Steve Tooker has been around Riverhead Raceway for 57 years, first as a five-year-old spectator and later as a driver and track official.
Tooker, 62, of Riverhead, won the Late Model championship three times over his distinguished career and is No. 4 on the division career wins list with 30, said Riverhead Raceway public relations director Bob Finan.
He’ll get one more honor Saturday, when he’s inducted into the raceway’s Cromarty Wall of Fame alongside posthumous honorees John Ambrose Sr., a longtime car owner, and NASCAR Modified standout Chris Young, both also Riverhead natives.
“It’s really humbling to be mentioned in the same breath as the other two inductees,” said Tooker, the track’s co-chief steward from 2012 through last season. “I’m really appreciative of the whole process and it’s really a culmination of the years that I’ve been going there. I’ve done just about everything from driving cars to being an official to being a car owner.
Added Tooker: “It’s always been a big part of my recreational life. It’s very intertwined with friendships and occasions and it’s a great place. I’ve got a three year-old grandson, I’m so happy he’ll make it to this ceremony, it’ll be his first time at the track. Maybe I’ll be bringing him there to race cars.”
Tooker said he started attending Riverhead races with his father and brother, and worked numerous jobs there, notably serving as crew chief for track standout Dan Turbush when the latter won his first championship in the early 1980s.
Tooker added that racing was a family affair between his father, a rabid NASCAR fan, and his aunt Esther Tooker, a former champion at Riverhead in the 1950s, he said, but the self-proclaimed “late bloomer” began his racing career at age 30 in 1984. Tooker won the Late Model title in 1996, 1998 and 1999 with crew chief Dave Oliver.
“I had been involved in the sport for so long, it actually laid the groundwork for me to know what I was in for,” Tooker said, adding that dedicated crew people and good sponsorship helped him find success on the track.
He said he hasn’t been to Riverhead this season, but expects it to still feel like home.
“You don’t ever lose the friendships, whether you’re right there at the track or not,” Tooker said. “I can run into people I know from racing on the streets, we might not have seen each other in two years, but we’ll talk like we never stopped. It’s just a common bond that is lifelong.”
Shawn Solomito, East Moriches — 55
Tom Rogers Jr., Riverhead — 52
Howie Brode, East Islip — 51
David H. Brigati, Calverton — 48
Kyle Soper, Manorville — 45
Wall of Fame Night, NEMA Midgets Allan Cantor Memorial 50, Vintage Midget Racing Club, Vintage Race Cars. NASCAR Modifieds, Riverhead Modified Crate, Legend Race Cars.