RIVERHEAD RACEWAY PREVIEW: Hopeful drivers tune up for new season

Two things about auto racing at Riverhead Raceway are undeniable. One, Mother Nature is the ultimate ruler and, two, racing at this facility is largely a family affair.

As Riverhead Raceway prepares to open its 62nd season on Saturday night, the original plan was to hold two practice sessions on April 23 and Saturday. However, the tail end of a brutal winter that Long Island has endured continued on April 23 as the day dawned gloomy and dark, with rain very evident early on. This allowed Riverhead Raceway promoters Barbara and Jim Cromarty to cancel the session before most of the competitors loaded machines and gear to make the trek to Riverhead.

Saturday was much different. Entering the raceway, everything seemed freshly painted and ready for the new season. Likewise, some drivers seemed more ready than others for the new campaign.

Some vehicles sported new paint jobs with sponsors proudly announcing their backing. Others had only base paint, no number; still others were donned with only primer, no paint.

Since the pits were open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and not every competitor was required to attend as on a regular race weekend, some did not show at all or drifted in or out sporadically during the day. The Legends Division appeared to be the best represented, while most of the pilots in the popular 600-horsepower Modified Division were not in evidence. Approaching each pit area, there was plenty of activity as drivers and crews tried different set-ups on their machines.

It was difficult to hold a detailed conversation with most of the drivers about their prospects for the upcoming campaign, as most were bent over or under their machines, making adjustments. Some were in “conference” with crew members about the performance of their machine as they came in after laps on the racing surface.

Two camps that spoke to a reporter extensively were the Anderson and Fortin Modified teams. Long-time Long Island racing fans will remember that Axel and Wayne Anderson chauffeured 600-horsepower machines around the now-defunct Islip Speedway, Riverhead Raceway, and other speedways. Wayne Anderson can accurately be classified as a grizzled veteran.

Anderson is sure to be a weekly contender for wins, if not the overall division title in 2011. Judging by the amount of notes, changes, and laps taken, this team is once again leaving no stone unturned to assure that the coming season will be a success. “We’re just trying some different things,” said the Yaphank resident.

The Fortin family also has a long history in racing. Some fans will remember John Fortin driving a Figure Eight car at Islip and Riverhead. His daughter Amber shared the fact that the first year her dad moved to the Modified Division was the year she was born. Amber is now of driving age and drives the No. 04 car alongside the No. 84 piloted by her dad.

As with any sport, when a new season dawns, everybody likes to believe they have a legitimate chance for a championship.  When asked for his outlook on the 2011 Riverhead Raceway Modified ranks, John Fortin looked at his daughter and deadpanned, “I’d pick you!”

In order to contend for the title, the Holtsville driver will have to have some better luck once the season opens on Saturday than he had on this day. Fortin’s day ended abruptly when he lost the brakes, spun, and damaged what looked like mainly the nose and some sheet metal on the No. 84.

In addition to the Andersons and the Fortins, Riverhead Raceway has many examples of the “family ties” of racing on its rosters. A quick scan of driver lists in all divisions for 2011 reveals no fewer than 13 such instances. Names like Park, Solomito, Turbush, Biondillilo, Dumicich, Pedersen, Urbina, Rogers and Young can be found.

Speaking of family, Ann Young was on hand with her son Chris, who pilots the No. 49 Legends car. His father Chris drives the No. 49 in Modifieds. In between running the Legends and Modified Divisions at Riverhead, the younger Young will be campaigning the Legends car at various tracks, including Bronson Speedway in Florida.

How do the Youngs keep up with their busy racing schedule?

Ann Young had a one-word answer: “Starbucks!”