A ‘bittersweet’ moment as Riverhead Raceway’s owners sell track

08/15/2015 3:20 PM |

cromartys

Jim and Barbara Cromarty arrived at Riverhead Raceway on a beautiful August morning Saturday, the couple wearing matching NASCAR official shirts, just as they have on so many summer days. For nearly four decades, the couple has been a fixture at the last remaining race track on Long Island. 

This day, however, was unlike any other.

“It’s bittersweet,” said Ms. Cromarty after she and her husband agreed to sell Riverhead Raceway, which they’ve owned since 1984 and managed since 1978.

One day earlier, the Cromartys sold the track to Ed and Connie Partridge for $4 million. The Partridges plan to keep the race track use, which was something the Cromartys have always insisted of anyone who approached to buy.

“We finally stopped crying,” Jim Cromarty said in an interview at the track Saturday morning before the start of another weekend of racing. “For most of Thursday and Friday, we did a lot of crying. Just being choked up.”

Over the years, the Cromartys have received 12 to 15 offers to buy the 24-acre track property, and many of them were for well more than what they ended up selling the land for, they said.

The offers were rejected because the Cromartys wanted to see the property remain a race track, and most of the purchase offers we from developers looking to put stores there, they said.

“We felt strongly about that,” Ms. Cromarty said. “There are enough developments around here. The racetrack is a tradition.”

“It’s fantastic that Barbara and Jim held out for us,” said John Ellwood, a former race car driver who has been the track’s general manager for the past seven years. “We’ve got a fantastic owner coming aboard.”

He said it’s important that there be a track for younger generations to go to in the future. Mr. Ellwood will remain the track’s general manager under the new owners.

The track itself is 65 years old, Mr. Cromarty said. It’s also the last auto racing track on Long Island.

Mr. Partridge has been involved in Riverhead Raceway for many years, as the owner of a race car for at least 15 years and as the owner of the track concession on tires and fuel for about the last five years, Mr. Cromarty said.

“With the Partridges, we had somebody who not only wanted to keep the track open, but who also had the wherewithal to do it properly,” Mr. Cromarty said. “They are a diehard race family and good business people, too.”

“That’s all we could hope for,” Ms. Cromarty said. “We did all we could do.”

A view of Riverhead Raceway. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

A view of Riverhead Raceway. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

In recent years, Mr. Cromarty’s increasing difficulty walking has put a strain on the couple’s ability to run the track, he said.

He suffers from a rare disease called Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, which limits his mobility. It was first diagnosed when he in the Air Force at 19 and he knew then it would get progressively worse as he got older.

Now 83, Mr. Cromarty walks with the assistance of a walker. And last summer, Ms. Cromarty fell and broke her pelvic bone, Mr. Cromarty said.

“If we were younger, we wouldn’t do it,” said Ms. Cromarty, who’s also in her 80s.

The Cromartys originally ran the Suffolk County Fair both at Riverhead Raceway until 1985 and at the now-defunct Islip Raceway, which they also ran from 1977 to 1984.

When the owner of the Islip track died, the Cromartys were asked to take over, which is how they got involved in the racing business, Ms. Cromarty said.

In 1984, they bought the Riverhead track from Ed and Clara Hawkins and have now owned it for the past 31 years.

“A lot of people get a lot of pleasure out of it,” Ms. Cromarty said of Riverhead Raceway. “It’s a great thing for families and it means a lot to many of the races, so we felt very loyal to them.”

The track is sanctioned by NASCAR for the Modified, Figure 8, Late Models and Chargers divisions.

Mr. Partridge, who owns the T.S. Haulers trucking business as well as a former sand mine of the same name on Route 25 in Calverton, could not be reached for comment.

However, he said in an interview Friday with an online racing publication called Speed51.com that he plans to keep a race track in Riverhead, although he didn’t commit to the location.

“There’s always going to be a track,” Mr. Partridge said. “We won’t sell it unless we can build another one at Calverton (Enterprise Park at Calverton). If we can’t build that track, then we won’t sell Riverhead.”

There have been several proposals to build a race track at EPCAL in recent years but none have come to fruition. Riverhead Town has done extensive environmental studies of the EPCAL property and has proposed a 50-lot industrial subdivision of the land, but to date, none of those plans have gotten to the point of obtaining approval from state regulators.

Mr. Partridge recently agreed to sell a 6.7-acre property he owned on Edwards Avenue in Calverton to the Riverhead School District for $9.5 million, and that sale apparently helped him buy the raceway, according to his comments in the Speed51.com story.

The Cromartys actually live in Manhattan and come out to Riverhead on race weekends. They stay at what is now the Hotel Indigo, and have stayed in that hotel, which has had various names over the years, for the past four decades on race weekends.

Over the years, they’ve had other jobs, some in addition to running the race track and some before that, such as running an advertising and public relations firm, owning an ice skating and roller rink and a printing firm which printed Sunday bulletins for 50 Catholic churches.

In recent years, the racetrack has been their only job.

They will remain on the scene until Oct. 1, when the current racing season ends.

Ms. Cromarty said they may pop in for a visit next year, but they won’t be a regular presence at the track after this year.

The couple had nothing but praise for the people of Riverhead.

“We think Riverhead is one of the greatest communities on Long Island,” Mr. Cromarty said. “The community spirit out here is really unbelievable.”

Photo Caption: Barbara and Jim Cromarty at Riverhead Raceway Saturday morning, one day after agreeing to sell the track. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

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