Long Island’s last remaining race track put out its schedule for the 2017 season about a week ago. The last couple of years the schedules for Riverhead Raceway (NY) were pretty typical. They were almost formulaic. In 2016 that changed when new owners Eddie and Connie Partridge took over. Some surprises were added to the schedule for the first time in a few years. But those surprises were nothing like the big one that got all of Long Island’s racing community talking in excitement for the 2017 season.
When the schedule was released there was a new event added to the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend, May 27. Riverhead Raceway announced the inaugural “Islip 300” Modified race, an ode to the old All-Star 300s that used to be held at Islip Speedway before it closed in the mid-1980’s. The Islip 300 will pay out $7,000 to the winner and will carry a total purse of $30,000.
“I was actually pretty surprised because normally at Riverhead it’s a small community and a lot of people talk and normally something big like that I’d hear about but I knew nothing about it,” said Riverhead Raceway Modified regular John Baker. “I’m just really excited because it should bring a lot of the bigger teams from out of state and it’ll be a good show for Long Island and Modified racing.”
Riverhead’s general manager John Ellwood said that the idea of having a 300-lap Modified race – and naming it after Islip Speedway – was entirely about Long Island’s racing heritage and history. A history that includes Modified legends like “Chargin” Charlie Jarzombek and the “Rapid Roman” Richie Evans (not from Long Island, of course) racing and winning at the bullrings of both Islip Speedway and Riverhead Raceway.
“It’s just race heritage, man,” Ellwood said. “Islip had a big show that they ran there for many years. It was the All-Star 300. We’re just trying to draw some excitement and bring some old school race formats and stuff to Riverhead. Naming it the Islip 300 at Riverhead will hopefully bring some success and we’ll be able to do it next year.”
Now some of the current-day Modified racers are hoping they can be the next driver to win a 300-lap Modified race on Long Island and add their name to the history books of Long Island racing.
“It would be awesome,” said NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and Holtsville, New York native Justin Bonsignore. “I don’t really know too much about the history of this race, (but) it was probably the most prestigious race on Long Island. It’s really cool that they’re reviving it. To potentially be the first one to win the Islip 300 would be an awesome accomplishment.”
Bonsignore has won his fair share of big races at Riverhead throughout his career. He’s won multiple NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour events at the bullring, as well as some of the bigger events held there in weekly competition.
While Bonsignore has seen the checkered flag at Riverhead multiple times, Baker has only captured one Modified feature win since making the jump the premier division at Riverhead at the start of 2016. Because of that, winning the Islip 300 would be the biggest win of Baker’s career for sure.
“Oh man,” Baker said when asked just how much winning the Islip 300 would mean. “I’m sure it’s going to be the huge race like we all expect with all of the big names like Preece and the other Tour guys. To win against those guys would mean a ton.”
The only concern that Baker and Bonsignore and some other drivers have on this event is in regards to how exactly the race is going to work with regards to tires, caution laps and pit stops.
Ellwood said that he and Riverhead Raceway chief steward Scott Tapley are “very close” to finalizing the format of the Islip 300, but Ellwood was able to confirm that caution laps will count for the first 290 laps and that 25 cars will start with 18 cars locking in through time-trials.
“We’re just deciding what we want to do with tire counts. I don’t want the competitors to have to hemorrhage money to run the race, but I also want them to have enough tires to put on a good show for the fans,” Ellwood explained. “300 laps is a long distance for Riverhead. I want to be able to have late-race excitement so we’re going to have to change tires for sure. We’re definitely going to be counting caution laps until 10 to go, so we still have to figure out a format for these guys to get into the pits and change tires.”
While Bonsignore is eager to know exactly how pit stops for the Islip 300 is going to work, he couldn’t stress enough how excited he is for May 27.
“You always want to have those things on your resume and have a nice trophy to keep in that trophy case,” he said. “I think this will be really cool and it’s honestly long overdue.”
For more information on Riverhead Raceway and the Islip 300 event, visit www.RiverheadRaceway.com.
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Southeast Editor – Twitter: @RobBlount
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com