LISTEN: Walter says he’ll ‘quietly slip in’ racing at EPCAL

Last week, Marty Johnson, the president of the Long Island Motorsports Association, said that Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter shouted to people in the crowd at a Jamesport parade that the supervisor would bring a drag racing strip to the Calverton Enterprise Park, which Mr. Walter denied.

This week, Mr. Johnson sent the News-Review a recording of a voicemail message Mr. Walter left him sometime last year, saying he would like to “quietly” allow auto racing under the new zoning at EPCAL.

“I am going to do what I can,” the message said. “I’m not talking about putting an NHRA top fuel-type quarter mile track, but in this whole study that we’re doing, it is my goal to quietly allow zoning for a dug-in quarter-mile track, you know, half-mile track, so we can do quarter-mile with overruns and we’ll go from there.

“But you know what? I don’t want everyone to start talking about it,” Mr. Walter continues on in the message. “I don’t want people to go rally against it, the way the environmentalists rally against everything. So, you know, that is the call, quietly slip it in, we’ll get everything done in the next 18 months, maybe there will be a way to get it done, you know, get somebody to buy the property and do it.

“Alright Marty, take care.”

Mr. Johnson shared the recording with a reporter because he believes the supervisor has not followed through on that pledge.

When told Mr. Johnson had sent the voice message to the media, Mr. Walter said Mr. Johnson “is doing more to hurt drag racing on Long Island than anyone I know. That’s all I’m saying … because the way he is going about it is going to destroy drag racing on Long Island.”

Is a race track that’s dug in the ground to contain the noise possible at EPCAL?

“It’s always a possibility,” Mr. Walter said in an interview. “But a couple things have to happen. The property has to be subdivided, the Town Board has to adopt zoning that allows it and then, most importantly, someone has to buy the property and design and build a race track.

“Also, when I was first thinking about something that was dug in the ground, I didn’t realize the groundwater table is only about 12 feet away in some of these areas. So that’s very problematic.”

The voicemail message was apparently left before the town embarked on it’s zoning and marketing study at EPCAL, which is still not finalized.

A December 2011 draft version of the marketing study, done by New Hampshire-based RKG Associates, did not recommend professional auto racing at EPCAL, saying that the roadways leading to EPCAL are insufficient to support a major race track. The study dealt mostly with large NASCAR tracks, however, rather than drag racing tracks.

On the subject of drag racing, it said the pavement at EPCAL may not be suitable for drag racing and “the attractiveness of such a use is questionable from a perspective of both noise as well as the potential economic impacts on the community compared to other uses for the property.”

The study mistakenly said there is a competing drag facing facility in Westhampton, apparently unaware that the Westhampton drag strip has been gone for years.

The study did, however, have more positive things to say about what it called “private motor sports venues,”  which operate more like a country club and allow owners of high performance cars to run them “in a safe, controlled environment.”

Likewise, it said there is a growing market for indoor go-kart facilities.

The idea of a drag strip or auto racing facility at EPCAL has been opposed by some veterans groups because of the site’s proximity to Calverton National Cemetery.

Mr. Johnson claims he’s spoken to some veterans who do not oppose a drag strip at EPCAL.

A reporter sent Mr. Walter, who says he is a fan of drag racing, a digital clip of the recording, though he could not immediately access it. He did say he couldn’t recall leaving the message, though.

“The drag racing community needs to run away from this guy,” he added of Mr. Johnson. “He’s not helping their cause.”

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TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter at this year’s State of the Town address.