As one drag racing series ends, a second still faces obstacles to proceed at EPCAL

When Peter Scalzo set out to bring a drag racing series to Calverton, his goal was not just to host a successful event, but to prove that the long dormant sport could be revived on Long Island.

His event, called Race Track Not Street, concluded earlier this month, capping eight days of racing over four consecutive weekends at the Enterprise Park at Calverton.

In his eyes, it was mission accomplished.

“The whole purpose of this project was to prove to the town, to the neighbors, that we’re not going to have traffic issues, we’re not going to have noise issues,” Mr. Scalzo told the News-Review.

Now, a second drag racing event hosted by a different promoter is set to begin Saturday, but serious questions remain about whether it can safely proceed.

In June, the Town Board approved special event applications for both Race Track Not Street and the Scrambul Runway Challenge, the latter of which is organized by Andre Baxter of Hempstead. But with days to go until racing is scheduled to begin, minimal setup has started in terms of placing concrete barriers and the Riverhead Town police chief has not yet signed off on the application, Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said Tuesday.

She said she visited the location Monday and did not see any barriers installed yet that would be required as part of the safety plan. 

Cars lined up Aug. 21 for the first day of Race Track Not Street. (Credit: Dan Bower)

“Safety is our primary concern,” she said.

She requested that Mr. Baxter attend Thursday’s work session to further discuss specifics of the event.

“The [town] attorney is going to be there and the [police] chief is going to be there and we’re going to all have a conversation,” she said.

Scrambul had originally proposed using both runways, one of which would feature a 1/2-mile “rolling” race. However, the 7,000-foot runway has now been taken over by vehicles damaged during Tropical Storm Ida under an agreement the Town Board approved with Insurance Auto Auctions Corp of Illinois. The town will receive $4,175 per month under the agreement for use of 50 acres. Hundreds of cars are already lined up on the property.

In a Facebook post Monday, Scrambul noted the 1/2-mile race has been canceled “due to circumstances beyond our control,” but could possibly be revived as a 1/3-mile race. In a follow-up post Wednesday, Scrambul said anyone no longer wishing to attend due to the 1/2-mile cancellation can email [email protected] to be credited for a future event. Anyone unable to attend then can receive a full refund.

“The fact is we do not own the land and if the town wants to let the insurance company put flood cars on one of the runways there is nothing we can do about that,” the post Monday added.

Mr. Baxter did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday.

Mr. Scalzo said the 1/2-mile race had already been canceled before the storm had even happened, leading to the damaged cars now being stored at EPCAL. He said didn’t know why the Scrambul organizers didn’t make that publicly known sooner.

Scrambul’s Facebook page in recent days has been littered with participants claiming not to have received an email with event details, which the organizer said would be going out last week. 

Seeking to reassure participants, Scrambul posted a message Monday saying: “Don’t believe the rumors started by some haters. We are on track and full steam ahead.”

The message was posted with a picture of a forklift dropping a single concrete barrier onto the runway and additional barriers on two flatbed trucks in the background. On Tuesday afternoon, the 10,000-foot runway appeared mostly desolate while a steady stream of damaged cars was hauled onto the opposite runway.

The plan from Scrambul calls for two tracks on the 10,000-foot runway, one that’s 1/4-mile and a second that’s 1/8-mile. Mr. Baxter originally pitched hosting the event in June, which would have been before Race Track Not Street. But both events were pushed back so as not to interfere with birds nesting nearby.

When Race Track Not Street held its opening ceremony Aug. 21, it marked the return of drag racing to Long Island after 17 years. Advocates have long sought a new home for drag racing after previous tracks were closed in Islip, Center Moriches and Westhampton. The two former Grumman runways at EPCAL appeared an ideal location.

Mr. Scalzo, who has said he has promoted 378 events, said he believed the series was a success and showed that drag racing could be done safely and gain support from a wide audience. The racing was sanctioned by the National Hot Rod Association, he said.

“We’ve had absolutely, positively not one complaint of noise,” he said.

Steve Kuhl, a resident of Timber Park, located just north of the EPCAL property, disputed that notion and said many residents in the neighborhood called and emailed the supervisor’s office and town clerk to register complaints.

He said noise was worse than he expected when he first opposed the series before the Town Board. He cited sound of screeching tires on pavement, shouts from the crowd and the public address announcer as being audible throughout the neighborhood.

“Our Town Board should be ashamed of, and held accountable for, the disruption it has caused in local residential communities and especially with regard to the national cemetery by approving these events,” he wrote in an email to the News-Review.

Mr. Scalzo had hoped to extend the series into October and filed a special permit application a “couple of months ago.” The approved special permit application authorized eight events, which were held on consecutive Saturdays and Sundays beginning in mid-August.

The Race Track Not Street event formally kicked off Aug. 21. The series ran four consecutive weekends and wrapped up Sept. 11-12. (Credit: Dan Bower)

He said he rescinded the proposal to expand into October after learning the town had agreed to store the damaged vehicles.

He said he is hopeful, however, to bring back the series next year.

“We will not continue with anything this year, having the respect to let the town make money from the auction people,” Mr. Scalzo said.

Ms. Aguiar, who participated in the Race Track Not Street opening ceremony Aug. 21, said the series went “very well” and the town police were monitoring for traffic issues throughout. 

She said the series was a boost to the local economy, with people visiting restaurants. 

“I had no idea the amount of love for this sport,” she said.

Mr. Scalzo said not selling tickets on the days of races proved to be a “blessing in disguise,” to avoid any issues with traffic.

On the Facebook page for Race Track Not Street, recent posts have encouraged race fans to support the reelection campaigns of Ms. Aguiar and Councilman Ken Rothwell in November’s election.

Mr. Scalzo said he’s hopeful there’s a future for drag racing in Riverhead. 

“But I know going in and even today, as successful as we have been, it might not happen again,” he said. “We don’t know. I have my fingers crossed.”