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Riverhead hosts NASCAR race, good cause

NASCAR's Whelen Modified Tour makes its stop at Riverhead Raceway Saturday and will feature the Lighthouse Mission 200 race.

The tour, in its 26th year, has long been a hit at Riverhead, often drawing fans from as far as Massachusetts. The race, won by Pennsylvanian Rowan Pennink in 2010, will have a strong local flavor as it includes 12 Long Island participants.

This year, the event is being sponsored by Baldwin Automotive, a Patchogue-based company owned by Bellport native Tommy Baldwin Jr. The goal, he said, is to use the event's platform to promote the Lighthouse Mission, a Bellport pantry that feeds roughly 2,600 people per week throughout Suffolk County. Nonperishable items will be collected outside the raceway.

The show starts at 6 p.m.

Baldwin Jr., the son of former NASCAR champion Tom Sr. and owner of the Tommy Baldwin Racing Team (Sprint Cup Team 36, Dave Blaney), first contacted the pantry last December.

"I was looking to make donations to kids for Christmas," he said. "The mayor's office directed me there and I liked what I saw and wanted to be part of it."

Baldwin Jr. has since sponsored the pantry's Kids Club, helping distribute food "for about 100 kids every weekend, most of them homeless," Lighthouse Mission president Pastor Jim Ryan said.

"Any kind of publicity is tremendous, but this is beyond that," Ryan said. "Hunger is up . . . Last week, in 104 degrees, we had 124 people show up to our Shirley outreach. We really need the food right now."

Baldwin Jr. now lives in Morrisville, N.C., but said he visits Long Island every 3-4 months. "I always feel like it's your job to give back to where you were brought up."

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