08/14/13 8:00am
08/14/2013 8:00 AM
GARRET MEADE PHOTO | From left, three generations of family race car drivers: Mark Stewart. Roger Turbush, Chris Turbush and Dan Turbush.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | From left, three generations of family race car drivers: Mark Stewart, Roger Turbush, Chris Turbush and Dan Turbush.

It’s ironic that one of the hottest new drivers at Riverhead Raceway this season doesn’t possess a driver’s license. At 15 years of age, Mark Stewart isn’t even old enough for a learner’s permit.

It would be against the law for Stewart to get behind the wheel on a public street, but it’s fine with NASCAR for him to race in Riverhead Raceway’s Super Pro Trucks division, reaching speeds as fast as 65 to 70 miles per hour on the quarter-mile oval. And Stewart isn’t only racing — he’s winning.

Seven races into his budding auto racing career, Stewart already has two back-to-back wins under his belt.

“I was ecstatic,” Stewart, who will soon begin his freshman year at Riverhead High School, said. “It was so surprising, you know.”

Then again, maybe not too surprising considering his pedigree. Stewart comes from a family with a rich tradition in racing. He represents the fourth generation of a famed Riverhead Raceway racing family, the Turbushes. He is the grandson of Dan Turbush, whose late father, Charley Turbush, won 37 races and a title at Riverhead Raceway in jalopies. Dan Turbush himself first raced at the raceway in 1967. Although he last raced two years ago, he said his racing days are not over yet. “I think I’m one of the last dinosaurs,” he said.

Two of Stewart’s uncles and Dan Turbush’s sons, Chris and Roger Turbush, are both current drivers at the track. Chris Turbush competes in Chargers and Roger Turbush in Super Pro Trucks alongside his nephew. Roger Turbush is the defending Super Pro Trucks champion.

Dan Turbush (55) and Chris Turbush (34) rank first and second on the raceway’s all-time Chargers win list. In terms of championships, Dan has claimed six and Chris has four.

“Obviously, it’s in my blood to race, and I really love to do it,” Stewart said. “It’s really fun.”

Stewart had raced go-karts for seven years and had success, too, winning a regional championship. Then Chris Turbush encouraged him to give driving his truck a try last year, which he did during a couple of practice runs.

This year Stewart was deemed ready to make the jump, and there he was in his uncle’s No. 8 truck, a hybrid with a Ford body and a Chevy front end on it. “We’re low budget here,” said Chris Turbush.

Of course, there was a modification for the newest member of the Turbush Racing team. In order to see over the steering wheel, Stewart sits on an old fire suit.

Stewart’s first two races this season were unremarkable. He got into wrecks that were not his fault, said Chris Turbush.

“He went right into the wall the second week,” Dan Turbush said. “He got hit, he didn’t make the corrections, and went straight into the wall.”

In order to pick up points, Stewart started but did not complete the next two races with borrowed trucks. Then, after spending all day repairing the motor to No. 8, Stewart went out and won his first complete race.

“I was crying,” Chris Turbush said. “I was ecstatic. It was just a joy.”

The following week, Stewart started fourth on the outside before pulling away from one of the better drivers, Frank Dumicich Jr., the points leader. That led to his second win in a row.

In Saturday’s race, which Roger Turbush won, Stewart finished seventh. He currently sits eighth in the standings.

Stewart has the qualities that make a good race-car driver, said Chris Turbush. “He’s got instincts and a great racing mind. He’s good. He’s just as good as us right now. He’s got it in him. He’s a Turbush.”

Stewart, who races for Angela’s House, a charitable organization that assists families caring for medically frail children, said it was scary at first when he first started racing, but he has quickly become accustomed to it. He has learned a lot, like how exhausting race-car driving can be, and how much behind-the-scenes work is involved.

“I just watched the videos, saw the mistakes I [made], see where I can get better at,” he said. “I really learned when to get on the gas, when to lift, how much break to use, where the better line is.”

Stewart said he is also helped by the radio communication he keeps with Chris Turbush during races. “My Uncle Chris, he’s amazing on the radio,” Stewart said. “He just keeps me calm. He keeps me in the race. He just guides me through it.”

