The burnout has become a controversial subject in racing recently. What used to be a means of celebrating is now considered a way to cheat the rules. It is believed that drivers are blowing out their tires in the celebratory manner to harm whatever components helped them win the race so they’ll pass tech inspection.
Because racing can’t be fun anymore.
The National Football League is now called the “No Fun League.” Players are penalized for over-excessive celebrations, and now even the legendary “Lambeau Leap” has been called into question.
Because sports can’t be fun anymore.
But don’t tell any of that to Dillon Steuer. On Saturday night on Long Island, he had fun.
At Riverhead Raceway when he did a burnout on the backstretch, and then again in turn four, and then another one in turn one, and then another one just for good measure as he entered victory lane, blowing out his left rear tire, leaving a shower of sparks behind him as his steel wheels spun on the black asphalt, he was having fun.
And why shouldn’t he have been having fun? Steuer beat Ryan Preece, one of the best current day Tour-type Modified drivers out there, to score his first win in the premier division at Riverhead, in the track’s longest race, the inaugural Islip 300, and he picked up a nice $7,000 check. Oh yeah, the kid is just 15 years old, too.
“Once I won, it was one of the coolest feelings I’ve ever felt. What better time to do it than in the 300,” said the soft-spoken teenager.
Riverhead Raceway sits at the head of a river (surprise) on Long Island. It’s right at the meeting point of what are known as Long Island’s two “forks.” The track has been racing every year since 1951. It is Long Island’s only remaining race track as Freeport Stadium closed in 1983 and Islip Speedway closed its doors one year later.
Long-time fans are always longing for the “good old days” of racing. “It just isn’t what it used to be,” they say. They still go to the track because it is routine, but for some reason the days of Preece, Bonsignore, Rogers and Brode just aren’t as fun as the days of Evans, Jarzombek, Baldwin and Harbach.
But on Saturday night, those fans were satisfied. On Saturday night, Steuer wasn’t the only one who had fun at “The Head.”
Facebook posts from fans, other drivers, and even race officials all talked about how much fun the Islip 300 was.
Imagine that for a second. In a day when all anybody wants to do is bicker and argue about any and every subject on social media, everybody said they had fun. In a day when all of the talking heads say races are too long and nobody has an attention span for long events, everybody said a 300-lap race on a quarter-mile race track was, well, you get the point.
There were a few who probably didn’t have too much fun. Justin Bonsignore had to watch much of the race from the infield after engine issues put him out of it just 50 laps in. Max Zachem and John Baker Jr. both had their races end in the same crash.
At one point, even Steuer wasn’t having that much fun as Ryan Preece lapped almost the entire field.
But with less than 50 laps to go, the second-generation driver was having fun again. He restarted sixth and worked his way to the lead, and eventually to the win.
Dillon’s father, Chuck, has 19 victories in Riverhead’s Modified division, good enough for 20th on the unofficial all-time win list, according to track announcer Bob Finan.
Chuck stepped away from racing at Riverhead for a while to run on dirt in New Jersey. He’s recently stepped away from driving entirely to help Dillon get his racing career off the ground.
That proved to be a good decision as on Saturday he was in victory lane anyway, this time as a crew chief for his son.
“I grew up watching him,” explained Dillon. “Now he’s finally stepped back and let me get behind the wheel. It’s really cool to be able to get a win with him.”
In short track racing, burnouts are frowned upon. Not because anybody might be hiding the fact that they’re cheating like in NASCAR, but instead because they’re bad for the engines and expensive and most short track racers can’t afford to fix the damage done to the engine.
On Saturday night, Chuck Steuer didn’t care that his 15-year-old son did a burnout, drove on bare wheels and potentially hurt his engine.
Dillon offered up a very simple explanation for that: “We were all too happy to care.”
They were just having fun.
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Southeast Editor – Twitter: @RobBlount
-Photo Credit: Michael Jaworecki photo