Articles by

Michael Gasparino

10/20/12 8:00am

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | McGann-Mercy running back Tom Kent rushes the ball Friday night against The Stony Brook School.

Entering the 2012 season, Bishop McGann-Mercy football teams had qualified for the playoffs twice, in 2008 and before that, in 1991.

Better make that three.

The Monarchs secured a playoff berth for the third time in 21 years with an emphatic 27-14 victory over The Stony Brook School Friday night in Stony Brook, improving to 6-1 in Suffolk County Division IV.

Junior quarterback Asaiah Wilson threw two touchdown passes and ran for a score to lead the Monarchs. Sophomore running back Reggie Archer ran for 162 yards on 24 carries and had the other touchdown for Mercy.

“The game plan coming in was to run the ball down their throat,” said Wilson, who completed 5 of 7 passes for 115 yards while rushing for 23 yards. “But after we ran it, and ran it, and ran it, the secondary backed up, and I found some open spots.”

The victory will propel the Monarchs past the Bears (5-2) in the Division IV standings into at least fifth place, behind 5-1 Hampton Bays, which hosts 2-4 Wyandanch on Saturday. The following week, Mercy hosts 2-4 East Hampton, while Hampton Bays hosts 5-1 Mount Sinai; a Monarchs win and a Hampton Bays loss would give the Monarchs home field in the first round of the playoffs.

“If we win we’ll be 7-1, and we’re definitely not going to play a top seed,” said senior Jack Strnad. “It’ll be nice to bring it for the home crowd.”

It’s pretty heady stuff for a program that has been on the outside looking in for so many postseasons.

“For a long time here, that attitude and winning spirit hasn’t been around Mercy, and these guys have brought it back,” said coach Jeff Doroski, who was a member of that 1991 team. “I get e-mails, I get phone calls, ‘Hey coach, you guys are doing great.’ It’s exciting for the school, and it’s exciting for the kids.”

Doroski noted that the regular-season finale is also senior night, and said the seniors have laid the foundation for a program that should remain competitive.

“This is where we want to be, year in and year out in this division, competing for a playoff spot,” Doroski said. “And going into Week 8 with a 6-1 record is really special for us.”

The Monarchs dominated the first half, grabbing a 20-0 halftime advantage while outgaining the Bears, 212 yards to 51. Mercy forced four punts in the half and held the Bears to just four first downs.

Archer opened the scoring in the first quarter with a 68-yard touchdown run, breaking around the left side and outrunning the Bears defense down the sideline. In the second quarter, Wilson hit sophomore Andrew Glasgow over the middle for a 37-yard touchdown pass that gave the Monarchs a 14-0 lead.

Interceptions by Tom Kent and Wilson kept the Bears from mounting a counterattack, and the latter pick gave the Monarchs the ball at the Stony Brook 37 yard-line with 32 seconds left before halftime. On second down, Wilson found freshman wideout Mario Sciara for a 36-yard gain to the one, and two plays later, Wilson ran it in himself.

Mercy took the opening kickoff of the third quarter and quickly went ahead, 27-0, with a five-play, 57-yard drive capped by a 26-yard touchdown pass from Wilson to Sciara.

Doroski noted that Sciara was called up from the junior varsity to help diversify Mercy’s offensive attack.

“He gives us another weapon,” Doroski said. “He’s a taller guy, he can go and get the ball, he’s got good hands, he blocks well on the perimeter. We like what he does for us out there.”

The Bears scored twice in the game’s final five minutes, first on a touchdown pass from Marco Masakayan to Tyler Hoegsberg, and after a Mercy fumble, on a five-yard run by Don Liotine (24 carries, 117 yards).

The victory was the perfect tonic after a shutout loss to Shoreham-Wading River in Week 6. Doroski said he was proud of how the team bounced back, particularly Wilson.

“He didn’t have a great game last week, and he took the loss hard,” the coach said. “But he worked hard in practice and got back after it. It’s only his first year playing the position, but he’s starting to see things better on the field, and know where he needs to put the ball. It’s nice to see his development.”

