Mike Ewanitsko To Be Honored At Miller Lite 200 Saturday At Riverhead

(Press Release from NASCAR Integrated Marketing Communications)

Mike Ewanitsko (Photo: NASCAR Archives)

Mike Ewanitsko is a name fans at Riverhead Raceway know very well.

From North Babylon, New York, Ewanitsko is one of the best to ever compete at the quarter-mile paved oval located in Riverhead, New York. During a NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour career that started in 1985 at the age of 18 and spanned 20 years, Ewanitsko won a record 11 times at Riverhead.

It’s a record that still stands today, although Justin Bonsignore has closed to within one victory of Ewanitsko’s record following his most recent win at Riverhead on May 21.

For those reasons and many more, track officials decided to honor Ewanitsko by naming Saturday’s NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour event the Miller Lite Salutes Mike Ewanitsko 200 (8 p.m. ET on FloRacing).

“I don’t feel I’m deserving of it. I really don’t,” Ewanitsko said. “It means everything in the world to me. That was home. We had a real big fan base there. To have a race named after you while you’re still alive is a big deal. Usually you’re not here anymore; that’s when the accolades come.

“To have this come while I’m alive and at Riverhead, it’s beyond any expectations.”

Saturday’s race is a full-circle moment for Ewanitsko, who began racing during his teenage years at Islip Speedway before transitioning to Riverhead.

“My dad had actually owned cars. He was involved with Lew Hennessy, who drove the No. 23 on Long Island for quite a while. Then we had Ed Brunnhoelzl driving; he drove it for a while,” Ewanitsko said. “When I turned, I guess it was 16, they rented out Islip Speedway, and we went out there one day for some practice, and I ended up turning some laps that were quicker than the guys who were driving the car at the time.

“That was on a Wednesday. That Saturday night was the start of my racing career. That’s how it all started.”

RELATED: Mike Ewanitsko’s career stats

Ewanitsko was briefly a regular at Islip, but when the track closed for good in 1984, he made his way to Riverhead and became a regular there.

He quickly took to the tight quarter-mile oval and began winning races, a skill he eventually carried with him when he began competing on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour on a consistent basis a few years later.

“We ended up buying a car from Barney Truex, Martin [Truex Jr.’s] uncle,” Ewanitsko recalled. “We went out to Jersey and bought the car. The first practice that year in ’86, we went to Riverhead for practice, we came in from practice and it was a big difference in the way that car handled and drove.

“I actually told my father that this is easy now. It just came to me a lot easier. I was running with the guys that I couldn’t run with before in the other car.”

His first NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour victory came in 1987, and, not surprisingly, it came at Riverhead. He added a second win that season, also at Riverhead. In fact, of his first eight NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour triumphs, six came at Riverhead between 1987-92.

“I got a good setup for that car, and it always worked in any Troyer car or other chassis that I brought there,” Ewanitsko said. “We’ve always been competitive with it when I drove for Art [Barry] with the Spafco chassis. The setup worked there for that. When you’ve got a car that’s fast off the trailer, it makes life a lot easier.

“I don’t want to say I get around there better than anybody else. I think we just had a good setup. It was fast on the short run and it stayed fast on the long run. For those 200 lap races there, that’s what you need.”

His first full season with the Tour came in 1989, and he finished the year ranked 13th in the standings. Another full season followed in 1990, which resulted in an 11th-place finish in the standings.

A few part-time seasons followed, but by 1994, he became a regular face on the Tour again. His breakout season came in 1995, when he won a career-best four races and finished the season ranked fourth in the standings.

A winless year in 1996 followed, but he rebounded in 1997 with four wins and a sixth-place championship effort. Four more wins in 1998 led him to a runner-up championship finish, a feat he replicated one year later despite only winning once.

He added five more wins in the next two years to bring his career total to 28, but by the end of the 2001 season, medical issues forced Ewanitsko to step away from full-time competition.

“I have been a diabetic since I was 12 years old,” Ewanitsko said. “It was about 1999, and I was still at the top of my game. Things were going real good then. In 2000 I started having problems seeing. I actually developed cataracts in each eye. That was the end of the racing career. That was from the diabetes.”

A few years later, Ewanitsko had surgery to repair the cataracts in his eyes, and he made a brief return, finishing fourth at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in a car fielded by Eddie Whelan in 2005.

He made one more start at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park before more diabetic complications permanently ended his racing career.

“My kidneys started failing from the diabetes,” Ewanitsko said. “That was ’05. In 2010, I got a kidney transplant from my sister Lisa.”

Ewanitsko will be the guest of honor during Saturday’s NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour event at Riverhead. He’s excited to be back at the track where he enjoyed most of his racing success driving for car owners like Art Barry, Curt Chase, Ed Close, Whelan and Scott Bandzul.

He’s even excited to see if Bonsignore can tie his win record on Saturday night.

“This little kid that was waist high on me used to come up and ask for my autograph. Now he’s looking to tie my record. That just blows my mind. Where did the time go?” Ewanitsko asked. “I think I would enjoy if he did end up tying me on the night they’re honoring me.

“His owners, the Massas, they live right down the block from me. I see them all the time. I think when Justin got to seven or eight wins I told Ken Massa, ‘Listen, if he gets any closer to me you might have to start fielding a car for me and make sure I can at least get a couple more and make the job a little harder for him.’”


  1. Northeastern circle track racing is in promotional purgatory for now. June supposedly one of the best months to have races with warm nights and clear skies seems to perpetually be under the threat of rain but not washouts. Streaming must count for something on that score seeing Riverhead push the FloRacing coverage knowing that once again they’re be trying to get a program in subject to scattered showers and thunderstorms. Pushing it to Sunday not an option it will just be more of the same.
    Just noodling a thought. Thompson had a good crowd for a Wednesday,,,yes? We know from the pandemic that demand of racing isn’t transactional it’s accumulative. Did they get a benefit from the rare fair weather forecast I’m wondering as people who had waited finally said yes to great conditions?

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