Given what he has experienced on the race track, Stewart, who will turn 16 on Dec. 27, should not be nervous when the time comes for his road test for a driver’s license. That should be a piece of cake for him, but then again …

“He might fail,” Chris Turbush said. “He might be going too fast.”

bliepa@timesreview.com

08/12/13 1:13pm
08/12/2013 1:13 PM

RIVERHEAD RACEWAY ROUNDUP

Ryan Preece of Berlin, Conn., raced his way into the lead with just eight laps remaining to post his third win of the season Saturday night in a 35-lap NASCAR Whelen All- American Series Modified main event at Riverhead Raceway.

Jason Agugliaro was driving his heart out in hopes of scoring his first career NASCAR Modified feature event win, but as the race hit the halfway mark, Preece started to make his presence known. On Lap 18 Preece was able to wrestle second away from Dave Brigati and after a few laps closed in on the leader, Agugliaro.

With 10 laps remaining in the race it looked as though Agugliaro might be able to keep Preece at bay but then Preece, exiting a turn on Lap 26, made a charge under Agugliaro. By the time the duo raced through the third and fourth turns, Preece had the lead, a lead he never surrendered over the final eight laps.

“Jason had a good car but as the race wore on he got tight off the corner and my car was great on the bottom and I was able to get by,” said Preece.

After coming in second, Agugliaro of Islip joked, “I wish there was a tour race somewhere tonight we would have won.”

Dave Sapienza of Riverhead made a late-race move to secure third place. Dave Brigati of Calverton and Chuck Steuer of Bohemia were the next two finishers.

In other races:

On the strength of an early-race outside pass, Jeremy McDermott of Riverhead scored his second Late Model win of the year in a 25-lap main event. The race saw many of the championship contenders going into the contest have issues, notably the points leader, Scott Kulesa, and challenger Roger Oxee. Kulesa was knocked out with a damaged shock while Oxee was stopped by a right front flat and fell from the race. That didn’t matter to McDermott, who drove off to victory. Shawn Patrick of Brightwaters was the runner-up. Chris LaSpisa of Shirley made a great comeback from an early-race flat to finish third.

The 20-lap Chargers race saw C. J. Lehmann of Shirley motor to his first win of the season. Chad Churilla of Hauppauge had to settle for second. Chris Turbush of Riverhead made some late-race moves to finish third.

The 20-lap Super Pro Truck feature was decided by three drivers in yet another closely contested short-track classic. The defending champion, Roger Turbush of Riverhead, scored his 16th career win. In a photo finish for second, Brian McElearney of North Babylon edged Mike Albasini of Flushing.

The defending Legend Race Car champion, Kyle Ellwood of Riverhead, extended his points lead, driving to his fourth win of the season in the 27-car field. Timmy Solomito of Islip was second and third went to Kyle Soper of Manorville.

Jason Savoy of Lake Panamoka scored his second consecutive Demolition Derby win of 2013 as he topped newcomer Andrew Ferrante of Riverhead.

08/05/13 12:04pm
08/05/2013 12:04 PM

RIVERHEAD RACEWAY ROUNDUP

Timmy Solomito of Islip captured the first feature of Twin 30s at Riverhead Raceway on Saturday while the points leader, Howie Brode of East Islip, topped the field in the nightcap.

Solomito scored his second win of the season, with Dave Sapienza of Riverhead second. Brode crossed the line third, Dave Brigati of Calverton was fourth and Shawn Solomito of Islip fifth.

Over the final 10 laps of the second 30-lap feature, Brode was able to distance himself from Solomito, who was the runner-up. Shawn Solomito of Islip raced in third. Kyle Ellwood of Riverhead came in fourth and Jason Agugliaro of Islip was fifth.

Brode disclosed his game plan after taking the win in the second race. “We kind of played it cool in the first race and let things play out,” he said. “Then in the second race we had some luck fall our way.”

