Riverhead Raceway (NY) is the only track left on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour schedule that still uses tour-type Modifieds for weekly competition. That makes it the only track where the weekly competitors can take their own cars and enter a Tour race. It’s been that way for a while, and it led to a rivalry of sorts between the Tour regulars looking to score another win and the Riverhead regulars looking to defend their turf.
“When the Tour first started, half the field would be Riverhead guys,” said Jamie Tomaino who has attempted to qualify for every Riverhead Tour race. “So there was a big rivalry back then. In the old days going to Riverhead your knees would be shaking because at the beginning of the race there would be so many cars and the Riverhead guys would take most of the spots. So that’s why I think I missed two Tour races at Riverhead.”
But it seems now that the rivalry is just about dead. Quite a few Riverhead regulars have graduated up to running the Tour full time like Justin Bonsignore and Timmy Solomito. And many of the current group of Riverhead regulars are just hoping to make the race on Saturday night.
Kyle Ellwood has two wins at Riverhead in weekly competition. The 19-year-old said losing on Saturday to a Tour regular won’t hurt his pride or anything of that sort. He said he’ll just be happy to have to a good showing. Ellwood finished 26th after getting caught up in a crash on lap 40 when Todd Szegedy’s throttle stuck going into turn one.
“I don’t really have much pride,” said Ellwood. “I’m just trying to learn. I just want to get in, bide our time and hopefully we’ll be there at the end unlike the last time when we got taken out early.”
The winner from this past Saturday at Riverhead, Jason Agugliaro, said it will actually be fun to race against the Tour drivers.
“It’s kind of gone,” said Agugliaro of the rivalry. “It is my home track, but it would just be good to race with guys that run all the time at all different places and be able to run with them.”
Agugliaro failed to qualify for this race last year, but he said he expects nothing less than a top five on Saturday night.
A driver from back in the heyday of the Riverhead regular/Tour regular rivalry, Wayne Anderson, agreed with Agugliaro’s thought process. Anderson ran sporadically on the Tour before going full-time in 1992 and eventually winning the 1994 championship. His best Riverhead NWMT finish as a Riverhead regular was second, twice. He won at Riverhead as a full-time Tour driver in 1993.
“You want to see how your performance stands up to guys that do it all year round and steadily all summer,” said Anderson, now the car owner for Timmy Solomito, the leading NWMT rookie this year. “I viewed it more as a challenge to see if the local guys could compete against guys that race in various tracks up and down the eastern seaboard.”
The 2011 Riverhead track champion and 2011 Riverhead NWMT race winner, Justin Bonsignore, said that the rivalry is mostly dead since the Tour doesn’t travel to Long Island as frequently as it used to. Riverhead had three races a season until 1988. The Tour came to Riverhead twice a season from 1989 until 2003. Riverhead played host to just one race a season from there until last year when the Tour crossed the East River twice to race at the quarter-mile track.
“Maybe back in the day when there was three or four Riverhead races a year it would amp that up a little bit,” said Bonsignore who currently sits second in the NWMT standings. “But I don’t really see it as that. It’s just another car.”
But the rivalry does live on in one driver. John Fortin, the hard-nosed Riverhead regular from Holtsville, NY, said he expects nothing less than a win and he’s going to do everything he can to make sure he’s the one celebrating in victory lane at the end of 200 laps on Saturday night.
“I’d like to win,” said Fortin. “I don’t want some out-of-stater coming in and taking my money. That’s just how I feel. This is my house. I’m going to defend it.”
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Regional Editor (Long Island, CT, and NJ)- Twitter: @RobBlount. Photo Credit- Speed51.com