Riverhead Greenlights EPCAL Drag Race Events for 2022
Drag racing at Calverton Enterprise Park was given the green light for 2022 by the Riverhead Town Board on Wednesday.
The Board has approved four events to be organized by André Baxter and Peter Scalzo, who both organized separate events at EPCAL last year. All events are to take place on the city-owned 10,000 foot track at the former Grumman site which, although rarely used, is still an active track. Baxter held its 2021 event at the 10,000ft runway, which was closed to air traffic on the weekend of its event. Scalzo’s series of events last year took place at the 7,000 foot track, which is inactive.
[See prior coverage: Riverhead eyes drag racing return in 2022]
The first event of the year, “Scrambul: Cold Fusion”, is hosted by Baxter and is scheduled to take place on the afternoons of March 5-6, with a rain date of March 12-13, and a maximum of 1,000 people in attendance.
The other three board-approved events are hosted by Scalzo and are scheduled to take place over 11 weekends. One series takes place in April and the other two series take place from August to October. Events must take place from afternoon to evening on Saturday and from morning to afternoon on Sunday. Rainy dates are forecast for the afternoon.
Scalzo’s events are nearly double its previous events, growing from 1,300 to 2,200 people. Scalzo said he wanted to use the 10,000-foot runway this year to avoid any potential conflict with the city’s deal with Insurance Auto Auctions, which has the option to lease the 7,000-foot runway for storage of automobiles damaged by flooding in the event of a major storm. Last summer, Insurance Auto Auctions exercised its option to use the track, prompting Scalzo to withdraw an application for an October event for which he had sought approval.
The dates are as follows:
Scheduled dates of “Race Track, Not Street Spring Classic”:
No rain dates
Planned dates of “Race Track, Not Street Summer Classic”:
Rainy dates: September 17-18
Planned dates of “Race Track, Not Street Fall Classic”:
Rainy dates: October 22-23
The dates by several days have changed from Scalzo’s original applications, which were filed in October. The dates of his Spring Classic have been changed from weekends in April and May to only in April. The number of dates has also been reduced from five to eight. This would avoid races during the local bird nesting season, which resulted in races from last year being postponed.
Scalzo originally scheduled the Spring Classic to avoid bird nesting season, however, the dates he originally scheduled changed. He said all dates are before the season except April 16, which is at the start of the season. Scalzo told the city council that he consulted with Rob Marsh of the Department of Environmental Conservation, who gave him approval for the April 16 event. Marsh could not immediately be reached for comment.
The other change from the original proposal came at the last minute, when at the meeting Councilman Tim Hubbard said he would not be comfortable having any of the racing events. Scalzo 9/11 Drag Race with Calverton National Cemetery across the street.
Scalzo agreed and said he would reschedule that 9/11 day to this Friday, September 9. The resolution authorizing the event with this date was passed with one amendment.
Although the board approved the Scalzo events unanimously, the Baxter event drew two “no” votes, from supervisor Yvette Aguiar and advisor Tim Hubbard. The resolution approving his event passed 3-2.
The reason for their dissent was a topic raised during the Jan. 6 business session, when Aguiar recommended that the city require all future drag racing events to be sanctioned by the National Hot Rod Association, or NHRA. Scalzo’s previous event was NHRA sanctioned, while Baxter’s was not.
Baxter objected to the NHRA sanction as a requirement. He said jersey barriers, which are required by the NHRA, can potentially be more dangerous for a driver who loses control of their vehicle. He said the barriers are for the safety of spectators, not drivers, and would be positioned behind the start line for spectators, like their placement at his event last year.
Hubbard said he was not comfortable with the event taking place without jersey barriers on both sides of the track and between racing vehicles.
“Although Mr. Baxter said the opposite of what I felt, I did a little research and am much more comfortable with full length jersey barriers as they have been in Mr. Scalzo’s operation, in part from what the NHRA requires,” Hubbard said before voting.
Aguiar stood by his comments about his belief that all drag racing events should require NHRA sanction.
“We are a self-insured municipality. If we have an accident, serious injury and death there, maybe it will affect all the other leases,” she said. “And I’m going to be very careful and unfortunately I don’t think we should go ahead, based on what the NHRA is saying. And they’re the authority, they’re the word. And so I’m going to follow their advice and I’m going to vote no.
A certificate of liability insurance that covers both the city and the applicant is one of the approval requirements outlined in Chapter 255 – the city code that governs parades, assemblies and special events. An application can be approved without submitting the certificate, but the applicant will be charged a $50 administrative fee and must file the certificate with the city clerk at least 30 days before the event, the code says. The municipal council can cancel a permit it issues if the applicant does not comply with the conditions of the permit.
“I think they had a successful event and I’m sure our fire marshal and chief of police will ensure that all safety precautions are taken,” Councilman Frank Beyrodt said before voting to approve. the license.
The residents complain on permit action without public hearing
Prior to the council vote, several comments were made by the public regarding the lack of a public hearing on the applications. Riverhead resident Ellen Hoil was the first to broach the subject.
“It was on the working session, on the video, it was promised that we would have a public hearing about it and now it’s not happening,” Hoil said.
“There was no promise, that’s your interpretation,” Aguiar said. “And let it be known that she is a former candidate for the position of assessor.”
“I’m still a citizen,” Hoil said. “So for the next 20 years you’re going to be announcing this?”
“We made a statement that there would be a public hearing…and it was brought to my attention afterwards that it’s not necessary for a 255 request – and we already had one and it was just by precaution to hear the whole community,” says Aguiar. “People can…speak now before resolutions and at the end after resolutions on any comments. The public will always have a say.
“It’s not the same as if it were a public hearing,” Hoil said.
Although the city council did not hold a public hearing on last year’s drag races, it heard from many residents, both for and against the events, before the council voted on permits. . At a business meeting on Jan. 6, council said there would be a public hearing on the applications.
Riverhead resident John McAuliff asked council to reconsider holding a vote without a hearing.
“I understand you’re reconsidering this, but I think in terms of good faith with the community, you should table all of these resolutions so you can have the hearing first,” he said. “I think we have to recognize that there was quite a deep divide within the community, especially people who are in the immediate vicinity of the races.
The City Council has received numerous letters regarding the events of the past year, including from residents who live in the area complaining about noise during the events. The Riverhead Police Department found no violations of the city’s noise ordinance during the events.
Last year’s events were also widely celebrated in the Long Island motorsports community, including the LI Drag Racing Club, the group behind the Long Island Needs a Drag Strip Facebook page, which lobbies for motorsport events at EPCAL for years.
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