A recent poll posted on RiverheadNewsReview.com asked what type of activities residents would like to see at Calverton. Almost 83 percent of the voters wanted a race track.
I have been in talks with the Riverhead Town Board about a temporary, one-eighth-mile drag strip at the former Grumman site. The reason for using the word temporary, meaning one season, is to show Riverhead residents and those in the surrounding areas the type of people and families that are involved in legal drag racing. Unfortunately, drag racing has a negative reputation as a result of accidents during illegal street racing.
My company, Motorsports Management Group, has submitted a proposal to construct, at our cost, a one-eighth-mile drag strip on the existing 7,000-foot runway. The actual racing surface would be 2,300 feet long and 60 feet wide. This represents a very small parcel of land at EPCAL.
I have been featured on Good Morning America and The Travel Channel, as well as ABC, NBC and CBS news relating to the huge success achieved by my track, Countyline Dragway in Miami, Fla. You can check out the videos on our website, motorsportsmg.com.
The situation in Riverhead is a mirror image of the original negotiations my group had in Miami, at another shut runway. The Miami site was closed to aviation because of the county’s plan to turn it into a rock pit. We were able to convince officials to let us run a temporary, one-eighth-mile drag strip until they were able to get the permits required for the rock pit. Countyline Dragway opened in January 2007 and is still operating today! Our impact on illegal street racing allowed the Miami-Dade police to disband an overburdened task force on illegal street racing.
In Riverhead, I was asked to provide the town attorney, Robert Kozakiewicz, a list of references, which came back stellar.
At the April 20 Town Board meeting, I requested permission to do a sound test, the purpose of which would be to dispel any concerns about noise that might disturb residents or loved ones lying in rest at Calverton National Cemetery. Supervisor Sean Walter turned down this request, saying an impact study was being done on the entire site and could take up to two years. Mr. Walter stated there should be no sound test because he didn’t want to anger the DEC.
I left that meeting with the statement from Mr. Walter that there will be no activity until the study is completed. But I was later made aware that the DEC did not have any opinion on the usage of runways at EPCAL. Then recently, the television show Top Gear was granted access to one of the runways for two days to tape content. I received no response from Mr. Walter on my congratulatory email, which stated that it is great for the town to gain revenue from interim use of the property and said I was willing to pay a rental fee. I then attended the Sept. 7 Town Board meeting with the intention of once again requesting permission to do a sound test.
I was the last one to speak at the public forum. Mr. Walter had absolutely no response, other than to say, “Thank you, Mr. Scalzo,” and then get up, indicating that the meeting was over. Stunned that I wasn’t given the courtesy of an answer, I waited for board members to step down so that I could approach Mr. Walter for an explanation. Before I had a chance to speak with Mr. Walter, Councilman John Dunleavy approached me to say that he thought I should attend a planning session meeting. As we spoke, Mr Walter overheard our conversation and once again stated that he would not allow a sound test.
When I asked why the supervisor allowed Top Gear access to the runway but continued to refuse a 30-minute sound test, his reply was that he allows the media to do things. Really? Come on now, is that relevant?
I was surprised even more when Mr. Walter said to me, “Why should I allow someone from Florida to do this and not someone local?” To this I responded, “I think your responsibility as supervisor is to award a project to the most qualified candidate.” If the town could find a person who exceeds my credentials and experience and is willing to do this for one season on a temporary basis at their own expense, then by all means the town must go with the more qualified person.
The bottom line is this, even if all the studies say a drag strip is a viable use of this small portion of EPCAL, and a poll conducted by this newspaper found that folks favor a racetrack, there still is the issue of noise. If noise from unmuffled race cars (open hedders) proves to have a negative impact, then I would be willing to proceed with the project, limiting participation to muffled vehicles.
But let’s do the sound test!
Mr. Scalzo, owner of Bluegrass Raceway in Kentucky, has also owned other racetracks throughout the country. He heads Motorsports Management Group, which is involved in operating and promoting racetracks.