In May 1986, "Mad" Mike Smith, then just a young demolition derby driver, found his niche after attempting to drive 200 laps around Riverhead Raceway with 199 other cars in the track's first enduros race.
Smith didn't win that initial eight-cylinder event, yet the style of enduros won him over, and in hindsight the driver said he's grateful to have even participated.
The name enduros stems from "endurance racing," since it consists of hundreds of laps. It's an inexpensive type of racing that involves cars that usually start out as wrecks, bought from auctions or junkyards, and undergo an engine rebuild. The stamina and survival aspects appealed to Smith nearly three decades ago.
Now, 27 years later, the event has changed at Riverhead -- there are fewer than 100 cars competing for 100 laps -- yet after a year away from enduros, the 44-year-old is back, ready to add to his legacy.
The Kings Park native will battle in the four-cylinder demolition derby Saturday at Riverhead and will compete in the eight-cylinder enduros on Father's Day, June 16. Smith participated in Riverhead's opening weekend earlier this month by racing enduros.
Smith has won more than 30 enduros races at Riverhead, and he's a veteran demolition derby driver. He tried legends and figure-eight racing last year, but has returned full-time to enduros and demos. "None of that stuff satisfied me like enduros. I wanted to be bouncing off cars," Smith said. "To put all that effort to run 20 laps is not satisfying enough."
There's another reason for his return. In October 2011, Keri Trinca and her 7-year-old son, Jason, close friends of Smith, were killed after the car she was driving was struck by a van on County Road 111. Smith had decided to retire from competitive racing after the 2011 season. He now races in memory of young Jason, who was a constant presence at the track.
Smith has returned, yet many others haven't. The rising price of scrap -- Smith said some parts he recently purchased were sold at three times the price he paid a decade ago -- has deterred drivers who were once interested because of its affordability.
Smith would rather have more cars compete in enduros and rewind time to the days of more laps.
"It's unbelievable when you win it that way," Smith said. "I got to be either first or second. Something like finishing fifth . . . That's not good enough."