Riverhead great Bill Park still loves racing -- as an owner

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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Bill Park raced at either Islip Speedway or Riverhead Raceway starting in 1971, the year he was Islip Speedway rookie of the year. He's a four-time track champion in the modified class at Riverhead and ranks fourth on the all-time wins list with 32 victories.

Despite his success as a racer, Park, 66, hasn't regretted the decision he made two years ago to become an owner instead. "I never really had plans for it and it was like somebody just flipped a switch," the Manorville native said. "Actually, people find it hard to believe, but I'm having a great time and I'm enjoying being an owner because I'm still involved in racing and still get to see my friends every Saturday."

Succeeding in the new role has a lot to do with enjoying it, Park said.

Park chose Ryan Preece of Connecticut, a regular on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, to race his car. They won twice together in 2012 and Preece was voted the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour's most popular driver last year. The 22-year-old competes in about 14 races a year at Riverhead for Park and when he can't make a race, the owner doesn't let anyone fill in.

"I'm very particular and I just like the way he drives," Park said. "He's aggressive but he's very clean. He just works and works until he gets by someone. He's smooth."

Preece said it's "an honor" to drive for Park. "He's one of the legends and to be racing for him is just a privilege and it's a lot of fun," Preece said. "Every week going to Riverhead, it's not like pulling teeth; you're going to have a good time."

Preece, with Park in his corner, opened the 2013 season with a fourth-place finish, earning 30 points May 4. After last week's rainout, the team is geared up for Saturday's race.

"I think it will only be a matter of time before we're back in victory lane," Preece said.

The former racer turned owner agrees.

"We have a good shot at winning a couple of races this year," Park said.

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