08/16/11 7:55am

This story was originally published Nov. 25, 2005, one week after Mount Sinai swimmer Julia Smit set the national public high school record in the 200-yard individual medley:

Julia Smit had first set her sights on the national public high school record for the 200-yard individual medley at the 2004 New York State girls’ swimming championships.

The Nov. 25, 2005 issue of the North Shore Sun after Julia Smit set a national record in the 200 IM.

“I was pretty close then, too,” the Mount Sinai senior said of the record, which she succeeded in shattering last Friday in the preliminaries of the state championship meet at Erie Community College in Buffalo.

Smit posted a record time of 1:58.29, breaking the national record of 1:58.86, which had been set by Kristen Caverly of San Clemente (Calif.) High School in May 2001. The time was also faster than the national independent high school record of 1:58.45, set by Natalie Coughlin of Carondelet High School in Novatoa, Calif., in May 2000. Coughlin and Caverly were both on the U.S. Olympic swim team in Athens, Greece, where Coughlin won five medals.

When she looked up at the scoreboard and saw that she had broken the national mark, Smit said, she “was really excited and relieved because it was something that I really wanted to do. I was very happy.”

Smit went on to win the state title in the 200 IM for the fourth straight year, posting a time of 1:58.99 in the finals. Smit also won the 100 backstroke in 55.15 seconds, breaking her own state record. Smit had set state records of 1:58.95 in the 200 IM and 55.18 seconds in the 100 back a week earlier at the Suffolk County championship meet.

It was a fitting way to cap off a brilliant high school swimming career for Smit, who will attend Stanford University on a swimming scholarship. “I’ve always wanted to go there, since I was a little kid,” said Smit, who noted that her grandparents live in nearby Menlo Park, Calif. “The team and the coaches are great and the campus is awesome.”

Next up for Smit is the Long Island Aquatic Club’s Thanksgiving Invitational, which will be held Nov. 26 and 27 at the Nassau Aquatic Center in East Meadow. Smit is scheduled to swim in six events, including the open 200 backstroke, 100 breaststroke, 200 butterfly, 200 breast and 50 free and the women’s 14-18 400 IM.

Smit will also compete at the 10th annual Trident Holiday Classic at Franklin & amp; Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., Dec. 9-11. The national championships will take place in the spring of 2006, followed by the world championship trials at the end of the summer.

08/09/11 7:57am

MICHAEL GASPARINO PHOTO | Former NHL and Team USA players Chris (left) and Peter Ferraro at their summer hockey camp at Islanders Iceworks in Syosset.

Their gloves are different.

That’s the quickest way to tell Chris and Peter Ferraro apart as they skate around the rink, teaching at one of their summer hockey camps. The 38-year-old identical twins dress in matching black warm-ups, wear the same brand of skates, with black baseball caps worn backwards — mirror images of each other as they command, encourage, motivate and cajole the two dozen or so young players running through drills at Islanders Iceworks in Syosset.

That the brothers — two of only a handful of players from Long Island to make it to the National Hockey League and just the second pair of twins ever to play on the same NHL team — are teaching hockey together surprises exactly no one.

Since they were born in 1973 (Chris is one minute older) the Ferraro brothers have been pretty much inseparable. From prep school and junior hockey to winning an NCAA national championship and the Olympics, to a professional career that spanned 15 years — mostly on the same teams — with 166 combined games in the NHL, Chris and Peter Ferraro have never been far apart.

Only eight days left of the 20 Greatest Athletes in area history countdown

That’s not changing anytime soon.

“They’ve been together always,” said their mother, Diane, from behind the counter at Plaza Surf and Sports in Rocky Point, the sporting goods business the family has run for almost 40 years. “If one was hurt, the other knew it. They had their fights, don’t get me wrong — there were plenty of holes in the basement walls … but they have a connection you can’t explain.”

Spend 10 minutes at Plaza Surf and Sports and you’ll quickly understand where the Ferraro brothers found their work ethic.

It’s a family business in the truest sense, with older brothers Michael and Joseph and younger sister Michelle at the store just about every day. And so it was one weekend afternoon, with Chris and Peter in the hockey section helping outfit a couple of their students with new equipment.

“They always come back to Sound Beach, whether I want them to or not,” Diane said with a smile. “They come back to their roots. It’s home.”

