters of Long Island Modified and Figure Eight Drivers Cups were presented to Rogers with Wellman who introduced the cups proudly looking on. For Rogers the NASCAR Modified and Figure Eight championships are the 4th career titles in each class. He also has a Late Model championship to his credit.
For Dave Brigati as much as he enjoyed taking his second consecutive Eagle Auto Mall Modified Crate championship in 2017 remaining the only champion the division as ever known the driver dubbed “The Fancy Farmer” was super excited about his Super Pro Truck championship this past season. “We really wanted that truck championship this year, my guys led by the tireless efforts of Brian Schwarz put us in a position to go out and get it plus we took the Modified Crate crown so we are happy, we are very happy” Dave commented. In addition to his two Eagle Auto Mall Modified Crate titles and the Super Pro Truck crown Dave in his formative years of racing won the 2000 Charger championship at the track.
Rising racing talent Kyle Soper of Manorville capped off a dream season Friday night when he was recognized as the 2017 Late Model champion after scoring six wins in the Rob Pelis owned machine. The youthful team paired during the off season when Kyle’s family owned NASCAR Modified could not be run in 2017 due to lack of funding. Soper turned some important heads with his Late Model performance so much so that he was tabbed to drive the famed Wayne and Joette Anderson NASCAR Modified six races into the 2017 campaign. Both Kyle’s teams are backed by the Corwin family of Eastport Feeds.
No stranger to the annual Riverhead Raceway “parade of champions” is Blunderbust veteran Tom Pickerell who on Fridaynight was feted for the 5th time in his career as champion of the class. In route to the 2017 crown Pickerell won twice with his second triumph a milestone 20th victory of his career. Among those the soft spoken veteran driver thanked was his fiancée Kelly for always standing by his side in his racing ventures.
Prior to the 2016 season INEX Legend Race Car veteran John Beatty Jr. of Merrick returned to the class at the urging of Kevin Temme to have some fun racing again after having run some NASCAR Modified events in prior seasons. Well in 2017 Beatty and Temme indeed had some fun as they won three times on their way to the 2017 INEX Legend Race Car title with the Giella Electric entry which they have since sold as Beatty in 2018 will eye a return to NASCAR Modified racing.
The 2017 Riverhead raceway Rookie of the Year drivers were named Friday night with second generation talent Chris Young of Calverton tabbed the NASCAR Modified Rookie of the Year. Steve Mastro Jr. of Port Jefferson won the award for the Late Models while Michael Rutkoski of Mattituck was the top Modified Crate Rookie in 2017 having won twice during his freshman season. Greg Harris of Riverhead was awarded Figure Eight Rookie of the Year while “Mad” Max Handley of Medford was the top freshman driver of the Blunderbust class. Eddie Schutze of Huntington was named RoY in the Super Pro trucks while Michael Benton of East Hampton won the award in the INEX Legend Race Cars.
Incorporated into the NASCAR awards dinner this year were the faithful Enduro race teams with Riverhead Raceway crowning the first ever Street Stock and Mini Stock champions. Former multi time Truck Enduro champion Greg Harris of Riverhead earned the Street Stock title in 2017 with two wins to his credit during the championship run, one of which was a very emotional win in August when Greg made an old school charge to the front to win the Laura Zegel Memorial 55 in his SGS Stone Works Chevy.
The road to the first ever Mini Stock championship was not an easy on for eventual champion Mike Mujsce Jr. of Hampton Bays. Mike had built a car for the new class but after just one race knew the machine was not what he had hoped for so he went back to his race shop and started from scratch building a new car. The result of all that hard work and dedication by the second generation driver would be 4 victories during the summer taking the Mini Stock championship in the process. Unfortunately Mike was unable to attend the awards function Friday evening.
Once again Don Nelson Jr. of Rocky Point was honored as the Truck Enduro champion for his efforts in the Abner Tree Care Chevy S-10 while Dominick Ranieri of East Northport took home the 8-Cylinder Enduro championship in his Spare Parts Racing Chevy. “Captain America” Kevin Augustine of Bay Shore earned his very first career championship topping the Gut & Go Enduro division that saw some 113 plus drivers take part in the division. Brandon Esposito of Farmingville was presented with the 2017 Mini 8 championship, Brandon is the nephew of the late Figure Eight racer Joe Biondolillo Jr. who ranks second on the all time win list in the division.
When banquet guests arrived they found on their table a copy of the 2018 Riverhead Raceway schedule in spread sheet form. The 2018 NASCAR Whelen All American Series will open Saturday night with Cinco De Mayo Opening Night May 5th with all seven divisions in action plus the LIVARS Vintage Race Cars. The Islip 300 Tour Type Modified race will return on Saturday evening May 26th while the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour will make two stops at Riverhead Raceway on Saturday July 7th and again Saturday September 8th.
The 2018 Enduro race season will start with the May Meltdown program on Sunday May 6th. Two Inspection Days have been set aside for Saturday April 7th & 14th with the two traditional pre-season practice days set for Saturday April 21st and April 28th.
– Peter Milano Photo

2017 Celebration for Riverhead Raceway NASCAR and Enduro Champions