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09/10 2018

‘THE LAST RACE’: THE ONLY TRACK ON LONG ISLAND THAT REFUSES TO DIE

Upcoming film documents the beauty and intensity of racing at the last track on Long Island

By Matt Wolfe, editorial intern – AUTOWEEK

Though racing is a deeply rooted tradition across America, the sport is under siege in many communities. Real estate development, noise ordinances, aging owners and other factors have put an end to racing in areas that were once hotbeds of wheel-to-wheel action. This trend is painfully evident on Long Island, New York, where an upcoming film, “The Last Race,” has documented one track’s struggle for survival.

Long Island was once a mecca for motorsports. The “World Famous Islip Speedway”, in Islip, N.Y., was the smallest track ever to host the NASCAR Grand National Series, with drivers like Richard Petty and Bobby Allison taking victories there. The island also hosted the Vanderbilt Cup, the first major motorsports event held in the U.S. It even boasted one of the first permanent road racing facilities in the country — Bridgehampton, which held Trans-Am races won by Mark Donohue and George Follmer.

At its peak, Long Island accommodated over 40 different auto racing tracks. Today, every one of them has closed, except Riverhead Raceway.

The project documenting the saga of Riverhead Raceway began in the fall of 2012, when producer Gregory Kershaw was approached by photographer and filmmaker Michael Dweck. Dweck had been shooting photos at Riverhead and wanted Kershaw to help him “document the culture of blue-collar American racing in previously unseen ways” through film.

Built in 1949, Riverhead Raceway is one of the oldest existing stock car tracks in the United States. The quarter-mile banked asphalt oval hosts NASCAR’s Whelen All-American Series, as well as Legends, Midgets and figure-eight races.

In recent years, the once-remote race course has seen its surrounding forests razed to make way for retail stores. Numerous developers have approached track owners Barbara and Jim Cromarty about purchasing the property, the value of which far exceeds the potential earnings of keeping the track open, a task that has proven difficult given their advancing ages.

The film offers a unique glimpse into the lives of the racers and the community around them on and off the track as they struggle to keep the last vestige of racing on Long Island alive. Go watch the trailer to get a sneak peek of what’s in store when the film drops on Nov. 16. As of this writing, Riverhead Raceway is still operational and has a full slate of races through the end of September.