It may have come three months later then it was suppose to due to Covid-19 but opening night Saturday night found anticipation and excitement in the air at Riverhead Raceway. When the checker flag waved on the 50-lap NASCAR Modified feature a familiar face would sit in victory lane as Tom Rogers Jr. of Riverhead made an early race pass to lay claim to his 58th career triumph. Tom now sits just five back of "Charging" Charlie Jarzombek's 63 wins for the top spot on the all time win list.
By virtue of their heat race victories Howie Brode and Tom Rogers Jr. made up the front row for the feature with Brode executing a picture perfect start to take the early race lead over Rogers. The two former multi-time track champion diced for the lead as they have so many times before with Rogers right on the rear bumper of Brode. As the field raced down the backstretch on lap 3 Rogers was able to slip under Brode as they hit the third turn. By the time the tandem was exiting the fourth turn to start the fourth lap Rogers had edged out to the race lead with Brode now tucking into second.
Meanwhile behind Rogers and Brode a heated battle started to brew for third as the race without any cautions nearly the entire distance. Roger Turbush sat third but was feeling the heat from both two time and defending NASCAR Modified champion Kyle Soper and John Beatty Jr. as the became the best battle on track. With the extended green flag run Rogers pulled away from the field while Brode trailed by a few car lengths. On lap 46 the only caution flag of the race flew for a Glen Steger spin off the fourth turn.
That turn of events gave Brode one more shot at reclaiming the race lead from Rogers but when the green flag flew Tom was on the button and would keep the Denise & Ken Darch owned Chevy out front for the remainder of the race. Afterwards as he so often does Tom felt the car might even have more to offer, "this is a totally new set-up we threw at the car this off season, new to me for sure but it is not quite where we want it to be" Rogers noted with a wry smile. "Can't thank Denis & Ken for giving us everything we need, Gino at Evolution Race Engines and our sponsors Licensed To Chill, Precision Water Works, Stakey's Pumpkin Farm, Peter Clark Motorsports, Tuscany Gourmet Market and new to our team Dean's Auto Repair in Deer Park" the happy winner concluded.
Howie Brode of East Islip scored the runner-up finish in his Petro Home Services Chevy while Kyle Soper of Manorville crossed the line third in the Eastport Feeds Chevy. Roger Turbush of Riverhead and Dylan Slepian of Dix Hills completed the top five.
As was the case in 2019 on opening night Jeremy McDermott of Riverhead and Chris Turbush of Wading River served notice they'd be the two drivers to beat in the Late Model class in 2020.In a non stop 25-lap main event Chris Turbush raced out front at the throw of the green with Jeremy McDermott in tow. The two drivers who utilize crate motors in their machines were able to motor away from the small field at the outset. After chasing and sizing up Turbush for the first 11 laps of the contest McDermott pounced ducking to the inside of Chris entering the first turn on lap 12. The move paid dividends as McDermott came away with the race lead although Turbush did try an immediate crossover move looking to reclaim the lead but to no avail. Once out front the Eastport Feeds Pontiac with Jeremy McDermott aboard pulled away allowing Jeremy to claim his 18th career win in the class. Chris Turbush of Wading River in the Spider Webb Racing Chevy was second while Jarrod Hayes of Calverton brought the MSM/Elite Motorsports entry home third.
Ever since he was 5 years old AJ DeSantis of Yaphank wanted to be just like his grandfather the late Tom Tillotson and drive a Modified at Riverhead Raceway. With the evolution of the Crate Modified class a few years back AJ and his grandpa Tom were all in since the NASCAR Modifieds where Tom raced were financially out of the question. Sadly Tom passed last year but that just made AJ more determined than ever to score his first career win. Saturday night he did just that in a 25-lap event. DeSantis jumped to the early advantage with rookie driver Gerard Lawrence giving chase for the first two laps before he was passed by Matt Brode for the spot. DeSantis and Brode would run one-two up until a lap 21 caution flag changed the running order at the front. While under caution Brode was summoned by NASCAR officials to check on a possible water leak which was confirmed and Matt was sent to the pits for repairs. That moved Lou Maestri to second alongside DeSantis for the restart with just four laps remaining in the tilt. When the race resumed DeSantis turned in a perfect restart and he indeed realize his dreams since he was 5 years old winning in a Modified type car at Riverhead Raceway as he pulled the Strong Oil Chevy into the winners circle. Lou Maestri of Deer Park was runner-up in the Hunter Business School Chevy while Terry Stiles of Rocky Point was third in the T&S Auto Clinic entry.