Late Model veteran Kevin Metzger of Massapequa went into Saturday’s 25-lap feature event having not won since May 22, 2010, but that all changed when the checker flag waved, giving the former two-time champion his 11th career win. With no ill effects from his brush with the wall, Metzger was able to hold off Ken Alfano of Southold for the hard-fought win. Roger Oxee of Peconic placed third.

Ray Minieri of Bay Shore visited Charger victory lane for the third time this season after he prevailed in a 20-lap main event for his 18th career win. Eric Zeh of Selden was second and third went to Chad Churilla of Hauppauge.

It has been an up and down Blunderbust season for 17-year-old Jack Handley Jr. of Medford, but it was all up for him on Saturday as he won his third feature event of the year, a 20-lap contest. Handley was immediately followed at the finish line by Tommy Walkowiak of Ridge and Bill Wegmann Sr. of North Bellmore.

Mark Stewart of Riverhead, a 15-year-old newcomer to the Super Pro Truck class, turned heads once again this week as he won his second consecutive 20-lap main event. The points leader, Frank Dumicich Jr. of East Quogue, was second. Dave Koenig of Freeport took third.

Joe Warren Jr. of Rocky Point, who is enjoying a breakout season in the 4/6-Cylinder Car Enduro division, won for the fourth time in five races this season. George Davis of Patchogue was second. James McCarthy of Bellmore raced his way from 38th to a third-place finish.

07/29/13 11:06am
07/29/2013 11:06 AM

RIVERHEAD RACEWAY ROUNDUP

Dave Brigati of Calverton shook off a run of bad racing luck on Saturday evening in front of a standing-room-only crowd at Riverhead Raceway when he held off teammate Dave Sapienza of Riverhead to win a 35-lap NASCAR Modified feature event. It was his first win since returning to Riverhead full time at the start of the 2013 season.

At the finish, it was a relieved and happy Brigati scoring a much-needed win, one ironically that wouldn’t have come without a phone call from Sapienza,

“I tore up all my equipment early in the season,” Brigati said. “I was done, and then Sap calls me and asked if I wanted to drive his older car, and now I’m glad I said yes.”

Following was Timmy Solomito of Islip in third place. Howie Brode of East Islip was fourth and Jason Agugliaro of Islip fifth.

In other races:

Eric Zeh of Selden worked his way through the Charger field from a seventh starting position to score his third win of the season and in the process reclaimed sole possession of the points lead. Chad Churilla of Hauppauge had to settle for runner-up money. Chris Turbush of Riverhead crossed the finish line third.

The Blunderbust division normally can be counted on for quick running feature events, with many going from start to finish without a yellow flag, but that was not the case Saturday. A rough and tumble race ended on Lap 12 because of a time limit. Jimmy White Jr. of Southampton was declared the winner, giving him his second victory of the year. Tim Mulqueen of Levittown took second, and Brian Brown of Baiting Hollow ended up third.

In a 20-lap Legend Race Car feature, Vinny Delaney of Holtsville finally won his first career main event after coming close before. Timmy Solomito of Islip sped in second after making one last bid for the lead off a turn. He came up half a car length short. Veteran Paul Dodorico of Miller Place claimed third.

James Charrier of Shirley continued his domination of Grand Enduro racing, topping the field in a 50-lap feature. White was second. Third place went to Greg Zaleski of Jamesport.

In the 8-Cylinder Demolition Derby, the defending National Demolition Derby champion, Jason Savoy of Lake Panamoka, outlasted veteran Michael Rommeney of Maspeth for the victory. Both drivers were coming off wins from the Sunday before at the Orange County Fair.

In the School Bus Demolition Derby, Rommeney rebounded for the win after outlasting Savoy. Chris Van Cott of Commack was third.

07/27/13 5:00pm
07/27/2013 5:00 PM

GEORGE FAELLA FILE PHOTO | Jim Marrone hung on to the roof while Tonny Peterson drove through a wall of fire during the Tony Peterson Hell Drivers stunt show at Riverhead Raceway in 2011.

Demolition derbys have been a staple of Saturday night’s at Riverhead Raceway.