“We grew up in a family setting where we knew what it was like to work seven days a week, and see your family struggle and grind to make a living,” Peter said. “You go up to Plaza Surf and Sports you have my mother, who is 65 years old, up there seven days a week.”

The Ferraros have been surrounded by sports their entire lives, and not just through the family business (they’ve had a second Plaza location in Montauk for 25 years). Father Peter was a minor league baseball player and older brothers Michael and Joe were also athletes, so of course the twins would be as well.

MICHAEL GASPARINO PHOTO | Peter Ferraro was selected No. 24 overall by the Rangers in the 1992 NHL Draft. His brother Chris was then selected by the Rangers in the fourth round, keeping them together on the ice.

They grew up as Islanders fans, raised during the Stanley Cup championship era, and started playing ice hockey at age six. By age nine, they were playing with an elite program in Philadelphia, having already surpassed the hockey opportunities available locally.

Chris said his father rented out the ice rink in Dix Hills, and when the boys were 12, he and a partner founded the Rye Rangers, a travel team featuring top players from the tri-state area, and they played in tournaments across the U.S. and Canada.

“It was a nonstop ongoing journey for us,” Chris said. “We put in a lot of miles. It was very challenging, but we had the full support of our family to make that possible.”

The brothers attended Joseph A. Edgar School in Rocky Point, but eventually moved on to attend the Tabor Academy in Massachusetts. By age 16, they had advanced to junior hockey, moving to Iowa (their mother and sister went along with them) to play for the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the USHL.

“It was a major adjustment and a major step up,” Chris said. “I almost packed my bags and went back because I didn’t think I was ready for that competition. We were small guys and were playing against grown men.”

“We made decisions together,” Peter added. “I felt we should stay. I knew that we could meet the challenge. At every level we played, we exceeded the expectations of our abilities, being smaller players. We’ve never shied away from any challenge. If fact, we’ve embraced it.”

It didn’t take long for the pair to settle in. Chris led the league in scoring that first year, with 53 goals and 97 points, while Peter chipped in with 21 goals and 52 points. The following season, split between the Saints and the Waterloo Black Hawks, the pair were 1-2 in league scoring: Peter with 48 goals and 53 assists for 101 points, and Chris with 49 goals and 50 assists.

The Ferraros’ junior seasons and their performance playing for the U.S. at the 1992 World Junior Championships (Peter was named All-World), boosted their draft rating considerably.

Sure enough, the New York Rangers selected Peter in the first round, 24th overall in 1992. The brothers were prepared to go their separate ways, but while Chris had to sit through the second and third rounds wondering when his turn would come, it all worked out when the Rangers stepped up in round four to keep the brothers together.

The following year, the brothers went to the University of Maine and enjoyed one of the best seasons in college hockey history, helping the Black Bears to a 42-1-2 record and the NCAA Division I championship.

“It was arguably the best college hockey team put on the ice,” Chris said of a team that featured future NHL superstar Paul Kariya up front, and an unbeatable goaltending tandem of Garth Snow and Mike Dunham, who are now, respectively, general manager and goaltending coach for the Islanders.

“We knew we were going into one of the best programs out there,” Chris said. “It was one of those situations where you look around the locker room, and you say to yourself, there’s just no possible way we’re going to lose tonight. We had every piece of the puzzle.”

FRIEDEMANN VOGEL/BONGARTS/GETTY IMAGES | Peter Ferraro (L) and Chris Ferraro (R) celebrate a goal during the TUI Nations Cup match between the USA and Slovakia at the TUI Arena in Hanover, Germany on Nov. 13, 2005.

After winning the NCAA title, the Ferraros set their sights on winning a gold medal with the USA men’s hockey team at the 1994 Olympic Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway.

“When they put on the USA hockey jersey, that was one of the proudest moments I’ve experienced in my life,” said Diane. “It was about pride in your country. You’re waving your flag in another country, there’s nothing like it. It was incredible.”

“When you have the honor and the privilege of playing for your country, there’s no greater feeling in the world,” Peter said, adding that the U.S. team excelled in its exhibition matches. “We’re playing NHL teams, we’re playing top teams in Europe. And we weren’t just winning games, we were absolutely dominating teams.”

