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Eric Goodale gears up for another happy homecoming at Riverhead

A flagman waves the green flag at Riverhead

A flagman waves the green flag at Riverhead Raceway. (July 16, 2011) Credit: Daniel Brennan

It's a story that, had he not lived it, Eric Goodale would not have believed. The 29-year-old Riverhead native earned his first career NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour victory at his home track last June in the Hoosier Tire 200, fending off tour veteran Ted Christopher.

The victory came in his 78th race on tour. For a driver who competes all over the East Coast, making his winner's circle debut just about five miles from his childhood home was nothing short of magical.

"Your first win is a feeling that can never be duplicated," Goodale said. "I'm glad that it went down the way it did . . . I try not to think about it too much, but it is cool that I was able to win my first race at my home track. I had a lot of family and friends there to witness it. It was nice for them to be there, see it happen, and enjoy all the fun with them."

But, at this point, last season's victory is nothing more than a memory. Goodale has more pressing matters to attend to. Namely, winning this year's edition of the race, which will go off Saturday night at the fabled Suffolk County track.

"It's always special when the tour comes to town," said Goodale, who is in his seventh season on the Whelen Modified tour. "Not only because we won last time, but just because the competition always steps up. It makes it more fun to be around there and race against some of the bigger caliber guys."

Although only a rookie, one of the drivers trying to unseat Goodale as champion will be his cousin, Jeffrey.

"Hopefully, we'll be in front of him the whole time," Goodale said. "So, I won't have to worry about him. But, it's always fun. [Shawn and Timmy] Solomito are my cousins too, so I race against a lot of relatives every week. It's just another car out there."

Goodale has split his time this year, racing on the Whelen Modified Tour, the Whelen Southern Modified Tour and a few local appearances on the Riverhead track. He won the Southern Modified Tour opener in April at North Carolina's Caraway Speedway.

"I'm looking for my second [northern] tour win," he said. "Hopefully, it will come this weekend at Riverhead. We've been running pretty good everywhere we've been. I'm not shy about saying that my second win should come this year."

Goodale sits 10th in the Whelen Modified Standings, 51 points behind leader Ryan Preece of Berlin, Connecticut. In five starts this year, Goodale has one top five and three top 10 finishes.

"We've been one or two adjustments off from being able to win races," he said. "The momentum and speed is there. It's going pretty well. We just need to put it all together."

Goodale credits his success to his new car, which is equipped with a new Troyer chassis and a spec engine.

"The whole rear end assembly is different," he said. "A couple of the front end components are a little bit different with the angles and the adjustments you're able to make on it. I like it better because I feel like we can run a little bit more of a consistent setup at most tracks, where we don't have to change a lot of things over, besides the shocks. That's huge when we're doing work throughout the week."

It may be a new car but on Saturday night Goodale hopes it lands him in exactly the same place he was last year, the winner's circle.

Modified Standings

John Fortin, Holtsville 151

Tom Rogers Jr, Riverhead 140

Howie Brode, East Islip 133

Ryan Preece, Berlin, Conn. 131

Kyle Soper, Manorville 131

Note: Last week's races were rained out.

Saturday Night

Hoosier Tire East 200, NASCAR Whelen Modified "Flash" Tour (Time Trials), Buzz Chew Chevy/Cadillac Night, Chargers, 30 Lap Blunderbusts (Time Trials), 30 Lap Legends (Time Trials)

No Figure 8's, Late Models or Super Pro Trucks.

New York Sports