On Saturday afternoon, just before 4 p.m., cars were pouring into the parking lot of Riverhead Raceway on Route 58 in Riverhead.
Saturday marked the last race of the season, and, sitting in their office, which is adorned with photos, plaques and trophies garnered over the 36 years that Jim and Barbara Cromarty have owned Riverhead Raceway, the couple reflected on the business, and on the drivers and fans who have become more like a family.
The couple, who have been married 49 years, first began their career organizing a county fair. When promotors were needed for Islip Speedway, which no longer exists, the Cromartys signed on. Soon after, they were asked to promote Riverhead Raceway, which celebrated its 63rd season in 2012, and the pair began a journey that has lasted over three decades.
Before the began promoting the Islip track, Barbara Cromarty laughed, "We had never seen a race before."
But soon, the Cromartys became a fixture on the racing scene, with their quarter mile track drawing scores of fans to Saturday nights that also include family friendly events such as fireworks, monster truck expos, and school bus demolitions.
Countless memories colored the Cromartys' conversation, as they recalled moments such as celebrating the track's 50th anniversary, and the sea of Saturday nights during which fans are able to party in the pit with drivers, sharing barbecues and the comaraderie that they said makes the racing community extraordinary and Riverhead Raceway unique.
"Riverhead is very special," Barbara Cromarty said.
Perhaps nothing drew the Riverhead Raceway family closer than the tragic death last October of Jason Trinca, 7, a star go-kart racer at the track, and his mother, Keri Trinca; the two were killed in a tragic Manorville car crash.
This year, the Cromartys had Jason's number, 48, memorialized at the finish line; an event was also held to help Jay Trinca and his two children, Marialena and Christopher.
Looking back, Jim Cromarty said along with the countless happy memories, one frightening moment stands out -- the night Barbara was almost killed in 1993 when a car crashed into the gate, leaving Barbara with eight broken ribs, torn ligaments and a punctured lung.
But, Barbara Cromarty said, with her husband's love, she made a quick recovery.
"That, to me, was a miracle," he said.
The racing family, the Cromartys say, has always been close -- including their own four daughters Robin, Deborah, Meryl and Joyce, who grew up at the track.
And, thoughout the years, operating under the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing banner, the Cromartys have been close to Bill France, founder of NASCAR.
The business of racing has changed dramatically over the years, morphing from small family-owned tracks to a "gigantic" billion dollar international industry, Barbara Cromarty said.
But, despite the stratospheric ascent to worldwide success, racing has stayed true to its family-oriented roots, with Riverhead Raceway a place where families come every week to share their passion for racing -- and their lives.
The business, said Barbara Cromarty, "is like a child to us. It encompasses our lives."
Their deep love for the raceway, Jim Cromarty said, is the reason why they've never accepted multiple offers to sell the parcel on which the track is situated.
The Cromartys assure they will be back next season, and, when the day comes when they do decide to sell, they will seek a buyer who shares their vision of keeping Riverhead Raceway alive for generations.
"We have thousands of poeple that count on coming to Riverhead Raceway," Barbara Cromarty said. "We feel that obligation."
The Cromartys also believe in giving back to the Riverhead community; on Friday, the first of over 70 trees the couple donated to Riverhead after a NASCAR-sponsored event was planted at the town's animal shelter.
Racing, Barbara Cromarty added, runs deep in the hearts of the fans and drivers who devote their lives to the sport. "Racers sacrifice an awful lot," she said, adding that the sport is expensive and drivers dedicate countless hours to following their dream. "This is their lives," she said.