Tonight, for example, is a school bus demolition derby to go along with a full slate of racing.

NPR reporter Charles Lane recently visited Riverhead Raceway to catch some of the derby action. His report was published today, under the headline, ‘You Gotta Keep Smashin’ And Shashin’ And Smashin’!’

To hear the three-minute audio report from NPR, click here.

07/23/13 10:00am
07/23/2013 10:00 AM

The cover of the News-Review the week Kalila Taylor was arrested in 1997.

Two unrelated documentaries — one about a 1990s murder, the other about the Riverhead Raceway — are being filmed in Riverhead this month.

This week, a production crew is on location in Riverhead to film an episode for the 11th season of Oxygen’s true crime series “Snapped,” a show that chronicles women who commit violent crimes. The episode will focus on Kalila Taylor, the Riverhead woman who in 1996 stabbed and killed fellow Riverhead High School student Curtisha Morning.

Last week, a production crew from Gigantic Pictures was in town to film segments for “Blunderbust,” a documentary about the history of Riverhead Raceway.

NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTO | Riverhead raceway is the subject of a new documentary filming this month.

NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTO | Riverhead raceway is the subject of a new documentary filming this month.

Donna Dudek, the supervising producer of “Snapped,” said she first became familiar with the Riverhead case through a Google Alert that popped up on her phone during Ms. Taylor’s murder retrial last year.

Prosecutors argued that Ms. Taylor stabbed Ms. Morning more than 90 times in a jealous rage over the attention of Ms. Taylor’s boyfriend. Ms. Morning’s body was found a month later in the woods near the school.

Ms. Taylor had been convicted of second-degree murder in 1999 and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison, but the case was thrown out due to incorrect instructions given to the jury by the presiding judge. In August 2012, Ms. Taylor’s case was retried and she was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.

“We’re very interested in what makes people tick,” Ms. Dudek said of her television show. “We’re all amateur psychologists, I think. I think it’s always a little more surprising when women kill, and I think some of the motives women have are very different to the motives men have.”

The television crew, Ms. Dudek said, plans to film footage of Riverhead High School, the neighborhood Ms. Taylor lived in and the woods where Ms. Morning’s body was found during its eight-day shoot. She hopes to interview Ms. Taylor’s friends and family for the show.

“The episode is about her, so it’s important to us that we’re able to give her side of the story,” Ms. Dudek said.

“Blunderbust” producers were not available for comment this week.

ryoung@timesreview.com

07/22/13 12:23pm
07/22/2013 12:23 PM

RIVERHEAD RACEWAY ROUNDUP

Howie Brode of East Islip make a late-race pass with 10 laps remaining to win the annual Baldwin, Evans & Jarzombek 77 NASCAR Modified race on Saturday at Riverhead Raceway.It was his third Whelen All-American Series feature win of the season.

After taking a victory lap, Brode choked back tears as he rolled into victory lane. “Even though we dropped back to third for a bit, this car was good and I just kept digging,” he said.

Afterward, Brode was presented with a trophy with a photo of all three drivers the race is named after. With his voice cracking, Brode said, “I think all three of these greats were riding with me tonight.”

Ron Silk of Norwalk, Conn., was the runner-up. Timmy Solomito of Islip scored a solid third-place finish. Dave Sapienza of Riverhead came in fourth, with teammate Dave Brigati of Calverton completing the top five.

In other races:

Scott Pedersen survived the sultry heat top triumph in a Figure Eight event that ran 13 of a scheduled 15 laps. Pedersen, the 2010 track champion, was named the race winner with the race checkered do to a time limit. Roger Maynor of Bay Shore moved up from ninth place to finish second. The defending champion, Mike Mujsce of Quogue, took third.

Ray Minieri of Bay Shore claimed victory in a 20-lap Charger race. Chris Turbush of Wading River may have been would motor off to his 35th career win but had other ideas. The two tested tough veterans put on a great side-by-side race for the lead over the final six laps. With two laps to go, Minieri made an inside pass of Turbush and stayed in front to score his second win of the year and 17th of his career.

