The old adage the more things change the more they stay the same comes into play where the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and Riverhead Raceway’s relationship is concerned as the WMT stars will visit the historic Long Island oval three times in 2021 starting with a 200-lap event Saturday evening May 15th. It will be the first time since the third year of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour in 1987 that the tour will compete three times on the quarter mile bullring in one season.
By Bob Finan
During the off season between the 1984 and 1985 NASCAR seasons things were changing not only with the then NASCAR Modified Circle of Champions morphing into the now popular NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour but also with NASCAR racing on Long Island. Islip Speedway had run it’s last race in September of 1984 and Barbara & Jim Cromarty purchased Riverhead Raceway to continue the then NASCAR Winston Racing Series in 1985. On that inaugural 1985 WMT schedule three stops at Riverhead Raceway appeared and were indeed high risk events for the track and WMT teams as they were to be run midweek on Wednesday night with a Thursday rain date.
The record books will show Jimmy Spencer of Berwick, Pa taking the first two Riverhead Raceway WMT events on July 10th and August 7th of ’85 while Richie Evans of Rome, NY took the finale on August 28th just two months prior to his tragic passing at Martinsville, Va. during practice. In 1986 the three Wednesday night contests fell to Mike Stefanik of Coventry, RI, Dan Jivanelli of Hampton Bays, LI and the late Tom Baldwin of Bellport, LI. The trio of races in 1987 saw Mike Ewanitsko of N. Babylon take the first two races, the second on a Thursday rain date while Dan Jivanelli returned to WMT victory lane in the third event in late August.
Fast forward to 2021 where Riverhead Raceway owners Eddie & Connie Partridge and Tom Gatz never ones to shy away from a gamble worked with NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race director Jimmy Wilson on returning for the first time in 34 years to a three race format for the WMT on Long Island. Of particular interest the first of the three of 200-lap events will fall on the third week of the 2021 Riverhead Raceway schedule May 15th, the earliest a WMT has been scheduled to race at the Route 58 facility.
For the first time since 1985 no WMT races at Riverhead Raceway were contested in 2020 due to the restrictions brought forth by the Covid-19 worldwide pandemic.
Defending NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion Justin Bonsignore of Holtsville is particularly happy about the increase to three races at Riverhead as he and his Ken Massa Motorsports team will ride a four race WMT at the track where he also won the 2011 NASCAR Modified title. Bonsignore started the streak on July 7th, 2018 and increased the Riverhead win streak to four September 7th, 2019. Justin sits second on the all time Riverhead WMT win list with eight wins trailing Mike Ewanitsko (11) by three victories.
You’d have to go back to 2017 to find a driver not named Justin Bonsignore winning a WMT Riverhead event as Timmy Solomito of Islip swept the two races that year. Berlin, Connecticut resident Ryan Preece is the last non-Long Island resident to win a WMT race at Riverhead with the current NASCAR Cup star sweeping the 2013 races.
Local favorite Eric Goodale of Riverhead is hoping to ride the momentum of his Martinsville, Va. Speedway victory in April to the winners circle at the track where he started his driving career in the Charger division. Eric scored the first of his four WMT wins at Riverhead on June 28th, 2014 and was flooded by family and friends moments after the triumph.
Aside from the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour 200 Saturday May 15th Riverhead Raceway will present four divisions of NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series racing with the Crate Modifieds, INEX Legend Race Cars, Street Stocks and Mini Stocks competing on the card. The WMT portion of the show will be streamed live on NBC Sports Gold Track Pass and be shown on NBCSN at a later date.
The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour returns to Riverhead Raceway Saturday June 19th and Saturday September 18th
2021 Opening Weekend is set to kick off the new race season Saturday evening May 1st and Sunday afternoon May 2nd. The track will again live stream all their weekly racing events at Riverheadraceway.Tv on a pay per view basis.