Unfortunately, the pre-Olympic success didn’t carry over to the Games themselves. The U.S. team went 1-1-3 in the first round and then lost to Finland in the quarterfinals, 6-1, to finish in eighth place. “The chemistry just fell apart,” Peter said, pointing to roster adjustments made prior to the Games.

“They tried to better the team and it didn’t work out as expected,” Chris added. “It went in a different direction.”

Peter was the first twin called to the NHL, but while he played on a line with Mark Messier, something was missing. “I couldn’t completely enjoy the experience because I was alone,” Peter said. “My twin’s not here. To explain the bond … you can’t explain it. My mother knows, she has a finger on us. But you actually have to be a twin to really know it because you feel each other and know each other’s tendencies. It’s the greatest blessing.”

The brothers were later called up together, and Peter doesn’t hesitate when asked what their most memorable moment was in the NHL. It was Chris’s first career goal, at Madison Square Garden against John Vanbiesbrouck and the Florida Panthers, with assists by Brian Leetch and — yes — Peter Ferraro.

“The whole family was there,” Peter recalled. “It was just tremendous.”

Peter played in 92 NHL games for the Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals, with nine goals and 15 assists. Chris played in 74 NHL games for the Rangers, Penguins, Islanders and Edmonton Oilers, finishing with seven goals and nine assists. The pair also played in the minors — and faced off against each other a couple of times — in the AHL, IHL and ECHL, and played together for Sodertalje in the Swedish Elite League, and in Germany for the DEG Metro Stars.

Peter totaled 251 goals in the AHL, scoring 52 goals and 51 assists in his final two professional seasons with the Las Vegas Wranglers. He helped the Providence Bruins win the Calder Cup in 1999, when he was named MVP of the playoffs. Chris scored 21 goals in his final pro season in 2008-09, and helped the Chicago Wolves win the IHL’s Turner Cup in 2000.

Looking back on their careers, the brothers are quick to credit their coaches for their development, from John Hill and Rob Grill in juniors, to Shawn Walsh, Red Gendron and Grant Standbrook at Maine, to Chuck Grillo with the Minnesota Hockey Camps in the summers, when they trained with top players from across the globe for 12 weeks, 14 hours a day.

They’re looking to provide that same level of instruction with Ferraro Brothers Elite Hockey, which runs clinics and camps at several Long Island rinks. Their brother Joe is among the instructors.

“That’s our primary goal, to come back here and give to our local hockey base so they can get top-notch training from players who have gone down that path,” Chris said. “It’s a mission of ours to give them opportunities. We put or heart and soul into it.”

Running a hockey school wasn’t necessarily what the brothers planned on doing when their playing careers ended, but it quickly became clear that this was their calling.

“During our playing career we did this in the summers, as a hobby,” Chris said. “But over a few summers, we were like, ‘We love doing this.’ Just the way the kids related to us, and the way we relate to the kids. And there’s a major need for it.”

“Every athlete has a very difficult transition when it’s over,” Chris continued. “You’re playing at the highest levels, and how do you come down from that? It was a situation where we knew we could transition very easily into this. It’s more rewarding. It’s absolutely phenomenal.”

This summer was the first full summer for the Ferraros, with nine weeks of hockey schools. “We are so busy, I know what it’s like to work for a living now,” Chris said. “We’re working harder than ever, but it’s our passion, so we don’t mind it. We love it.”

“It’s probably the most rewarding job that I’ve ever had,” Peter added. “Chris and I have always had that ability to make the players around us better. And now that we’re in a position where we can give back to the local hockey community, it’s by far the most rewarding opportunity we’ve had in a long time.”

The brothers said the next step would be to establish a hockey facility to provide Long Island players the opportunities they had to leave the Island to enjoy.

“The most difficult thing is, honestly, not having a home,” Chris said. “If there was a facility where we had access to ice time and off-ice training in one spot, a state-of-the-art facility with two rinks, off-ice training capabilities, and skill development stations. It’s not difficult for my brother and I, because that’s what we know. And I think we’re in an area that can benefit from it hugely.”

Chris noted that places like Boston, Minnesota and Canada have the facilities where young players believe they can play at the highest levels, whereas Long Island parents seem resigned to accept that those same opportunities don’t exist for their kids. They’d like to change that.

