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Is Long Island really in need of a drag strip?

08/12/2016 6:00 AM |

Congressman Lee Zeldin recently lent support to the idea of creating a new drag racing strip somewhere on Long Island, but Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter says it won’t happen at the Enterprise Park at Calverton.

And the owner of Riverhead Raceway says he has no plans for a drag strip there, either.

Long Island Needs a Drag Strip” is the rallying cry of a recently formed group of racing enthusiasts determined to bring drag racing back to Long Island. They’ve been spreading the word through a Facebook group called “LI Needs a Drag Strip.” On July 31, several hundred drag racing enthusiasts turned out for a car show and swap meet at Riverhead Raceway, where Mr. Zeldin (R-Shirley) spoke in favor of establishing a drag strip on Long Island.

As it turned out, the car show was canceled due to inclement weather, but the impromptu rally continued.

“One message that’s loud and clear is that Long Island needs a drag strip again,” Mr. Zeldin said in a brief speech that was captured on video by several people. The congressman, who didn’t suggest any specific location, noted that Long Island had three drag strips 50 years ago and now has none. The Westhampton Drag Strip, which closed in 2004 and became a housing development, was the last of its kind.

The money that would be spent by spectators and participants is leaving Long Island and going to other states that have drag racing, Mr. Zeldin emphasized, adding that a drag racing strip would create jobs and give kids a safe place to race.

The first step, he told the group, is to find a property owner who’s interested in building one.

From there, steps would include meeting with local residents and civic groups and meeting with town officials about getting the zoning in place that would allow a drag strip, he said.

“I would say any location where the owner is on board with this and is willing to put an application up to the Town Board,” Mr. Zeldin said. “I just want to support you guys a thousand percent to get it done.”

The current reuse plans Riverhead Town has developed for EPCAL do not include race tracks or drag strips as permitted uses. Supervisor Sean Walter said he doesn’t support drag racing at EPCAL.

“The state Department of Environmental Conservation doesn’t want us drag racing on the runway,” Mr. Walter said. “Certain other elected officials in higher office don’t want drag racing on the runway. [It] doesn’t fit into the high-tech industrial park we’ve planned either.

“In the end, if you want to be a drag racer, you have to have a good job so you can afford to have a drag-racing car,” Mr. Walter continued, adding that he hopes to bring those jobs to EPCAL.

At a Town Board public hearing in 2010, Michele McNaughton, then president of the American Gold Star Mothers chapter in Suffolk County, also spoke against racing at EPCAL because of its proximity to Calverton National Cemetery, where her son and other veterans are buried.

“Until you get the Gold Star Mothers to say they’re OK with racing at EPCAL, I won’t support it,” Mr. Walter said in an interview.

Town council members Jodi Giglio and Tim Hubbard said in interviews that if the town succeeds in selling the 600 acres it owns at EPCAL to a private developer, that developer could try to convince the Town Board to allow racing there in the future.

Meanwhile, Riverhead Raceway owner Ed Partridge said he has no interest in adding drag racing to the Route 58 track.

“They had a little drag strip here a couple years ago, and it didn’t work out,” Mr. Partridge said. “You’ll never meet the decibel levels here and it’s not something anybody wants to consider.”

Mr. Partridge, who said he’s not into drag racing personally, said the other strips on Long Island “didn’t work out. They went out of business.”

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