Riverhead Raceway's longtime owners have sold the site, Long Island's last racetrack, to a Wading River family that wants to keep the track open and expand its audience.
Barbara and Jim Cromarty, who have owned the raceway for 30 years, said in an interview Tuesday that they closed on a deal Friday to sell the track for $4 million to Eddie and Connie Partridge. The Partridges own a NASCAR team, and they sell tires and fuel at the Riverhead Raceway.
The Cromartys said they resisted selling the property over the years because they wanted to ensure it remained a racetrack, even as Riverhead's Route 58 developed from woods and farms into a retail corridor.
"We could've sold it for a lot more money, if we had gone the development route, but we had our minds made up that we wanted it as a racetrack," said Jim Cromarty, 83. "There's enough shopping centers around."
Eddie Partridge, 62, said his life has been entwined with Riverhead Raceway since the 1960s, when he started watching races there as a child. He said he worked in the pit crew for Baiting Hollow driver Charlie Jarzombek from 1970 until Jarzombek's death in a 1987 accident at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia.
Since 1999, the Partridges have owned the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour team of driver Ryan Preece. They also own Calverton Tree Farm and the Calverton trucking company TS Haulers, and sell Hoosier Racing Tires and Sunoco Race Fuels at Riverhead Raceway.
"I've been at this forever," Partridge said. "Everybody loves Riverhead Raceway. It's the last track on Long Island and we want to try to keep it here."
Partridge said he intends to keep Riverhead Raceway open unless he is able to build a new track at the Enterprise Park at Calverton, the 2,900-acre former Grumman Corp. site that Riverhead Town officials are trying to sell to developers.
"That's down the road a bit," Partridge said. "The plan is to keep Riverhead Raceway going, and if it comes about where a developer does want to really buy, and we can actually build a track first in Calverton, we would try to make that happen."
George Silberman, NASCAR vice president for regional and touring series, thanked the Cromartys in a statement Tuesday.
"Riverhead Raceway is one of the longest standing NASCAR-sanctioned tracks in the nation, and we are pleased to see, with the transfer of ownership, that the storied short track plans to continue hosting NASCAR racing," Silberman said.
Riverhead Raceway, a quarter-mile track built in 1949, has remained open as other auto racetracks in Islip and Freeport closed. The Cromartys said they began managing the raceway in 1977, and inked a deal making it an official NASCAR track before buying the site in 1985.
The Cromartys said they choked back tears as they announced the sale Saturday during a ceremony inducting drivers Carl Zeh, Robin Vollmoeller and Mike Ewanitsko to the racetrack's Wall of Fame.
"This racetrack is such a big part of the community," Barbara Cromarty, 81, said Tuesday. "It gives so much pleasure to so many people."
The Cromartys, who live in Manhattan but for a decade in the 1970s and '80s resided in the famous "Amityville Horror" house, said they will spend the remainder of the racing season helping the Partridges take over. In October, they will stop making their weekly trips to the racetrack.
"We never felt like we went to work," Jim Cromarty said. "It was just enjoyable. It's not just the public part of it that's fun. It's all the people we've been involved with over the years. It's just been wonderful. We're into our third generation of racing families."
Partridge said his nephew Thomas Gatz will manage day-to-day operations of the track and is exploring the possibility of hosting car shows and concerts there.
Partridge said he plans to redo lighting, bathrooms, kitchens and other parts of the complex in an attempt to attract families to the raceway. "We want to try to bring a large audience back," he said.
An earlier version of this story described the family buying Riverhead Raceway as being from Calverton.