When Chris La Spisa crosses the finish line ahead of every other driver, he does so with extra satisfaction.
As one of the few independent drivers in the late model division at Riverhead Raceway, La Spisa doesn't have the luxury of sponsorships or a crew. He's the one that funds the car, repairs it, trailers it to the racetrack, fuels it up, checks the tires and then, finally, gets behind the wheel.
"Some guys, they just show up to the racetrack and drive," La Spisa said. "They own their team, but they're the driver and their crew takes care of the equipment. I'm the owner, the crew chief and the driver. I don't mind because I enjoy being at the racetrack with my friends. Me getting wins is just the icing on the cake."
He's been getting plenty of icing recently. On July 14, La Spisa overcame a right-rear flat and held off Peter Eriksen to earn his second win of the season. The win was his fifth since 2010, when he took the checkered flag for the first time since his rookie season in 1996.
La Spisa is tied for fourth in the points standings with four races remaining. He attributes his recent success to the Howe Late Model championship car he purchased in 2009 after years of racing run-down, secondhand cars.
La Spisa, 45, lives in Shirley but grew up in Merrick, within walking distance of the now defunct Freeport Speedway. He began racing at Riverhead in the early 1990s and opted to become fully independent in 2010 after a crew member blew the engine on one of his cars.
But he still gets some help. One night a week, La Spisa meets with his mechanically inclined father, Pat, to get the car ready for the track on Saturdays.
"I like being in control of my own destiny," Chris La Spisa said, "but I couldn't do this without him."