Scott Pedersen of Shirley ended a two year dry spell as he led all 15-laps of the Figure Eight main event to score the opening night win. The first attempt at starting the race went awry in a hurry as Paul Cummings, Bob Dalke and Bryan Quilliam got together coming to the green. Only Cummings would continue. The second attempt at starting the race was more successful with Scott Pedersen and Tom Ferrara breaking out front. The two seasoned veterans diced for the race lead with Ferrara eyeing a pass to the inside of Pedersen entering the corners. However Scott was equal to the challenges and soon Ferrara had third place CJ Lehmann making some noise on his rear bumper. In the end it would be Scott Pedersen in the Vecchio Motorsports entry scoring the win over Tom Ferrara of Patchogue in the Brandan Group Cadillac and CJ Lehmann of Shirley in the Blue Collar Bar Chevy.
Cody Triola of Bay Shore made it two Blunderbusts wins in a row in their 20-lap non stop main event. Triola who waited until the final race of 2019 to win his first career race wasted zero time in claiming his second Saturday night. Triola and Jim Laird Jr. went side by side for the lead when the race began with "Mad" Max Handley sitting third. Triola was able to get out front on Laird who was now concerned with third place Handley. Exiting the fourth turn to start the 4th lap Handley ducked under Laird for the position and set sail for leader Triola. However as the race wore on Cody Triola in his PCFI entry was able to scamper away from Handley who was now under attack from the ageless "Racing Grandfather" Bill Wegmann Sr. with the 70 plus year old Wegmann passing Handley on the white flag lap. At the conclusion it was Cody Triola scoring the win over Bill Wegmann Sr. of North Bellmore in the Crackerjack Auto Stores Olds Cutlass with Max Handley third in the Licciardi Builders Caprice.
Just refer to Jack Handley Jr. of Medford as "Mr Opening Night" from here on in. Over recent years Jack whether it is the Blunderbusts or Super Pro Trucks manages to find his way to victory lane which he did during Saturday 's opener in a non stop 20-lap Super Pro Truck feature. Coming into the 2020 season Handley takes over the championship truck driven formerly by Mark Stewart. Handley raced out to the early race lead over Sean Glennon and Lou Maestri. Try as he might to keep pace with the race leader Handley the only shot Glennon might have had at Jack would have been on a double file restart but none were forthcoming. When the checker flag waved it was the East Side Building Chevy of Jack Handley Jr. crossing under it first for his 8th career win. Sean Glennon of Northport was runner-up in the Rittenhouse Properties entry while Lou Maestri of Deer Park was third in the Gershow Recycling Chevy.
The most eventful race of the night belonged to the INEX Legend Race Cars with their 20-lap main event featuring some hotly contested laps and a flip. When the dust settled Jim Sylvester of Massapequa notched his 8th career win. Early on things were relatively clam with Ray Fitzgerald moving to the race lead at the drop of the green with Kevin Nowak coming to second. Nowak wasted no time in challenging Fitzgerald for the race lead. After a lap 5 restart "Blankets" Joey Braun joined in on the fun for the race following the Fitzgerald-Nowak battle closely. During a 10th lap restart when the field resumed racing exiting the second turn the two main combatants for the lead Fitzgerald and Nowak spun drawing another quick yellow. When the race restarted it was now Joey Braun the new leader with George Tomko Jr. now second. Things got very wild on a lap 13 restart when Braun got into the wall just before the starters stand and with the entire field bearing down on him all heck broke loose. Caught up in the mess and going upside down would be Allan Pedersen whose barreling car also caught Eric Hersey just past the start-finish line. All drivers were okay with Tomko sent to the rear for his role in the incident. When the race resumed Jim Sylvester found himself the new leader being chased by Colin Hoeffner when the race resumed on lap 14. Both Sylvester and Hoeffner had already won races in 2020 at Bethel Motor Speedway. Over the final half dozen laps Hoeffner stayed glued to Sylvester's rear bumper but in the end it would be the former champion Jim Sylvester scoring the win in his 860 Racing machine. Hoeffner of Hauppauge was runner-up in the MetJoe's Race Shop entry while an impressive Jason Castaldo of Shirley was third in the M3 Technologies mount.
-Riverhead Raceway Press Release
-Photo credit: Michael Jaworecki / MyRaceNews