“If we had the ability to latch onto a group that could invest in something to that degree, it’s an expensive project to put together,” Chris said. “But yeah, my brother and I would be in our glory to oversee the operations of everything on and off the ice.”

It would be a perfect coda to a hockey career that has given the twins more than they ever could have imagined. They’ve visited The White House (twice), have had their gear in the Hockey Hall of Fame, traveled the world, played with Wayne Gretzky — on the same line — and alongside other all-time greats like Messier, Leetch, Ray Borque, Jaromir Jagr, Ron Francis and Pat LaFontaine.

“To look back and say here we are, two Long Island guys, who did this on our own with the support of our family, it was a long, tedious road,” Peter said. “But we found the resources to give ourselves a chance. And then to go to Canada and realize that we’re right there with these guys, and you know what, we’re better than these guys. We’re doing something right here.”

“You don’t become successful by sitting around and hoping that things work out,” Peter added. “It all comes down to hard work and determination, and Chris and I have had the luxury of sharing those experiences together.”

Click to learn more about Ferraro Brothers Elite Hockey.

08/07/11 7:57am

RUSTY KENNEDY/ASSOCIATED PRESS | The car of Mattituck' Greg Sacks sails over Lake Speed's wrecked car at Pocono International Raceway during the A.C. Spark Plug 500 NASCAR race in Long Pond, Pa., July 23, 1989.

Greg Sacks was around 11 years old when his life changed.

A self-described “competitive kid” who’d always enjoyed racing bicycles in the woods near his parents’ home on New Suffolk Avenue, or go-karts in the old A&P parking lot, Sacks took a trip to Riverhead Raceway with Edie and Parker Wickham, friends of Greg’s parents, Arnie and Pat.

The Wickhams owned the Mattituck Airbase and supported Gary Winters, who competed at the quarter-mile oval in Riverhead.

“It was 1963 or ’64,” the now 58-year-old Sacks recalled. “They swung by in their ’63 Corvette, and picked me up to watch Gary race. It was my first time at the track, and I just loved it.”

Eventually, Sacks and his father bought an old car and turned it into a beach buggy, which he raced against friends. Then, Sacks’ friend Bob Cidone of Mattituck made the 16-year-old an offer he couldn’t refuse.

Cidone drove in the Novice class at Riverhead and built a Figure Eight car. “He asked me, if I wanted to, he’d qualify and I would drive in the race,” Sacks remembered. “I said, ‘I’m in.’ ”

There was one catch. “He told me, ‘You can’t stop at the X,’ ” Sacks said. “I got T-boned once, I T-boned a car in front of me. The car got towed, and everyone in the grandstand wanted to see who was this crazy kid?”

Greg Sacks rounds out the first half of the Times/Review series on the 20 Greatest Athletes in area history. Check out the top 10, beginning Monday.

Over the next 40 years, that kid enjoyed a racing career that saw tremendous success as a Modified driver, 263 starts in NASCAR Winston Cup (and later, NEXTEL Cup and Nationwide Series) races, more than $3.4 million in earnings, and what many call one of the great upsets in stock car history, when he won the Firecracker 400 at Daytona International Speedway in 1985.

Sacks, who lives in Port Orange, Florida with his wife, Vicky, doesn’t race as much as he used to but is still very involved in the sport. He and his sons, Paul and Brian, own Grand Touring Vodka, a spirits company that sponsors the No. 88 car driven by Eric Almirola for JR Motorsports, the NASCAR Nationwide Series racing team owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Almirola drove the Grand Touring Vodka Chevrolet to a fourth-place finish July 30 at the Kroger 200 in Indianapolis, the team’s third straight top-five finish.

Sacks was behind the wheel when the car made its debut in July 2010 at Daytona in the Subway Jalapeno 250 — on the 25th anniversary of his victory in the Firecracker 400. “I started seventh, and was running fifth,” Sacks said. “I really had visions of grandeur.”

But Sacks spun his tires after a restart, “and from there it was all downhill.” He finished 21st, but his teammate, Earnhardt Jr., won the race.

