Riverhead Raceway owners Eddie & Connie Partridge and Tom Gatz returned the annual Riverhead Raceway NASCAR Whelen All American Series awards banquet to a formal affair Friday night much to the delight of 300 attendees at Giorgio’s of Baiting Hollow. Shawn Solomito of Center Moriches the 2016 NASCAR Modified champion led the annual Parade of Champions for the second time in his career four years removed from his first title in 2012. All 2016 champions were presented championship rings, a new annual tradition introduced by the Partridge & Gatz ownership team.
Prior to the distribution of awards GM John Ellwood addressed the crowd thanking the new track owners for keeping racing alive on Long Island. Ellwood also saluted Scott Tapley who served as race director in 2016 and will return for the 2017. John concluded his opening remarks by recognizing the tireless efforts of all the NASCAR and INEX officials as well the track staff of Riverhead Raceway. Banquet emcees Bob Finan and Stephen Halpin would then take over the microphone with Finan announcing that Halpin of TJ Halpin’s fame would be taking over the food services at the track for 2017.
To summarize Shawn Solomito’s 2016 title run in one word flawless comes to mind as the driver of the Wayne & Joettte Anderson Eastport Feeds entry won 5 races in 16 starts posting an average finish of 3.7 during the championship run. After receiving his championship ring from Tom Gatz as well the Big Brothers & Big Sisters of L.I. Drivers Cup Solomito noted how great it is to give the Anderson family their first championship as car owners. “Wayne’s five Riverhead titles are legendary as is his 1994 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship. But to give him his first championship as solely a car owner is pretty neat”. Shawn stated.
Dave Brigati, Howie Brode, Kyle Soper and John Fortin Sr. were second through fifth in the 2016 NASCAR Modified rankings. Cory Midgett of East Hampton was named Rookie of the Year after finishing 8th in the final standings.
For the third time in the past four years Jeremy McDermott of Riverhead was feted as Late Model champion along with his car owner Jim Wichert. McDermott made a late season charge to capture the crown in his Unique Golf/JDP Mechanical entry and ultimately won the title by one point. While winless in 2016 Jeremy would post an average finish of 4.9 in the 11 races contested. McDermott also won the 2012 Charger title making the soft spoken pilot a champion in four of the past five years of his career. “I can’t thank Jim Wichert enough for taking a shot on me, we did pretty good I’d say but we hate to see him go” McDermott said. Wichert has sold the championship car to spend more time with his growing sons and their sports. McDermott will remain in the Late Models in 2017 to defend his title come May.
David Roys, Eric Zeh, Chris Turbush and Kevin Metzger completed the top five. Eric Zeh of Selden was tabbed Rookie of the Year by virtue of his third place tally in points.
On the strength of three victories in 2016 Ken Hyde Jr. of Mastic Beach captured his second career Figure Eight title along with his fiance’ and car owner Darien Fritz. Hyde’s average finish was a stout 3.2 in 10 races but the second generation driver pointed to a single turning point of the season. “When we got hooked up with the SGS Stone Works team in my opinion that put as over the top, I just can’t say enough about them”. Hyde earned at the Big Brothers & Big Sisters of L.I. SAFER Driver’s Cup along with his championship ring.
Mike Mujsce, Gary Fritz Jr., Chris Elixson and Roger Maynor were second through fifth. Conner Aquirre of Quogue was awarded the Figure Eight Rookie of the Year.
Dave Brigati of Calverton will go down in the record books as the first ever Eagle Auto Mall Modified Crate champion at Riverhead Raceway and Friday “The Fancy Farmer” along with his car owner Brian Schwarz celebrated. Brigati in the Quest Manufacturing entry posted 3 wins along with a 3.1 average finish in route to the championship. “I perhaps turned the most laps through three divisions this year at Riverhead” Brigati quipped but he added, “but we’ve never had as much fun as we did this year”.
Dylan Slepian, Dillon Steuer, CJ Lehmann and Peter Bertuccio rounded out the top five.
After having come so very close in the past to winning a Blunderbust championship, Jack Handley Jr. of Medford finally grabbed the brass ring in 2016 and along with his car owner/mother Cyndi were honored for the well deserved championship. Jack powered his way to 5 wins in 13 races started in the Liccardi Builders racer posting an average finish of 3.5. “I still can’t believe it’s true and I’m standing here” Jack admitted. “Ever since I was a little kid watching my Dad race Blunderbusts all I ever wanted to do was race one. Back then to me this was the top form of NASCAR”.
Tim Mulqueen, Tom Pickerell, Eric Zeh and Tom Puccia completed the top five. Joshua Creel of Moncks Corner, SC was the 2016 Rookie of the Year.
Roger Turbush of Riverhead for the third time in his Super Pro Truck career was honored as a champion along with his truck owner & wife Stephanie who was celebrating her birthday at the banquet in addition to the championship. Roger visited victory lane on 4 occasions in his Baldwin Automotive Chevy boasting an average finish of 3.8 in the 10 races contested.”What can I say about my brother Chris and Uncle Ray (Bouchard). I don’t even have to tell them what the truck is doing, they see it in practice and adjust on it” Roger disclosed.
Dave Brigati, Rob McCormick, Mike Albasini and Jimmy Rennick Jr. were second through fifth. Sean Glennon of Northport was named Rookie of the Year.
Friday night was the culmination of a life long dream of 2016 INEX Legend Race Car champion Vinny Delaney of Holtsville as he was honored as a track champion for the first time in his 5 year career. Vinny was joined by car owner/girlfriend Erin Larsen at the podium. Delaney won once in the 13 races run with an average finish of 5.7, tops in the division earning him the title in the Cleary’s By The Water racer. “Joe Sole took a chance on me five years ago and got me going in the Legend Race Cars for which I thank him” Vinny shared. “My only regret is my Dad isn’t here to share this with me, from the start it was him & I going Go-Kart racing, I owe it all to him”.
John Beatty Jr., Kyle Ellwood, Dylan Slepian and Bryan Kelly were second through fifth. Jeff Otto Jr. of Deer Park was named INEX Legend Race Car Rookie of the Year.
The next order of business for Riverhead Raceway will come in the form of the two pre-season Technical Inspection days set for Saturday April 1st and again Saturday April 8th. Sunday April 9th the first ever Snow Melt Enduro program will take the green flag at the famed quarter mile oval.
For the complete 2017 schedule of events please visit www.riverheadraceway.com or call 631-842-RACE
-Bob Finan/Riverhead Raceway Press Release. Photo Credit: Keri Brunnhoelzl Photo