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Officials say Scrambul Runway Challenge can proceed without concrete barriers

The Scrambul Runway Challenge can proceed this weekend despite concerns that concrete barriers will not be set up along the full length of the drag strip.

Police Chief David Hegermiller and Craig Zitek, the chief fire marshal, both said during Thursday’s Town Board work session that there are no specific rules or regulations that require the concrete barriers along the full length of the track. The previous racing series called Race Track Not Street that was held over four weekends at the Enterprise Park at Calverton did have concrete barriers. But that was a regulation required as part of the series being sanctioned by the National Hot Rod Association.

The Scrambul event is not an NHRA sanctioned event, officials said.

“As far as we’re concerned, the spectators are protected,” Chief Hegermiller said, noting that some concrete barriers will be in place where spectators are allowed.

The guests will not be permitted alongside the EPCAL runway where cars are racing in either the 1/8-mile or 1/4-mile races.

The Town Board discussed a number of concerns related to the latest drag racing series. Andre Baxter of Hempstead, the organizer of the event, addressed some changes to the event and town attorney Bob Kozakiewicz also spoke at length about the review process of the application.

Mr. Zitek said the safety plan “is all in order.”

“I was out there yesterday,” he said. “I’ll be out there again today and then also tomorrow to see how things are progressing and that everything is coming together.”

He said he’s had numerous discussions with Mr. Baxter, who agreed to make some changes to the original safety plan based on the fire marshal’s request.

Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said she was concerned about the lack of barriers, specifically after witnessing one crash during the Race Track Not Street event where a car bounced off both sides of the barriers and the driver was able to walk away unharmed.

Mr. Kozakiewicz said he’s spent “countless hours” looking at the event, as has the police chief and fire marshal. He said there are numerous examples of similar races held throughout the country where no barriers are set up along the length of the drag strip. The barriers were never part of the applicant’s original application.

“I think we all have to acknowledge that racing at any speed is a risk,” Mr. Kozakiewicz said. “I’m not sure how to totally get rid of that risk.”

He added that it was “speculative” to assume a serious injury or death could occur based on the safety plan in place.

Councilwoman Catherine Kent questioned why the issue related to barriers is being brought up now so close to the event as opposed to earlier in the process. Ms. Kent noted she abstained on the June 2 vote to approve the runway agreement with Scrambul, which the Town Board ultimately approved by 4-0 vote.

The entrance to the main runway where Scrambul is planning to host a drag racing event this weekend. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)

“I’ve always been very clear from the beginning that I wanted everything worked out, figured out, prior to approving all of these events,” she said.

Ms. Aguiar responded: “We learned from the prior race. There are lessons that you learn from a race and I’m starting to get concerned. I witnessed the accident and I realized maybe we should re-entertain this.”

Mr. Baxter said the 1/2-mile “rolling” race, where cars would reach a speed of about 30 mph before beginning the race, was canceled “due to safety concerns and other reasons.”

The cancellation has been a point of contention among some racers who signed up for Scrambul specifically for that type of race. On its Facebook page, Scrambul has been blaming the cancellation on the town’s recent decision to rent the 7,000-foot runway at EPCAL to a company storing damaged vehicles from Tropical Storm Ida.

But Mr. Kozakiewicz confirmed Thursday the 1/2-mile race had already been canceled prior to the storm.

The Scrambul races will take place entirely on the 10,000-foot runway.

Mr. Baxter said he’s expecting 400 drivers and a total of 1,000 spectators over both days this weekend, which is the maximum allowed under the special permit.

Mr. Kozakiewicz said Scrambul was asked to increase its insurance coverage to raise limits from $1-2 million to $1-5 million and has done so.

Scrambul also addressed concerns raised by Riverhead Building Supply, who Mr. Kozakiewicz said own half the taxiway. Cars will be directed to avoid the portion of the taxiway that is owned by Riverhead Building Supply, he said.

Cars will be inspected to ensure they have mufflers, Mr. Kozakiewicz. He also said he researched the helmets required and said he verified the participants will be required to wear a helmet that is “within the NHRA protocols” known as a Snell SA2010 or better.

Cars traveling at speeds in excess of 165 mph will be required roll bars and the drivers must wear fire suits. Mr. Baxter noted that drivers would not exceed 175 mph and noted it would be “nearly impossible” in a 1/4-mile race to even reach that speed. All the cars racing are street cars.

Ambulance and fire service is in place, Mr. Kozakiewicz said. He said there will be up to five ambulances provided through the Manorville Fire District along with two or three fire tankers.

“Those were critical components,” he said.

Chief Hegermiller confirmed there were no town code violations from the Race Track Not Street series. Police were monitoring for noise violations and will do so with the Scrambul event, he said.