It’s a tradition that dates back six decades. On Saturday nights in Riverhead, the roar of engines echoes throughout Route 58 as thousands gather at Long Island’s last remaining racetrack: Riverhead Raceway.
In the time that Jim and Barbara Cromarty owned the track, beginning in 1984, more than a dozen offers came in from developers to purchase the property, each time threatening the end of auto racing on Long Island. And each time, the Cromartys resisted.
In August, with the couple both in their 80s, the time had come to finally move on. Spurning higher offers, the couple sold the racetrack to Ed and Connie Partridge of Wading River and Tom Gatz of Center Moriches for $4 million. The new buyers have said they intend to maintain the racetrack.
“They turned down triple the money just to keep it as a racetrack, which is phenomenal,” Mr. Partridge said in an August interview.
For their longtime commitment to Riverhead Raceway and their insistence on maintaining its future as a racetrack, the Riverhead News-Review has selected Jim and Barbara Cromarty as its 2015 Businesspeople of the Year.
The Cromartys, who began working at the racetrack as promoters in 1978, have said all along that they had no intention of selling the track to developers, and that they would keep the raceway as long as they could.
“We felt strongly about that,” Ms. Cromarty said in August. “There are enough developments around here. The racetrack is tradition.”
It was a bittersweet moment for the Cromartys to sell the track. They had been making the trek from Manhattan to Riverhead every weekend for four decades and staying in the same Riverhead hotel — now called Hotel Indigo — every weekend during racing season.
“We finally stopped crying,” Mr. Cromarty said on the Saturday after the sale was finalized. “For most of Thursday and Friday, we did a lot of crying. Just being choked up.”
“If we were younger, we wouldn’t do it,” Ms. Cromarty added.
Their efforts in preserving the track have not gone unnoticed.
The Riverhead Chamber of Commerce recognized the Cromartys in 2012 with its Business of the Year award.
“Their business helps drive business to the Town of Riverhead,” said chamber board member Robert Bugdin, who presented the award.
Former Riverhead Councilman Ed Densieski drove a race car for 25 years at Riverhead Raceway, where he won two championships and still holds the record for fastest lap in a Late Model car.
“The track has a huge impact on the local economy,” he said. “Not just in Riverhead, but on Long Island, because people came from all over.”
He estimates the attendance at the raceway being close to 5,000 people on some nights.
“And these are not junk cars,” he added. “These are very expensive machines, so there’s a trickle down. A guy selling parts or building engines or selling tires…it has a huge economic impact. And then after the races, people go to restaurants and things like that.”
Mr. Partridge said he intends to continue the racetrack on Route 58, although he said in the future he might seek to build a racetrack at Riverhead Town’s Enterprise Park at Calverton, if the town approves.
So far, town officials have opposed numerous proposals to build a racetrack at EPCAL.
Mr. Densieski said that racing has a family atmosphere at Riverhead Raceway.
“I’ve met many wonderful people and have lifelong friends because of the racetrack,” he said. “I personally would like to thank the Cromartys for all they’ve done for racing on Long Island. We probably wouldn’t have racing on Long Island if it wasn’t for them. They are the epitome of good people.”
2014: Riverhead’s craft brewers
2013: April Yakaboski
2012: Richard Stabile
2011: Dennis McDermott and Kayleigh & Tahir Baig
2010: Dee Muma
2009: J. Gordon Huszagh
2008: Ray Pickersgill
2007: Ray Maynard
2006: Jack Van de Wetering
2005: Jeff Hallock and Dr. Frank Arena
2004: Massoud Family
2003: Andrew Mitchell
2002: Christine & Peter Loew, EastEnders Coffee House
2001: Jan Burman
2000: Fred Terry
1999: Jim Bissett, Joseph Petrocelli
1998: Swezey’s Department Store
1997: Pat Frankenbach
1996: Chip Cleary
1995: Ed Merz
1994: Bill Talmage
1993: Joe Fischer
1992: Liz Strebel
1991: Barry Barth
1990: Bobby Goodale
1989: Mike Kent
1988: Stan Hagler