Sacks said it won’t be his last. “Retirement? There’s no such thing,” Sacks said with a laugh. “That’s not going to happen. I don’t think drivers ever retire. They just pass on. Driving is not about age, it’s about desire.”

When he wasn’t scouting for parts at Freddy Gallo’s junkyard, Sacks was trying to learn as much as he could from the Riverhead drivers.

“There were so many great drivers back in the day on Long Island,” he said. “John Ambrose, Junior Ambrose, Joe Krakowski, Jim Malone, Charlie Jarzombek, Fred Harbach, Jimmy Hendrickson. One week, I lost an engine. John Ambrose gave me one to use to compete against him. That’s just the way it was.”

SPORTS ILLUSTRATED/GETTY IMAGES | Greg Sacks (40) and Sterling Marlin (4) at Bristol Motor Speedway and on the cover of the July 24, 1995 issue of Sports Illustrated.

Sacks was named Rookie of the Year in 1970, and raced at both Riverhead and Islip Speedway in those early days. He and Vicky were married in 1975, and son Brian was born soon after. His final race in his own car was the 1978 Race of Champions at Pocono Raceway; he was running second when his engine blew with 10 laps to go.

It was then that Sacks started thinking about getting out of the driver’s seat. He had a family and worked for his parents’ produce business on the East End. “I just felt that maybe it was time to get away from the hobby,” Sacks said. “You work all day at your job and then work all weekend on your car.”

But soon after Sacks put his cars up for sale, his phone started ringing. On the other end were people who wanted Sacks to keep driving — for them.

“I didn’t know I had that option,” he said. “It changed everything, and my career went from being just a hobby, to a hobby that I was paid to do. What better life is there than to make your living doing what you love to do? That’s the pinnacle.”

In 1979, Maynard Troyer of Troyer Race Cars had customers who needed drivers. Sacks raced for the first time out of state in Massachusetts and won, the three drivers behind him representing the event’s previous nine victories.

Sacks decided to make a run at the Winston Cup Series, going to Florida in 1980 to meet with Richard Childress and Junior Johnson. Sacks drove at a test session at Daytona with Darryl Waltrip, and was turning in some very fast times. But in a later run, the car flipped.

“It was scary,” Sacks said. “One of the rescue workers told me they thought they’d lost me because I was hyperventilating; it wasn’t until I was on the board that I took a deep breath. I woke up in the hospital with a broken collarbone, cheekbone and the doctor was stitching my head.”

Sacks said the whites of his eyes had turned red from broken capillaries. “I came home, and my kids ran up to me, and then they just stopped.”

Sacks returned to the open wheel Modifieds and continued to excel, and in 1982 Ernie Wilsberg, owner of Mattituck Plumbing and Heating, asked Sacks to drive for him. “So I said, I have a truck, and he said, ‘No I think I’ll buy a new truck,’ ” Sacks recalled. “And then I said we could run a shop out of my garage and he said, ‘No, I think I’ll build a new shop.’ And then he said, ‘What kind of car do you want?’ ”

Sacks said Wilsberg and his son, Jamie, went all-out to give Sacks whatever he needed to win. “It was like a Christmas wish come true.”

Sacks picked up his new car three days before the World Series of Asphalt Racing series in New Smyrna, Fla. Sacks won the eight-night series, winning each of the first three races and six overall, placing second and fourth as well.

“That was indicative of how that season was going to go,” said Sacks, who had a phenomenal year, winning 28 of 38 starts, including two 11-race winning streaks. He won 15 races and took the track championship at Stafford Motor Speedway in Connecticut.

“It was an unbelievable time in my life where everything fell into place,” Sacks said.

In 1983, Sacks decided to move south and run in the Grand National Series. His father, Arnie, asked, “Why not Winston Cup?”

“I couldn’t afford to run Winston Cup,” Sacks said. “Dad’s response was, everything else we do, we do as a family. Let’s do it together.”

So they started Sacks Motor Sports and Sacks moved to North Carolina, flying home to Long Island to run the family business during the week while racing on the weekends. His brother Harry ran the racing shop. Sacks ran five races that year, making his debut at the Pepsi 400. He ran a full schedule in 1984 and finished 19th in points, and was the runner-up for Rookie of the Year behind Rusty Wallace.

