Larger than life.
That was Ed Partridge, both in stature and in personality.
At 6-foot-7, you could never miss Partridge, whether in the garage of a NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race or at the track he owned, Riverhead Raceway, on New York’s Long Island.
That’s because Partridge’s passion for racing, and for people, always made him so prevalent. And that’s what made the morning of Sept. 11 so difficult for the motorsports community.
Late Friday, Sept. 10, just hours after winning the Whelen Modified Tour race at Richmond Raceway with driver Ryan Preece behind the wheel, Partridge lost his life after suffering a heart attack. Partridge was 68-years-old.
Partridge’s belief in others propelled them far beyond the local roots of Riverhead, even beyond the Whelen Modified Tour. Preece was the perfect embodiment of that belief becoming reality.
By the end of 2015, Preece was a proven commodity on the tour — a 15-time winner and 2013 tour champion — and decided to fully chase his NASCAR dream, an opportunity that culminated in a full-time ride with JD Motorsports in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2016.
But after an unmemorable year outside an 11th-place finish at Road America and a 10th-place effort at Darlington Raceway, Preece moved back home in 2017, eager to rekindle whatever success he could back in a modified. The one man who believed in him was Eddie Partridge.
“I ended up going to work for him full time and maintaining the cars and setting them up,” Preece told NASCAR.com. “And people said to him, ‘he’s not capable.’ But Eddie didn’t say, ‘you know what, you’re right. Hey, we’re gonna do something different here, Ryan.’ He believed in me and gave me an opportunity to prove myself.”
Preece did just that, winning five of the 14 races he entered in 2017, as well as helping lead Partridge to his second owners championship on the Tour, along with co-drivers Jon McKennedy and George Brunnhoelzl.
Simultaneously, Preece used the sponsorship money he had to get into Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 Xfinity Series car for four races — a gamble that resulted in his first career NXS win and four top fives.
Now a third-year driver in the NASCAR Cup Series for JTG Daugherty Racing, Preece credits Partridge as the catalyst for his triumphs today.
“His goals and my goals all aligned,” Preece said. “And we both did no matter what it took to achieve those goals. There’s not many people out there that are like him and are willing to do whatever it took.”
Preece isn’t the only product of Partridge to find current success in the NASCAR Cup Series.
Mike Wheeler and Freddie Kraft, crew chief and spotter respectively for Bubba Wallace’s No. 23 team, were both given their first true shots in racing by Partridge.
In the fall of 2000, Wheeler was a late-model racer trying to find his opportunity. Partridge’s modified team was struggling, but the team owner knew Wheeler was a talented mechanic. He soon asked ” Wheels” to help set up his shocks and measure roll centers and, shortly thereafter, Wheeler found himself working part-time for Partridge at night.
That eventually evolved into a full-time job for Wheeler, who was in the midst of his fall semester of his senior year at Kettering University. Before Wheeler came aboard full-time, Partridge’s team qualified for just eight of 19 races. In their first race together at Martinsville Speedway, the car rocketed up the leaderboard and qualified second.
“It was a big deal at the time because everybody thought we were cheating,” Wheeler said. “No one knew me. I was just a young kid in college. And I just went there to set the car up, make sure that bump steer was right, all the parameters were where they should be. We went down to Martinsville though, and no one had notes because it was the first and only time we went there that year and we ran really well.”
At a loss for words this morning. Over 20 years ago, Eddie Partridge gave me an opportunity that help make me who I am today. We spent countless time racing together and he taught me so much about it all. Going to miss you Eddie. pic.twitter.com/rnuGemw0Od
— Michael Wheeler (@MikeCWheeler) September 11, 2021
The work he did for Partridge didn’t go unnoticed, and it was just a few years later that Wheeler was hired by Joe Gibbs Racing to engineer for its Xfinity Series team, before coming up to the Cup Series in 2005 with the team’s debut of the No. 11 car.
Kraft said on the most recent episode of Dirty Mo Media’s “Door Bumper Clear” podcast Partridge gave him his first chance to spot any type of race car.
“He was the first one to ever give me a job spotting,” said Kraft, who also spots for Jeb Burton in the Xfinity Series and Derek Kraus in the Camping World Truck Series. “And it just opened the door for where I’m at today, honestly.”
Having three products of the modified tour so closely tied to Partridge as part of today’s Cup Series speaks to the legacy Partridge leaves behind, Kraft believes.
“[It’s] just a testament to what Eddie built as a program. (He was) just an unbelievable guy,” Kraft said.
Partridge also fielded cars for some other top drivers, including Jimmy Blewett, who won five of his six career Whelen Modified Tour races with Partridge from 2006-2009. Those victories included a checkered flag at Martinsville Speedway in 2006, and Riverhead Raceway in 2008, just under a decade before Partridge would take ownership of the New York facility.
And for all the racing triumphs and stories tied to Partridge, it’s his character that people remember most.
Ron Silk was the driver for Partridge’s his first championship in 2011, a season highlighted by wins at Stafford Motor Speedway, Delaware Speedway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The duo competed in SK Modified races, events at New Smyrna Speedway and found success outside the tour in those races.
But it’s the time they spent on the road traveling from race to race that stands out in Silk’s memory.
“Eddie had a presence,” Silk recalled. “Everyone respected him. And obviously he took racing very seriously and wanted to win — and we were able to do that — but he also had the ability when things didn’t go good, or you had a rough day, he was able to shake it off and still have fun. He never made you feel like you were letting him down. You just go to the next one and do better. It was a great atmosphere to be in.”
The relationships Partridge built during his time in the sport will last forever. That much is obvious in the lasting impact he’s had on those around him.
“There was a point [Sunday] when I was thinking about something that usually I pick up my phone and I call him and just start talking to him about it and what his thoughts were,” Preece said. “And now I can’t make that phone call. It’s gonna take some adjusting to.”
Silk entered Richmond Raceway on Sept. 10 having won each of the past two races on the tour schedule but crashed out late en route to a 19th-place finish.
“I saw [Partridge] walking out of the track at Richmond the other night, and I had a rough night so I wasn’t in much of a mood to talk,” Silk said. “So I kept going and drove home and got the news while I was driving, and I wish I would have stopped for a few minutes and spoke to him and congratulated them on his last win. Just never think it’s gonna be the last time you get to talk to somebody.”
His legacy lives on though on Sept. 18, as the Whelen Modified Tour heads back to Riverhead Raceway (8 p.m. ET, TrackPass), a fitting, yet painful, next stop on the schedule. While emotions will be high just hours after his funeral, Silk believes it’s exactly where the tour should be.
“Hopefully he’s watching over us this coming Saturday at Riverhead and can be proud of the race that we put on,” Silk said. “Certainly life is so ironic that we’re going to Riverhead this week, but I know he’d be excited that we were headed there, that’s for sure.”
Today’s Modified Monday is in honor of legendary Modified car owner Ed Partridge
— Stafford Speedway (@StaffordSpeedwy) September 13, 2021
Last night we won the race.
Last night I lost one of my best friends and modified owner.
Rest in Peace Big Eddie. I’m going to miss you. pic.twitter.com/krzu1SkAX7
— Ryan Preece (@RyanPreece_) September 11, 2021