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Longtime owners Jim and Barbara Cromarty celebrate their 30th Opening Night at Riverhead Raceway

A flagman waves the green flag at Riverhead

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

It used to be that young racers at Riverhead Raceway would call them Mr. and Mrs. Cromarty.

"We're into our third generation of racers," Jim Cromarty, 81, said. "They call us mom and dad now."

"Well, now, it is also grandma and grandpa," Barbara Cromarty, 79, said, laughing.

Riverhead Raceway's opening on Saturday night marks the 30th season for the Cromartys, who are the promoters. The couple purchased it from Ed and Clara Hawkins in 1984. The Cromartys leased and promoted Islip Speedway from 1977 until it closed in 1984.

"It's real funny, actually, because when we first got into the business, neither one of us had ever been to an automobile race," Jim said. "Automobile racing is just something that gets in your blood. We're getting up there in years, but we're still very much looking forward to the start of the season."

"It certainly was not on our radar," Barbara added, "but it's been a wonderful experience for us."

Veteran Riverhead racers have said the couple's longevity is a testament to their consistently upbeat, positive personalities.

There used to be six racetracks on Long Island. Riverhead Raceway is the only one left. The Cromartys are driven by that fact.

"In racing, you become a family," Jim said. "We've been there to keep racing going and we're very proud of that."

They also receive gratification and satisfaction in witnessing generations of racing families grow.

"It's life in a microcosm, I guess you could say," Barbara said. "It's a wonderful feeling to see all of this evolving. Whatever can happen in life happens there. These people come from all sorts of professions, they grow up together, you see them as little kids, as young lovers and then you see them get married. You see life go on and that's what it is."

Despite challenges like dealing with the weather on a weekly basis and the economics of the sport, the couple has made an effort to keep prices down and have lured new fans into the fold with creative ideas such as the school bus demolition derby.

"One thing has stayed the same, no matter which generation we're talking about," Jim said. "They're all very competitive and all they want to do is win. And that makes it exciting."

The other constant at Riverhead has been the Cromartys -- and that's something the promoters have no interest in changing.

"We hope that we can even get more racers involved and that this track will be there forever. At the rate we're going," Jim said, laughing, "we'll probably be 90 by the time we retire."

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