Photo: Long Island Needs a Drag Strip/Facebook

A drag strip on Long Island would be a “catalyst for economic development and positive growth,” according to a national motorsports group in a report released yesterday.

The United States Motorsports Association in a 22-page report says that a drag strip on Long Island would bring 328,138 visitors annually and produce more than $17.6 million in annual spending.

Community benefits include: dramatically lowered illegal street racing; charitable contributions; additional tax revenue; and more overall economic activity on Long Island through racing and non-racing events, according to the USMA report.

“Currently, there is no market as large as Long Island in the entire United States without at least one drag racing complex,” the report states.

The report was prepared at the request of the Long Island Drag Racing Club Corp., the nonprofit organization raises awareness of drag racing benefits thorough its Facebook group, Long Island Needs a Drag Strip.

The report does not suggest a location for a Long Island drag strip.

The group’s president and founder John Cozzali said today the EPCAL site is “the best spot for it” because of the size of the property and its natural buffer from other land uses.

But the Long Island Drag Racing Club Corp. is an advocacy group, not a developer, he said.

“We have a few prospects that are interested in it,” Cozzali said. “We’re hoping Triple Five will get involved.”

The group has long eyed the 7,000-foot western runway as a potential site for the drag strip. It is not currently an active runway and it is located in the planned recreational park zoning use district, which allows auto racing uses.

But successive town boards have not welcomed the prospect of any type of auto racing at EPCAL. There have been a handful of offers over the years for portions of the site by developers seeking to build some type of auto racing facility there, but none ever moved forward.

Calverton Motorsports Park offered Riverhead Town $25,000 an acre for 200 acres in 2001, seeking to build a half-mile drag strip, a 5/8-mile oval, a go-kart track and a two-mile road racing course. The Riverhead Development Corp., an entity created by the town community development agency to screen applicants and make recommendations to the town board — which sits as the governing body of the Riverhead Community Development Agency, title-holder of the property — voted to recommend Calverton Motorsports Park for approval. But the town board balked at the idea.

Speonk businessman John Montecalvo, an accomplished race car driver who travels around the country to race, was one of the principals in Calverton Motorsports.

“I positively would be interested in participating in developing this,” he said in an interview today. “Not for me. I race all over the country. I want today’s generation to be involved in things like this,” he said.

“Racing teaches teamwork and so many other skills,” Montecalvo said. “When I was growing up, my father would let me use one of the paving shops [the Montecalvo family is in the asphalt and paving business]. My friends would come over at night and we’d work on our cars. It kept us out of trouble,” he said.

“I travel all around the country and I personally don’t think there’s a better place anywhere than what we have right here,” Montecalvo said.

The area surrounding Calverton has so much to offer visitors — beaches, wineries, the aquarium, the water park — Montecalvo said.

“They’ll want to see everything we have here. People come early and stay late,” he said. They will arrive a couple days before the race and stay a couple days after it.

The economic benefits for area hotels, restaurants, wineries and shop will be valuable, Montecalvo said.

“There are a lot of positives,” he said. “But more than anything for the youth of today.”

A Long Island track would host an average of 84 event days bringing in 328,138 visitors, both racers, their teams and spectators, according to the USMA report. Each racer will spend $115.45 per day per event — beyond the cost of admission and racing entry fees, the report says.

Montecalvo said he still believes Calverton is the perfect place for a motorsports facility because of its location and the size of the site.

Suffolk County Legislator Tom Cilmi, who spearheaded the formation of an ad hoc committee to examine the prospects for a drag strip in Suffolk, agreed.

“I agree that there’s the potential for tremendous economic benefit
for a well-run racing facility in Suffolk County,” Cilmi said today.

“There’s a tremendous market for it,” he said. “It’s the number one sport in the country. But the land options are very limited. EPCAL is a good option,” Cilmi said.

Racing enthusiasts have been vocal and persistent in their advocacy for a motorsports facility at EPCAL, speaking at every public hearing on future use of the former Grumman site.

Others have spoken out against the idea, citing its proximity to Calverton National Cemetery, the busiest national cemetery in the United States.

Gold Star mother Michele McNaughton, whose son, Staff Sgt. James McNaughton was killed in Iraq in 2005, spoke against the idea of a race track at EPCAL at a 2010 Riverhead Town Board meeting.

“Calverton National Cemetery is sacred ground,” she told board members, asking them not to grant the request of L.I. Drag Racing Club to allow “interim” drag racing on the 7,000-foot runway. The question never came to a vote.

USMA’s Stewart said most community objections can be solved by noise-reduction measures, including structures, and close, ongoing communication between the track operator and community members.

Long Island was once home to three drag strips: National Speedway in Center Moriches, Islip Speedway and LI Dragway in Westhampton, which was the last operating drag strip, and closed in 2004. Now the nearest drag strips are in New Jersey.

Riverhead Raceway, which does not presently have a drag strip, is Long Island’s last remaining auto racing track.

Correction: This article was originally published under an incorrect byline.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.