Could drag racing, at least in an abbreviated format, finally become reality at Enterprise Park at Calverton?
Pete Scalzo, who’s been in the motor sports promotion business for 35 years and operated several race tracks, has proposed a series of 14 special events over seven weeks for races on the EPCAL runway that will allow amateurs to enter for a modest fee. He pitched the plan at the Riverhead Town Board’s work session Thursday morning to answer questions before formally submitting a special event application the board would review.
The setup would not be a permanent racing facility, he said. EPCAL has long been a destination sought by racing enthusiasts for drag racing since there are currently no such facilities on Long Island.
“This is not a full blown drag strip with all the big, big cars,” Mr. Scalzo said. “This is something that will get the kids off the street, generate income and I think it would be a heck of a trial to show what drag racing is all about at your beautiful facility.”
The proposal calls for racing on an 1/8-mile track, a shorter distance than bigger races that are done on a 1/4-mile, Mr. Scalzo said. The shorter distance would limit the speed cars travel and thus reduce risk for crashes and injury. He said the idea is to use about 2,500 feet of the 7,000-foot runway for the entire setup.
He said competitors could enter their cars for a $35 fee, which would allow them to race multiple times during a given event. He estimated as many as 200 competitors could enter races and 1,000 spectators might attend the events. Tickets would cost $15 and kids 10 and under would be free.
He said the types of vehicles that enter races can vary.
“Another slogan we have is ‘you run what you brung,’ ” he said.
Mr. Scalzo said he’s confident he can comply with all the requirements of a special event, and he has connections with insurance companies that will be needed.
“[Insurance companies] have some very strict rules,” he said. “No. 1, we must have concrete safety barriers like you see on highway when they’re doing construction. All of the improvements that we will be making would be absolutely nothing permanent. It’s all temporary.”
He envisioned spectators parking on the taxiway and a portion of the concrete area that connects the taxiway to the runway.
Events would be held on the weekend, which he said should alleviate some traffic concerns. Fire rescue and EMTs would be on site, he added.
Racers could earn awards and trophies depending on the class entered. Vehicles would not be allowed to exceed speeds of 115 mph, he said. He added that he has all the timing equipment to operate the races and a vehicle that exceeds the speed would be disqualified. Each vehicle would be subject to a safety inspection prior to the race to ensure it has proper seat belts, for example. Mufflers would be required on the vehicles to follow the town code for racing, he said.
Mr. Scalzo reiterated that he believes it would be a safe alternative to the underground drag racing that occurs all across Long Island.
Councilman Tim Hubbard questioned the safety of having amateur drivers without necessarily a lot of experience.
“Kids think they’re bound to be an Indy 500 racer or a professional drag racer, but they really don’t have the experience,” he said. “So if it’s a shorter track and you’re limiting the speed, that also helps me understand a little better about the safety factor.”
Mr. Scalzo, who said he’s had two race tracks in Florida as well as tracks in Kentucky and Tennessee, said crashes do happen at times, but in his experience there have not been serious injuries.
“If there is an accident, we do have trained fire rescue personnel,” he said.
Councilwoman Catherine Kent questioned whether the runway was in suitable condition for races and Mr. Scalzo said for this proposal, the runway is in “excellent shape.”
If it was a larger, more permanent racing setup, then the runway would likely need additional work, he added.
Police Chief David Hegermiller said street racing can “at times become a major issue.”
Racers will gather at certain locations — Councilman Frank Beyrodt noted markings visible on Route 105 — and then move to somewhere else once police respond, the chief said.
“It’s a cat and mouse thing,” Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said.
The chief said his major concern would be security at a big location.
Town attorney Bob Kozakiewicz said he knows Mr. Scalzo from his prior trips before the Town Board and had previously vetted his facility.
“What he said was borne out by the people I spoke to down in Florida,” he said.
Ms. Aguiar said there are no costs to the town for proposal and the Town Board would begin a review once the special event application is submitted. Mr. Scalzo said he’s prepared to pay the $9,100 fee that would be attached for the 14 events.
Suffolk County police arrested two men in early March for drag racing in Huntington. Last October, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone held a press conference announcing a crackdown on street racing and said more than 50 summonses had been issued as a result of a months-long undercover sting operation.