Kyle Ellwood's already a legend, even though he's graduating high school Saturday

A flagman waves the green flag at Riverhead

A flagman waves the green flag at Riverhead Raceway. (July 16, 2011) (Credit: Daniel Brennan)

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By the midafternoon hours Saturday, Kyle Ellwood, the defending legend car champion at Riverhead Raceway, expects to find himself back in his element, tending to his car before competing in the evening.

Yet it's the hours leading up to his time at the racetrack that make this week different from any other.

"It's kind of just like a regular Saturday, except for the fact that, oh, yeah, I'm graduating," said Ellwood, 18, a senior at Riverhead High. "It's going to be a busy day, that's for sure. But I'm not at all stressed out over it, and if anything, it will just make it even more fun."

Ellwood, who will attend Suffolk CC, figures to be finished with the high school graduation ceremony held on the school's football field around noon. He said he'll mingle with family and friends for a bit, and then plans to make it over to the racetrack just in time for practice, at 2 p.m.

"I probably won't be missing that much at the raceway, but I may be missing the beginning of the day, which is pretty crucial because it's when you start to make sure your car is good," Ellwood said.

For Ellwood, the decision to race on the same day of his graduation was a no-brainer. He's been a mainstay at Riverhead Raceway since he was 5, when he competed in go-karts. This season, he is first in the legends points standings with a sizable lead; he has 190 heading into Saturday, 36 more than anyone else. Yet even so, he said he had no thoughts of not trying to increase it.

"It was a pretty easy decision to make," Ellwood said. "Racing has been my top priority in everything. School, of course, comes first, but racing is definitely up there in my priority list."

Ellwood expects to compete in the modified division Saturday as well, though legend racing is his primary focus and where he has excelled. He won last year's legend car division at Riverhead Raceway by 74 points.

"I actually kind of surprised myself last year. I didn't think I would be able to accomplish what I did and it was really cool," said Ellwood, who attributes a lot of his success to Russell and Cathy Goodale, the sponsors of his legend car. "I didn't think I was capable of doing what I actually did. I couldn't believe it. I was really shocked that I actually did what I did."

Ellwood believes he can add to his success when he straps on his helmet Saturday -- just as soon as he tosses his cap.

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