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Riverhead Raceway owners want animated digital signs at the track

Riverhead Raceway is hoping to have two animated digital signs this summer to replace its current signs. 

Tom Gatz, one of the track’s owners, said they hope to increase attendance through the move.

“We’re allowed to have 28 events per year, from April to end of the September,” he said.

“A lot of people have no idea what goes on at the race track or what the events are. We basically want to say what the weekly events are and what features will be coming up.”

Because the signs don’t comply with zoning regulations, the racetrack will need variances from the Riverhead Zoning Board of Appeals to move forward with the project. The variances are for the animated/digitally alterable signs and also for the size of the proposed signs, which exceeds code.

The first sign, by Route 58, would be 58 square feet and 17.75 feet high, whereas the code only allows 32 square feet and 15 feet in height.

The second sign, back near the Indian statue, closer to the track, is 84 square feet and 30.75 feet high.

Mr. Gatz said the proposed sign by Route 58 is only slightly bigger than the one there now, while the proposed sign near the Indian statue is about the same size as the current sign.

The racetrack owners are looking to get their attendance up to be 2,000 people a week.

Currently, if there’s an event like a school bus demolition derby or a fireworks show, the attendance can be near the 3,000-capacity, but then the following week, “It’s empty,” Mr. Gatz said.

Overall, he said, the average attendance is between 500 and 800 people.

“We think the message board would definitely help out,” he said at Thursday’s ZBA hearing.

The digital sign that would replace the Riverhead Raceway sign on Route 58 will be about the same size. Credit: Tim Gannon

Fred McLaughlan, the ZBA chairman, said a hotel on the west end of Route 58 sought a similar digital/animated sign a few years ago and was denied by the ZBA.

Mr. Gatz said a hotel is open year-round while the racetrack is limited to 28 events per year.

The only speaker at the ZBA hearing was Larry Simms of South Jamesport who urged the board to reject the application.

“People come to hotels often come from out of town. They need a sign to get oriented and figure out where they’re going. So signs for hotels are important, and they’re effective.”

But he said Riverhead Raceway is the only racetrack on Long Island.

“Probably everyone that attends knows exactly where it is,” he said.

Mr. Gatz estimates that about 50,000 cars pass by the track every day, especially on weekends, and the main purpose of the digital signs would be to promote the upcoming events at the track.

“We need about 2,000 spectators a week,” he said. “That’s where we need to be to be successful.”

The ZBA adjourned the hearing until the Feb. 22 meeting.

Photo credit: The owners of the Riverhead Raceway have proposed installing two digital signs to replace existing signs. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

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