GETTY IMAGES | Greg Sacks enjoys what would be his only career NASCAR Cup victory following the Firecracker 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 4, 1985.

In 1985, Sacks finished sixth at the Daytona 500, and when he returned to the track in July for the Firecracker 400, he was unsponsored. Bill Gardner of DiGard Motorsports asked Sacks to drive for him, agreeing to lease Sacks’ Chevrolet if he would run it as a research and development car.

“We had the equipment and the car was very fast,” Sacks said. “Robert Yates, the engine builder, told me he could tell by the color of the pistons that I rode the car hard and in the gas.”

Sacks started in ninth position. Since he was driving an R&D car, he wasn’t expected to finish, but he was running so well, he stayed in the race. Sacks credited crew chief Gary Nelson for keeping him in the right frame of mind as he moved up as high as fourth place. “He told me on the radio, ‘You’ve got the best seat in the house, just enjoy the show.’ ”

Sacks had a makeshift pit crew and his pit stops weren’t great — except for the final one. Volunteers from other crews of cars who were out of the running came to help Sacks exit that final stop in second place. At this point, Nelson came on the radio and said, “O.K., Greg, show us what you’ve got.”

Sacks beat pole-sitter Bill Elliot, who had not only won the Daytona 500 earlier in the year, but had led the Firecracker 400 for 103 of the event’s 160 laps.

Childress was one of the first to congratulate him. “The whole pit row was clapping,” Sacks said. “It was really amazing.”

Later that summer, Sacks returned to a hero’s welcome at Riverhead Raceway, his first time back at the quarter-mile oval since 1976. “It was incredible the reception I got from the fans,” he said.

Sacks had five top-10 finishes in 1985 and continued to race in Winston Cup through 1998. He won the Hummingbird Fishfinder 500 Busch Series race at Talladega in 1996, and was away for a couple of years before returning to driving in 2004.

Sacks noted that Grand Touring Vodka came about while searching for a sponsor for a new racing team. Sacks and his son, Paul, had a meeting with what he described as a “large Russian vodka company.” The company changed hands and no longer wanted to be involved in racing, but that initial meeting prompted Sacks and his family to come up with a business plan for a company of their own.

Over the next 3 ½ years, Sacks said, they developed a formula, and formed an investment group that included Graham Barnett and fellow East Enders Buzz Chew, Bill Goggins, and Bill and Scott Osler. Grand Touring Vodka sold its first case in 2010 and is now sold in 34 states, and Sacks said his focus now is on developing and expanding the company while staying close to racing.

“I had always felt that I would get involved in team ownership,” he said.

Sacks is also happy that his family has stayed close. All three children, including daughter Rachel, have successful business careers and want to help him with his new venture.

It’s no surprise to Sacks.

“That’s just the way I was brought up,” he said. “We do things as a family.”

09/02/10 12:00am

My son is 8 years old, and as such doesn’t have an appreciation of how much pain his 40-something father’s body is in the day after a softball doubleheader. He doesn’t know or care that Thursday is a garbage day, which means the pails have to be taken to the curb the night before, and doesn’t get why I have to spend any time clearing the dishes after dinner when there are games to be played.

Wiffle ball in the backyard. Baseball in the front. Hockey in the driveway. “Tackles” on the living room rug. It’s always go time.

It’s just that as I get older, it’s tougher to get going.

Knee surgery in May didn’t help, although I take great pride in the fact that I made it back onto the field before the Mets’ Carlos Beltran. Then again, we are talking about over-40 softball, where the conversation over post-game libation is as much about everyone’s various aches, pains and pulls as it is about the games themselves. If you’re playing, you’re hurting. We’re old.

The soul is willing but the body is weak.

It’s not easy to concede to the realities of aging. A few months ago a few of the men in our office challenged a group from another department in a game of touch football. Other than my colleague’s 10-year-old son, I was the only one on our team under 50. But it didn’t matter, this was just going to be a fun game, a chance to throw the ball around and maybe briefly relive some past glory.

Then the other team showed up.

We knew that there would be a couple of younger folks on the other side, but when I saw three dudes just out of college — all athletes, all young, strong and fast — geared up and ready to go, cleats on their feet, I knew we were in for a long day.

