Late Friday night, less than three hours after exchanging text messages with Eddie Partridge about his race team’s big victory that evening, Riverhead Raceway public relations official Bob Finan received a phone call from the track’s manager, John Ellwood. The news wasn’t good. It was shocking.
Mr. Partridge, one of Riverhead Raceway’s co-owners, was not far into his overnight return trip home Friday night from Richmond Raceway in Virginia when he experienced a “medical episode” and died despite the efforts of EMTs and firefighters, according to Riverhead Raceway. The Wading River man was 68.
Mr. Partridge was at Richmond Raceway in his capacity as a car owner. His driver, Ryan Preece, was victorious in a NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race, the Virginia Is For Racing Lovers 150.
“It definitely was a big race,” his nephew, Tom Gatz of Riverhead, said. “Every win is great. This one definitely was a special one for my uncle, for sure. He loved to win.”
Mr. Partridge was a two-time NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion car owner (2011 and 2017). His drivers have won races on the tour’s grandest stages — Martinsville Speedway (Va.), New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Richmond Raceway.
“The man, he just loved racing,” said Mr. Finan, who is in his 46th year of track announcing. “He loved cars. He loved everything that was motorized.”
Mr. Partridge was part of the ownership group with his wife, Connie, and Mr. Gatz that acquired Riverhead Raceway from Barbara and Jim Cromarty in 2015. They secured Riverhead’s place as home to Long Island’s only racetrack.
“My uncle did a lot for the racing community,” Mr. Gatz said. “You know, it was his passion. He was just really instrumental in helping keep racing alive on the island.”
Mr. Partridge’s love for stock cars can be traced to his youth when he became part of Charlie Jarzombek’s race team. The late Jarzombek is Riverhead Raceway’s all-time NASCAR Modified wins leader with 63.
Following an unsuccessful stint as a driver himself, Mr. Partridge took on the role of car owner. His wife and he also founded TS Haulers of Calverton, a sand and materials facility not far from Riverhead Raceway, as well as Calverton Tree Farm.
Along with the track’s other owners, Mr. Partridge oversaw Riverhead Raceway’s capital improvement project.
“He’s been involved in racing for years, and it’s been his passion,” Mr. Gatz said. “He was very proud to be an owner of Riverhead Raceway. He put his heart and soul into it. He was a racer, and he wanted everything at the track to be perfect.”
The tall Mr. Partridge was described as a larger-than-life figure with a big heart.
“He was just a great guy, you know, just an unbelievable uncle, unbelievable friend and he was large in stature and height,” Mr. Gatz said. “He was 6-6, 6-7, and there was definitely a presence about him, but he was a soft guy. He loved animals. He loved cats. His passions were really racing, trucking. His wife, Connie, was the love of his life.”
A decision was made for Riverhead Raceway to proceed with its scheduled Saturday of racing. In addition to ceremonies marking the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, tribute was paid to Mr. Partridge. Race teams and drivers lined up in a show of respect and unity and a Suffolk County police helicopter flew over the ceremony.
“He would have wanted us to run that show,” Mr. Gatz said. “My aunt and I were very touched by the whole experience.”