“Chris and I ran hard but clean for the win,” Minieri said. “I hope the fans enjoyed it.”

Turbush, who had to settle for second, said, “I can’t recall being passed for the race lead but it was a good race.”

John Baker of Brookhaven was the third to cross the finish line.

With his AARP card tucked in his wallet, Ron Langdon of Wantagh celebrated his recent 50th birthday by winning a 20-lap Blunderbust feature event.

Tom Pickerell of Huntington dove under Langdon for the lead and was the first under the checker flag. However NASCAR officials determined that Pickerell’s last-turn pass found him under the yellow line, a decision that Pickerell agreed with in a sportsmanlike manner. That decision put Pickerell back one spot into second place, and Langdon, who began his driving career at Freeport Stadium, was declared the winner. Langdon’s car owner, Tommy Walkowiak of Ridge, finished third.

Soon to be high school senior Kyle Soper of Manorville scored his second career win in a Legend Race Cars 20-lap feature. His winning move took place when the race started. Armed with an outside pole starting spot, Soper was able to beat the pole sitter, Justin Strumpf, to the lead. Vinny Delaney of Holtsville was second, and Richie Davidowitz of East Moriches placed third.

07/15/13 2:29pm
07/15/2013 2:29 PM

RIVERHEAD RACEWAY ROUNDUP

Howie Brode of East Islip scored his second win of the 2013 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series at Riverhead Raceway on Saturday when he took first in a 35-lap Modified feature. It was his second win of the season and the 13th of his career.

With threatening, extremely hot and humid weather, competitors’ emotions ran high during the course of the program. It took numerous attempts to get the race underway, with minor spins and crashes, jumped restarts, passes under the yellow line and one incident that saw Tom Rogers Jr. disqualified from the race.

Asked if being out in front of the wild action behind him was the key to victory, Brode replied: “Any night you’re out front it’s a good thing but tonight for sure. I don’t know what was going on but I’m glad I wasn’t back there.”

Brode now finds himself atop the division with a commanding 42-point lead over Rogers.

Shawn Solomito of Islip earned his runner-up finish. Jason Agugliaro of Islip posted his best run of 2013 with a third-place tally. Eddie Brunnhoelzl III of Levittown was fourth and Jerry Solomito Jr. of Islip was fifth. It was Solomito’s second straight top-five showing in his last two starts.

Emotions were also high in the 25-lap Late Model race but for a different reason. Ken Alfano of Southold drove to his first Late Model win since the death of his wife, Julie, a couple of years ago. She had cancer.

Alfano led the final 21 laps of the race when his biggest challenge was keeping tears from blurring his vision. After the win he parked his car against a wall, exited the car and blew kisses to the sky.

Alfano’s teammate, Chris LaSpisa of Shirley, driving a car painted pink in honor of the late Julie Alfano and others battling cancer, was a happy runner-up. Scott Kulesa of Georgetown, Mass., took over the division points lead with his third-place finish.

The fourth generation of the famed Turbush racing family made his way to victory lane. Mark Stewart of Riverhead won a 20-lap Super Pro Truck contest. Stewart, the grandson of all-time leading Charger winner Dan Turbush and the nephew to brothers Chris and Roger Turbush, broke to the front at the throw of the green flag and stayed there the rest of the way. Dave Koenig of Freeport was second, and Roger Turbush of Riverhead won a battle for third.

Kyle Ellwood of Riverhead pocketed his third Legend Race Car win of the year in what was another dominating performance for the defending champion. Brendon Bock of Franklin Square was second, moving him to second place in points, trailing Ellwood by 54 markers. Kyle Soper of Manorville motored in third.

Anthony Pizzo of Lake Ronkonkoma continues to be the driver to beat when it comes to Eight-Cylinder Enduro events at Riverhead Raceway. He won yet again on Saturday. Rob McCormick of Calverton barely made it to the track in time after spotting for a driver in a race in New Hampshire. He nonetheless drove his car from 25th to second. Ed Brown Jr. of Mastic Beach led the race early and ended up third.