I suppose at that point we should have acknowledged the age disparity and offered to choose up fairer sides. But we forged ahead with the original plan, us versus them, pride overriding common sense.

We got hammered.

The competitor in me thought the younger guys were enjoying it a bit too much, running a no-huddle, hurry-up offense to take advantage of the fact that we were having a tough enough time catching our breath, let alone catching a pass or catching one of these guys running down the field. This was supposed to be for fun, right? It was all I could do not to wait for one of these fellas to run a crossing pattern over the middle and, like Chuck Bednarik (or Ray Lewis for you young folks) just lay him out.

Whoops! Sorry, my depth perception isn’t what it used to be. Are those your teeth?

That didn’t happen, of course. We shook hands and said “good game,” and that is probably the last touch football game we will play for a long time.

I remember high school football practice, running quarter-half-quarters (timed quarter-mile, rest for a minute, timed half-mile, rest for a minute, timed quarter mile) and up hills with a teammate on my back, or endless laps around the athletic fields and thinking it was hell.

Now, I look at the local high school athletes getting ready for the season and feel nothing but envy. To be able to do all that again, to run, to play, where a sports practice was the toughest thing you had to face all day?

Not to mention the fact that athletes these days have a lot more than we had. We didn’t have performance clothing, or three kinds of Gatorade, or the variety of elite sports camps there are today. My son, in elementary school, can currently attend any number of sports training schools to improve his speed and agility. That kind of stuff used to be reserved for the top-level athletes, the college prospects.

Now? Kids who used to spend hours on the playground are spending hours at a facility getting measured and clocked, or training indoors and out year-round for one sport instead of whatever they felt like playing that day.

Progress? I’m not so sure.

I hope at least they recognize the opportunity they have, not just to win or even play at the next level, but to enjoy sports while they have the physical tools and ability (and time) to enjoy them to the fullest. Because in a few short years, time will be precious, the tools will get rusty, the speed will be gone and their kids won’t care.

They’ll just want to play. And you will.

09/02/10 12:00am

My son is 8 years old, and as such doesn’t have an appreciation of how much pain his 40-something father’s body is in the day after a softball doubleheader. He doesn’t know or care that Thursday is a garbage day, which means the pails have to be taken to the curb the night before, and doesn’t get why I have to spend any time clearing the dishes after dinner when there are games to be played.

Wiffle ball in the backyard. Baseball in the front. Hockey in the driveway. “Tackles” on the living room rug. It’s always go time.

It’s just that as I get older, it’s tougher to get going.

Knee surgery in May didn’t help, although I take great pride in the fact that I made it back onto the field before the Mets’ Carlos Beltran. Then again, we are talking about over-40 softball, where the conversation over post-game libation is as much about everyone’s various aches, pains and pulls as it is about the games themselves. If you’re playing, you’re hurting. We’re old.

The soul is willing but the body is weak.

It’s not easy to concede to the realities of aging. A few months ago a few of the men in our office challenged a group from another department in a game of touch football. Other than my colleague’s 10-year-old son, I was the only one on our team under 50. But it didn’t matter, this was just going to be a fun game, a chance to throw the ball around and maybe briefly relive some past glory.

Then the other team showed up.

We knew that there would be a couple of younger folks on the other side, but when I saw three dudes just out of college — all athletes, all young, strong and fast — geared up and ready to go, cleats on their feet, I knew we were in for a long day.

I suppose at that point we should have acknowledged the age disparity and offered to choose up fairer sides. But we forged ahead with the original plan, us versus them, pride overriding common sense.

We got hammered.

The competitor in me thought the younger guys were enjoying it a bit too much, running a no-huddle, hurry-up offense to take advantage of the fact that we were having a tough enough time catching our breath, let alone catching a pass or catching one of these guys running down the field.

This was supposed to be for fun, right? It was all I could do not to wait for one of these fellas to run a crossing pattern over the middle and, like Chuck Bednarik (or Ray Lewis for you young folks) just lay him out.

Whoops! Sorry, my depth perception isn’t what it used to be. Are those your teeth?

That didn’t happen, of course. We shook hands and said “good game,” and that is probably the last touch football game we will play for a long time.