The night of Sept. 10 should have been a triumphant homecoming for Eddie Partridge.
The Riverhead Raceway co-owner was returning to Long Island after his racing team, led by driver Ryan Preece, won a NASCAR race at Richmond Raceway in Virginia. The next day, Partridge was expecting a big crowd in Riverhead for a Sept. 11 commemoration, followed by a day of racing.
But while riding home through Virginia with other members of his team, Partridge suffered a fatal heart attack, his family said. He was 68.
"He was bigger than life to some," Riverhead Raceway publicist and track announcer Bob Finan said in a statement. " … Eddie went from victory lane to heaven."
A tribute to Partridge, of Wading River, was incorporated into the next day's 9/11 ceremonies, with race crews lining the Riverhead track and a previously planned flyover by Suffolk County police helicopters, Finan said.
An obituary of Partridge posted on the NASCAR website called the 6-foot-7 former driver "legendary" and "larger than life."
"Anything that went fast, he was interested in," said Partridge's nephew and raceway co-owner, Thomas Gatz of Riverhead.
Riverhead Raceway — Long Island's last major auto racing track — had been struggling financially in 2015 when Partridge, his wife Constance, and Gatz purchased it for $4 million from longtime owners Barbara and Jim Cromarty.
The Partridges spruced up the raceway with hopes of returning it to its glory days, when Long Island gear heads flocked to Riverhead and since-closed tracks in Bridgehampton, Freeport and Islip. They watched conventional races, and in Riverhead and Islip, legendary demolition derbies.
Before buying the racetrack, the Partridges had owned Calverton Tree Farm and the Calverton-based trucking company, TS Haulers. They also sold Hoosier Racing Tires and Sunoco Race Fuels at the track, where Eddie Partridge had fallen in love with auto racing as a child and later worked in the pit crew for Baiting Hollow driver Charlie Jarzombek.
"I've been at this forever," Partridge told Newsday in 2015. "Everybody loves Riverhead Raceway. It's the last track on Long Island and we want to try to keep it here."
The new owners sought to modernize the aging racetrack, which dated to 1949, by repaving the pit areas, upgrading bathrooms and replacing building sidings, Gatz said.
They also wanted to inject more family entertainment with monster truck nights and stock car and school bus demolition derbies, he said.
Though Gatz said he doesn't have attendance figures from the Cromarty era, he believes ticket sales have gone up in recent years, except in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.
When they weren't at the track, Partridge and his wife enjoyed raising their dogs.
"He worked really hard, but he had a good work-life balance," Gatz said. "He enjoyed himself with his race team and traveled all over, up and down the Eastern Seaboard. … and enjoyed his hobbies and his life."
In addition to his wife, Partridge is survived by five sisters, Christine Mapes of Riverhead, Diane Gatz of Mattituck, Carrie Tintle of Windham, Vermont, Jean Droogan of Southold and Michelle Ranfford of Mount Sinai; and a brother, Michael Partridge of Baiting Hollow.
A funeral Mass for Partridge was offered Saturday at St. John the Baptist Church in Wading River. He was buried that day at Wading River Cemetery.
Gatz said he and his aunt were regrouping but planned to continue his uncle's dreams for the track.
"He took great pride in being involved and being an owner at Riverhead Raceway," Gatz said. "I know that he would have wanted us to continue and he would have wanted us to race, and that’s what we’re going to do."